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Belleair Beach still seeks solution to election suit

Canvassing Board members could not agree Thursday on a compromise to end a controversy that started more than a year and a half ago when the mayoral race was decided by a drawing from a coffee cup. Resident Michael A. Mone sued the board when it refused to open and count his absentee ballot. The ballot may have broken a 334-vote tie between candidates John Blank and William Atteberry.

Blank won the seat when his name was pulled from the cup.

Thursday morning, the three-member board quibbled for 45 minutes over portions of a proposed settlement written by board member and City Clerk Mary Gray Black.

City Attorney John Hubbard, a board member, said he could not vote for the agreement if the words "defect was cured" were included.

The phrase referred to the reason the ballot was rejected: Mone's notary failed to stamp the expiration date of his commission on the ballot.

"I don't understand what that means," Hubbard said, "and I can't vote for something I don't understand."

Bob Crockett objected to the part of the agreement that called for the controversial ballot to be opened and read.

If the vote had been cast for Atteberry, "What would prevent a citizen from coming back and suing us for anything that happened" while Blank was mayor? Crockett asked. "Would not both the city and ourselves be open for a lawsuit?"

John Elias, attorney for the Canvassing Board, said he didn't think so.

Black's proposed compromise agreement was the third written since the lawsuit was filed. It included a recommendation that the vote on the absentee ballot would have no effect on last year's election or any council action that has taken place since.

The election and lawsuit were the start of a year of controversy in Belleair Beach. After Blank's name was drawn, he served as mayor for six months, then resigned because of the conflict. Atteberry was appointed mayor last December. His term expires in February.

Both Hubbard and Crockett said they still believe they did the right thing by rejecting the ballot.

"If we were going back and doing the election over, there were several ballots that should have been rejected," Black said.

Elias said he would contact Mone to explain the board's problems with the compromise agreement.

"I want this lawsuit to go away," Hubbard said. "I think it is a stupid lawsuit. I'd be willing to do almost anything reasonable to make this go away."