Even though she died last Friday, Margaret Harkey's name should remain on the ballot for the City Commission election, the city's attorney said Thursday. Harkey's death did not automatically make her sole opponent in the
election, Linda Adkins, the automatic winner of a commission seat, City Attorney Rob Hoskins said.
Adkins will win the seat only if she gets more votes than Harkey, Hoskins said in a memo to commissioners Thursday.
Hoskins wouldn't speculate on what would happen if Harkey gets more votes.
Hoskins' memo drew an angry reaction from Adkins, a community activist who has been critical of the way the city has been run.
"It looks like they're going to run a dead candidate, which is
unprecedented," Adkins said. "I knew the dead could vote, but I didn't know they could run."
The one thing everyone agrees on is that Harkey's death has left Safety Harbor in a position with little, if any, precedent in Florida politics. Officials at the state Division of Elections, the House Ethics and Elections Committee and the Florida League of Cities all said Thursday they knew of nothing like it.
The laws regarding elections do not address the situation, they said.
"Before this is over, we may have to write a new elections law," Mayor Art Levine said.
State Rep. R. Z. "Sandy" Safley, R-Clearwater, agrees. Safley, who was with Harkey when she collapsed at a Tallahassee restaurant last week, has assigned his staff to research the law and see what, if anything, ought to be changed.
But the Legislature will not be able to change the law prior to the start of the legislative session in April - too late to affect the Safety Harbor election, Safley said.
In the meantime, said Phyllis Slater of the state Division of Elections, sorting out the mess "is just going to be up to the local city attorney."
But Hoskins said his solution probably will not satisfy Adkins, the City Commission or anyone else.
Hoskins did not address the mechanics of the election in his memo.
But in an interview he said Adkins, who was told by city officials to stop collecting campaign contributions after Harkey died, can indeed collect money for her race. He did not know whether anyone could contribute money to Harkey's campaign now.
In his memo, Hoskins wrote that "these questions do not have simple, clear-cut answers." In fact, he said he expects a lawsuit.
"I believe that any action the commission takes in any direction can be challenged in court," Hoskins wrote. "Allowing the election to proceed is, in my opinion, the most defensible position."
Adkins said Thursday she has hired her own city attorney - Edward Foreman, who represents Pinellas Park - to make sure someone other than Safety Harbor officials is watching out for her rights.
One commissioner, Sal Cincotta, suggested Wednesday that Adkins should withdraw from the race, so the city could call a special election and other people could qualify to run. Levine and Commissioner Don Mahoney agreed with him.
But Adkins rejected that suggestion Wednesday. And Thursday she said Cincotta, who beat her in last year's election, and the other city officials did not have the voters' best interests at heart.