District 1 voters will elect new commissioner in December to fill seat of late Commissioner Rufus Alexander

FORT PIERCE – Due to scheduling issues with the St. Lucie County Supervisor of Elections office, it will still be a few months before District 1 voters get to choose a new city commissioner to full the seat left vacant by the sudden death of Rufus Alexander on July 28.

Commissioner Alexander had only participated in Board discussions a handful of times via telephone this year due to concerns with the coronavirus pandemic and his failing health. As a result, he submitted his resignation on July 19, but his fellow Board members voted 4-0 during that meeting to have staff negotiate the terms of Commissioner Alexander’s retirement to coincide with the date of Sept. 7. His death at age 72 left a void on the Board that could contribute to potential stalemate votes without the fifth member. City Clerk Linda Cox presented the remaining four members with a resolution recommending the special election date and establishing the qualifying period for candidates during the Aug. 15 meeting.

“The special election will be held on Dec. 7,” she said. “The qualifying period will be from Sept. 13 at noon and close on Sept. 17 at noon. In the event that no one individual receives 50 percent plus 1 [of the votes], we will have a runoff election on Feb. 8, 2022.”

Mayor Linda Hudson then posed a clarifying question about the possibility of a runoff election, which could force the City Commission to do even longer without its tie-breaking member.

“That’s [only] if there are more than two candidates, right?” she asked.

“Correct,” Ms. Cox replied, although she confirmed after the meeting via email that only two candidates – Henry M. Duhart and Arnold S. Gaines – had qualified as of press time. 

Prior to the presentation of the special election resolution before the Board that evening, commissioners had passed an ordinance on first reading updating the city’s Code of Ordinances requiring specific proof of residency documents for candidates seeking public office. If approved on second reading, candidates would be required to submit two such proofs from either a homestead exemption document, residential property lease, utility bill, voter registration card or a valid Florida driver’s license or identification card. Commissioner Curtis Johnson Jr. wanted assurances any candidates for the vacant District 1 seat would have to comply with that new requirement.

“Earlier this evening we talked about qualifying processes, etc.,” he said. “We just did first reading tonight, and we have one more, the second reading. So, that will be in effect for this?”

“Correct,” Ms. Cox replied.

The commissioner also asked the city clerk to go into further detail on the requirements for qualifying candidates and the petition process so anyone interested in running for the seat would know how to procced. Prior to a specific date, candidates can avoid the election assessment fee of $320.14 simply by submitting a minimum number of signed petitions.

“Could we talk about that on record so that people are aware of that?” Commissioner C. Johnson asked. “It’s a little different than numbering a threshold, and to me, that’s a little lower if I’m not mistaken.”

“It’s significantly lower,” Ms. Cox agreed. “I think the number is 26 petitions. Because it’s a special election, it’s one fourth of the 1 percent that’s typically required. If anybody is interested in running, we have the packet ready.”

The city clerk also assured the public in attendance and watching online that the months-long delay in holding the special election was not the result of the city dragging its feet on the issue.

“We’re ready – we’re not delaying,” Ms. Cox insisted. “Nobody’s trying to not have this election – it is happening. We just needed an opportunity to get the dates together with the supervisor of elections.”

For her part, Mayor Hudson also wanted confirmation that the creation of Chapter 12 for the City Code earlier that evening would be in effect prior to the Sept. 17 closing of the candidate qualifying period.

“So, we will have had the second reading by then,” she asked.

“We will have the second reading by then,” Ms. Cox assured her, speaking of the hearing currently scheduled for Sept. 7. 

Commissioner Thomas Perona wanted the public to understand that the winner of the special election would not be entitled to a full, four-year as a city commissioner.

“This is for the unexpired term of Commissioner Alexander?” he asked the city clerk.

“That would have been the end of November 2022,” Ms. Cox answered, referring to the actual date that the late commissioner’s seat would have been up for reelection. “So, anyone that runs in this election is going to have to run again.”

Commissioner Perona emphasized the potential short term on the Board that is currently up for grabs.

“Right, so if you’re in a runoff and you’re brought in the end of February, you’ve got about eight or nine months before you’re going to have to run again,” he added.

“Actually maybe [only] a few months,” retorted Commissioner Jeremiah Johnson.

Mayor Hudson reminded her fellow Board members and the public that Port St. Lucie was experiencing a similar issue with the sudden resignation of Mayor Gregory Oravec in late June. That city will hold its special election on Sept. 21, with a general election tentatively scheduled for Dec. 7 if a runoff election is needed.

“The same thing’s happening in Port St. Lucie,” she insisted. “All those candidates [for mayor] are having to run now and then again.”

Ms. Cox further specified that only the residents of District 1 would be allowed to vote in the December special election, emphasizing that a map of the District 1 boundaries was on the city’s website. The other District 1 Board member, Commissioner C.  Johnson, insisted that residents of his District needed that clarification.

“I can tell you that in my conversation when I ran and engaged constituents, there was some fogginess about the boundaries of District 1,” he said. “I think this will help to further clarify that there are boundaries to District 1 and they’re not traditionally what people may think. They extend pretty far west and they kind of zigzag through a few neighborhoods. It’s important that you understand the boundaries that you live and vote in.”

The Board then voted unanimously to approve the special election resolution.

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