Former candidate, legislator’s aide plan to apply for election chief’s post

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — A former candidate who ran for the Supervisor of Election’s Office and a district secretary for a local state legislator have announced their intentions to vie for out-going Kay Clem’s job.

Clem has resigned from her post as the county’s elections chief effective Dec. 31. The vacancy will be filled by an appointment from the Governor’s Office. Former deputy chief supervisor Cathy Hart, who ran unsuccessfully against Clem for the top spot in 2008, and District Secretary Sandi Harpring from Florida House Representative Debbie Mayfield’s office said this week they plan to apply for the appointment.

Harpring said, though, that she must make sure her application would have the permission of Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon and that nothing about her seeking the position would reflect negatively on Rep. Mayfield.

“My first priority is to my duties in the legislature,” Harpring said. “I am working to catch up, gathering information and seeking clarification from the state legislature on the rules for political activities.”

Hart, who currently works in the county’s utilities billing department, worked previously for eight years under Clem in the Supervisor of Elections Office, rising to the position of Deputy Chief.

“I’m going to go for it,” Hart said of applying for the appointment to fill the remaining two years of Clem’s term.

Hart plans to spend the weekend filling out the application questionnaire and send it to Gov. Charlie Crist’s office next week.

Sterling Ivey, press secretary for Gov. Crist, said that the office has yet to receive any applications. Though there is no deadline for submitting an application, the office recommends interested parties do so sooner rather than later.

Ivey said the office would review applications up until the governor makes an appointment and that could happen before the end of the year.

Gov. Crist leaves office on Dec. 31, turning over the office to Gov.-elect Rick Scott, who could be tasked with naming Clem’s replacement if not enough applications are returned before Crist leaves, according to Ivey.

“These appointments are very political,” Harpring said. “Regardless of the appointment, the 2012 election will tell the real story because that’s when the people will get to have a say.”

Harpring said that she had been planning to announce a bid for Supervisor of Elections in early 2011, but that she had expected to have to challenge Clem in a Republican primary.

Harpring is the retiring secretary of the Indian River County Republican Executive Committee and wife of Jim Harpring, legal counsel to Sheriff Deryl Loar.

No newcomer to politics, Harpring said that, no matter who is appointed, the 2012 race will be interesting.

Just a few months ago, Harpring said, Clem assured her that she would indeed run for re-election in 2012.

Clem told this week that she has been battling a medical condition for several years and that her doctors have been pushing her for the last eight months to resign and take time to “relax and heal. And that’s what I plan to do.”

She declined to name the medical condition she is battling.

Clem has recommended Gov. Crist appoint Assistant Supervisor of Elections Leslie Swan to finish out her fourth term.

“We don’t have time for on-the-job training,” Clem said, adding that there is “no one better qualified” to run the office.

Hart disagrees with Clem’s assessment, pointing to her own eight years of experience within the Supervisor of Elections Office.

“I like Leslie,” Hart said, “but I have much more experience and would be better qualified.”

Hart explained that she had decided to challenge Clem in the 2008 election, which she lost by 501 votes, after Clem fired her for what Hart claims to be without cause.

Swan replaced Hart when Hart was fired.

“She decided she had no use for me,” Hart said, adding that Clem blamed the budget for letting her go.

“I just have a passion for the job,” Hart said.

She explained that while she is a registered Republican, while working at the Supervisor of Elections Office, she refrained from being politically active, calling such activity as being “not appropriate.”

If appointed to the office, Hart said she would provide leadership and would work to establish unity amongst the staff.

“Staff does a great job,” she said. “There are wonderful people there.”

Earlier in the week, it looked like a third Indian River County resident might apply for the post.

John Blair, who also worked at the Supervisor of Elections Office for eight years, said that he was considering it, shortly after Clem’s resignation became public knowledge.

A day later, after Hart announced she would be applying, Blair changed his mind, explaining that he would much prefer Hart be appointed.

“She is the most qualified person,” Blair said of Hart, adding that he would not want to be “just another name in the hat” for consideration.

Blair expressed concern that the governor’s office might appoint someone they know rather than the person who is best qualified.

“All I hope is they don’t just take Kay’s word” for the appointment, Blair said of Clem’s recommendation of Swan.

Ivey said that the office would prefer to have between eight and 10 applications to review before recommending an appointment.

“They have to say that,” Blair said.

Blair was the warehouse manager at the time he left the Supervisor of Elections Office in March. Like, Hart, he was told his firing had to do with the budget.

“I know I was let go for other reasons,” he said, explaining that he believed he was fired for leaking information from a staff meeting to a newly elected Vero Beach City Council member. Also, he had supported Hart in her bid in the 2008 Republican Primary.

As for the position of Supervisor of Elections, the annual salary for the post this fiscal year is $99,337, according to Indian River County Budget Director Jason Brown. On top of the salary, the Supervisor of Elections receives approximately $41,000 worth of benefits, including health insurance and retirement.

Supervisor of Elections Clem is overseeing a budget of slightly more than $1 million this fiscal year, Brown said. The exact amount is $1,001,962 for fiscal year 2010-11.

To apply for the governor’s appointment to the Indian River County Supervisor of Elections Office, the application can be found at the following link from the Governor’s website:

Applicants are encouraged to print the questionnaire, fill it out and mail back to:

Governor’s Appointments OfficeThe Capitol Building, 7th Floor, Suite 705Tallahassee FL 32399-0001

Those with questions about the requirements or the application can call (850) 488-2183.

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