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PSJ commissioners ponder election questions

Tim Croft
tcroft@starfl.com

Port St. Joe city commissioners continued to discuss two critical aspects to the election process.

That is not to say they are in a hurry to take final action.

The board tabled for an undetermined time the question of allowing candidates to qualify by petition rather than paying a qualifying fee, which for this cycle is $500.

City attorney Clint McCahill said he had been advised by Supervisor of Elections John Hanlon that adhering to state law, requiring a qualifying petition to reflect 1 percent of all eligible voters, would mean a city candidate would need just 20-25 signatures to qualify.

“It doesn’t create a very high bar,” McCahill said, but added that commissioners, by ordinance, could alter that percent of signatures required should they choose.

“The last thing I want to do is reduce the number of people who step up to be candidates,” said Commissioner Scott Hoffman.

Mayor Rex Buzzett noted that commissioners were never going to consider taking action for the cycle beginning next month and also questioned whether qualifying fees were truly preventing more candidates.

“If somebody really wants to serve I don’t think $500 is really discouraging a lot of people, but that is my opinion,” Buzzett said.

At various times through the years, including this one, the issue has been raised by individuals who feel the $500 is too high a barrier.

The other election question commissioners are discussing, and continued during Tuesday’s bi-monthly meeting, is whether commissioner and mayoral terms should be two or four years.

Hanlon indicated it is not too late to put the question on the spring ballot, but Hoffman was among commissioners who wondered about the pulse that would be provided.

Two commissioners, Lowry and Hoffman, are up for re-election and if they do not draw opposition there will no race to place on the ballot.

And, traditionally, elections that involve a ballot issue typically have light voter turnout.

Hoffman said he would not support spending $10,000, the estimated cost of a municipal election, to ask that one question.

“The purpose was to save money on elections and push more participation in elections,” Hoffman said in explaining why he brought the issue to the board weeks ago.

“I’m going to support what the people want us to do, but I am not going to pay for the answer.”

In addition, commissioners talked of providing voters a choice of two, three and four years for terms.

Commissioners tabled action but have until the beginning of candidate qualifying next month to put the language on the ballot.

And, as with the prior issue, it would have no bearing on the upcoming election cycle.

TDC requests

Acting on instructions he received during a recent meeting of the Gulf County Tourist Development Council advisory board, Commissioner David Ashbrook asked for formal proposals from the city to take to the TDC for funding.

Ashbrook voted against the final motion that came from Hoffman, arguing the city should take its time and ensure it secures adequate funding for specific projects.

Hoffman, though, advanced what he had discussed at the last city meeting.

He moved the city request $50,000 from the TDC to partner with the county and Port St. Joe Redevelopment Agency (PSJRA) to rehab the restrooms at the Washington High School gym, $50,000 to refurbish the softball field and Peters Park and $150,000 for lighting the tennis courts at Lamar Faison Fields if the city secures a lease.

The motion passed despite Ashbrook’s objection.

Tennis court lease

McCahill said a lease with the Gulf County School Board pertaining to the tennis courts at Lamar Faison Fields has been submitted to the board’s attorney who has yet to respond.

The city hopes to lease the courts from the School Board as a home for residents who play tennis as pickleball has largely taken over the courts at Frank Pate Park.

Gateway Apartment Phase II

Commissioners will hold a workshop 6 p.m. ET Tuesday in reference to the proposed expansion of Gateway Apartments to add approximately two dozen units.

The main sticking point is the insistence of developer the Paces foundation to maintain the current entrance/exit as the only such egress/ingress to the property.

Commissioners have urged a second entrance and encourage all impacted residents to the workshop.