BROOKSVILLE — Mayor David Pugh wants the state to look into problems with the filing process for City Council candidates and has promised to file a complaint with the Florida Elections Commission.
Pugh said Tuesday that he wanted state intervention because he was concerned about a number of errors in documents filed by other City Council candidates and the perception of bias in the process.
"I don't know why all the mistakes are happening," Pugh told City Council members during their regular meeting Monday. "But I'm upset by it. I know there's bias up here. It's just one of those perceptions and we need to deal with it."
Council members voted later in the meeting to clean up some language in the city's current elections code that some candidates have found to be ambiguous. They will take up the larger issue of whether to transfer the city's election duties to the Hernando County Supervisor of Elections office at a later date after the upcoming elections.
Brooksville's City Clerk's office now handles candidate filing information and then sends the materials to the county Supervisor of Elections office. That office then places the candidates on the ballot and keeps tabs on their campaign finance information.
But council member Lara Bradburn proposed during the July 7 council meeting that the city transfer all of the election duties to the county Supervisor of Elections office, saying the move would remove any hint of bias in the process and improve efficiency at City Hall.
Bradburn reiterated those concerns about the city's process during Monday's meeting. And once again, Bradburn's idea was met with resistance from council member Richard Lewis, who vigorously expressed support for City Clerk Karen Phillips.
"Karen goes over everything meticulously and she's always handled everything in a timely manner," Lewis said. "I feel that she handles the job just fine. I commend the city clerk for the job that she's done. I do not support (the proposal) at all."
Pugh and Lewis later clashed during the meeting after Lewis criticized Annie Williams, the Hernando County Supervisor of Elections, for mistakenly mailing out 432 incorrect Republican absentee ballots recently. Pugh said the city has committed errors during its filing process, too.
"We have problems in-house," Pugh said. "And if we can't see it, then we're turning a blind eye again."
Lewis then suggested — somewhat rhetorically — that Pugh should have the city's problems investigated; Pugh agreed.
"I was trying to avoid this," said Pugh, who will run for re-election against Cecil Davis on Nov. 4. "I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. But I'm fired up about it because it does affect me."
Phillips had no comment Tuesday about Pugh's intention to file a state complaint.
"I really don't want to talk about it," Phillips said. "I have no idea what the issue was — it was unclear. (Pugh) needs to take it up with the Florida Elections Commission."
City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha said Tuesday she would approve of almost any solution that made candidates comfortable with the process.
"If the comfort level is not there, that's a concern for me," Norman-Vacha said. "Whatever the solution is, it's something that we need to look at."
Joel Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 754-6120.