VERO BEACH — It could be up to the courts to decide whether a particular question can be on the Vero Beach municipal election ballot this November.
A group wanting to ask voters if they would force the Vero Beach City Council to sell its electric utility if the deal were right missed its deadline to submit signed petitions to the Supervisor of Elections Office. Vero Beach resident and council candidate Tracy Carroll said that she requested a couple-day extension from Supervisor of Elections Kay Clem from the Monday deadline to give herself more time to come up with 200 more petitions.
“We didn’t understand the significance of the date,” Carroll said of when they were first told of the July 26 deadline.
Clem said that she had informed Operation Clean Sweep, of which Carroll is the organizer, in May that they had until July 26 to submit their signed petitions. That deadline was already as much time as Clem said she could give the group and still ensure her staff’s ability to verify the signatures.
“I really pushed myself to the limit,” Clem said, noting that she had given her staff eight days to certify the petitions. She later added, “I think I bent over backwards” for the group.
She has until Aug. 4 to notify the City of Vero Beach that the referendum petition had the required number of signatures. The city then needs to hold public hearings and review the ballot language and get it back to Clem 60 days out from the Nov. 2 election.
From that point, Clem has 15 days to print the ballots and mail them out to the absentee voters.
Carroll questions the timeline Clem has set forth and the deadline she imposed. Carroll explained that it is her understanding that Operation Clean Sweep has 90 days out from the Nov. 2 election to turn in their ballots – which would mean the group has until next week.
“We are continuing our efforts” to collect signed petitions, Carroll said.
She added that her team has done all it can to make verifying the petitions as simple as possible by providing voter identification numbers and lists of the people of who signed.
“We’ve been very, very careful,” with submitting signed petitions, Carroll said.
Clem said she could not give Operation Clean Sweep a 2-day extension for fear that by giving the group more time she could be accused of being politically involved.
“Rules are rules,” Clem said.
In Clem’s opinion, there is absolutely no way Operation Clean Sweep’s referendum question will be on the November ballot – unless there is a court challenge.
“I’m not a lawyer,” Clem said, but the wording on the petition says that the question would be on the next municipal election ballot or next special election. The next election – special or otherwise – is Nov. 2.
If the question isn’t on the Nov. 2 ballot, then the petitions – in Clem’s opinion – are moot.
Carroll and others from Operation Clean Sweep argue that the signed petitions have a 4-year shelf life and can be resurrected for the following election.
Carroll said that neither she nor the organization want to force a special election to answer the referendum question – a cost estimated at about $25,000.
Clem said that only state constitutional initiative petitions have a 4-year shelf life. While there is case law that appears to support a similar shelf life for county charter initiatives, it still does not speak to municipal-related petitions, according to Clem.
Whether the Vero Beach voters will get to answer the question of selling the city’s electric utility remains unclear.
“Every minute, it changes,” Clem said.