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Elections chief recuses herself

Published Sep. 10, 2005

Pinellas County Elections Supervisor Deborah Clark recused herself Tuesday from the process of choosing the company that will provide the county's new voting machines.

The decision by Clark came after the St. Petersburg Times reported that Elections Systems & Software, the company that employs Clark's husband, is a leading contender for a contract worth up to $15-million.

Clark has denied any conflict of interest. Her husband, Richard Clark, is not involved in sales. He installs and repairs elections machines and has said he steered clear of doing business in Florida.

But in a letter to commissioners Tuesday, Clark stepped away from the matter altogether.

"We all know how very important this decision is, and I do not want to do anything that would cast a shadow on the integrity of the selection process. Therefore, I feel it is best that I not be a member of the Evaluating Committee," she wrote.

She says her office will continue researching voting systems and will answer any questions that arise.

Meanwhile, the Board of County Commissioners has decided to ask voting machine companies to come forward with their best offers to assure that the process is fair.

The board will appoint members of a committee that will review the bids and make recommendations. The commission will make the final decision.

All these changes will happen quickly because the county is facing a tight deadline to choose and purchase new machines before the 2002 elections.

Commissioner John Morroni, for one, said he felt more comfortable with the board asking for proposals.

"I think the (requests for proposals) is the way to go," he said. "We need to look at all the companies, not just two or three."

Clark's office came under fire last November when 900 Pinellas ballots were mistakenly counted twice, and another 1,400 weren't counted at all.

Those problems, and election issues across the state, led the Legislature to order counties to improve their voting systems.

That, in turn, opened up a multimillion-dollar market for voting machine companies such as Omaha-based ES&S, which had done business with Pinellas County for several years.

In June, Clark identified ES&S as one of her top two choices for the voting-machine contract. Clark told commissioners ES&S had the edge on price, saying it could provide touch-screen machines for $14.8-million while rival Sequoia Pacific Systems would charge $21.4-million.

Clark did not disclose her husband's ties to ES&S until the Times story revealed them on July 12. But last month, Clark requested an opinion from a state ethics commission, which said no conflict of interest existed because Richard Clark does not own or manage the company and that, under state law, marriage does not constitute a "contractual relationship."

Commissioners hire

new medical director

Pinellas County commissioners hired a new medical director Tuesday to handle county emergencies.

Commissioners unanimously approved the appointment of Dr. John R. McPherson, effective immediately.

McPherson was the medical director for the Palm Bay Fire Department. He is a Florida licensed physician and is board certified in Emergency Medicine by the American College of Emergency Physicians. He received a doctorate in medicine from the University of Pittsburgh. He will be paid $90,000 a year as an independent contractor.

He is a rare find because McPherson completed a fellowship with Pinellas County's EMS system about 10 years ago, said Chuck Kearns, director of Pinellas County EMS and Fire Administration.

"He has excellent credentials," Kearns said. "It's rare to find a doctor who is actually trained in an EMS system to be an EMS medical director."

McPherson couldn't be reached for comment.

He replaces Dr. Bruce Pettyjohn who retired as medical director after suffering a stroke last August and a heart attack in May.

Pettyjohn is paralyzed on his left side and has poor sight in his left eye. He said he would like to be medical director, but his body won't let him.

"I think it's time to let somebody else do it," he said.

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