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Vero Council election saga not
over yet

Photo: Linda Hillman and Circuit Judge Paul Kanarek.

Just when it seemed the Vero Beach City Council election mess couldn’t get any more baffling, a court order set this Tuesday’s election and would-be candidate Linda Hillman’s court case on parallel journeys – with a plot twist.

Hillman sued to be included on the ballot as a candidate for City Council in a special election, claiming she was unfairly removed from Tuesday’s ballot.

By the terms of the ruling, Tuesday’s regular city election omitting her was allowed to move forward, but voters were to have no clue if the results  would ultimately count.

The only thing known for sure was that the current five-member Vero City Council will remain in office until the mystery unravels and new members are seated.

Circuit Judge Paul Kanarek Monday issued a temporary order preventing the three-member Vero Beach Canvassing Board from certifying the results of Tuesday’s election in which four candidates were competing for three seats on the Vero Beach City Council – but the order was provisional.

The twist was that Kanarek’s injunction would only go into effect if and when plaintiff Hillman paid a $25,000 bond to the Clerk of the Court to cover the cost of the special election she seeks.

Election results are scheduled for certification at 10 a.m. Nov. 17 at city hall, when City Manager Jim O’Connor, City Clerk Tammy Bursick and City Attorney Wayne Coment would normally read the vote tallies publicly and declare the winners to be sworn in.

But Hillman’s lawsuit has called that into question. She sued city officials after saying she was wrongly removed from the ballot due to a blank signature page in her qualification packet.

Since it was too late to add her name back on the Nov. 6 ballot, Hillman wanted a special election re-do as a remedy, but the City Council rejected this option, tossing the decision to the court.

Kanarek’s order on Monday allowed Hillman to make her case in court after Tuesday’s election.

Hillman and her Tallahassee-based attorney Mark Herron claim that City Clerk Bursick bore the responsibility to alert Hillman and give her a chance to correct the incomplete paperwork.

Kanarek has not ruled on that question; he only said Hillman met the threshold to temporarily prevent the city from seating the winners of Tuesday’s vote – if she puts up the money to pay for a possible special election.

If the court eventually finds that the city was at fault, meaning Hillman should have been on the ballot, the city will have to pay the $25,000 cost of a new election to Supervisor of Elections Leslie Swan.

By not telling Swan to alter her normal course of action, which includes reporting ballots cast Tuesday for Vero incumbents Tony Young and Laura Moss, plus challengers Robbie Brackett and Robert McCabe, the order preserves the outcome of that vote while Kanarek decides whether or not that election is valid.

Kanarek’s order did not impinge upon Election Day.

“The order enjoins the city from taking certain actions, but does not impact the conduct of the Supervisor of Elections during tomorrow’s election,” County Attorney Dylan Reingold said Monday, in his capacity as counsel for Swan.

The parties are scheduled to appear at noon Friday before Kanarek to review what actions each party has taken to comply with the injunction and to move the case forward.

Should the court ultimately find that Hillman was wrongfully removed from the ballot, and a re-do is in order, Swan needs 60 days’ notice to conduct a special election.