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Palm Coast Tuesday, Jul. 14, 2020 3 months ago

City seeks applicants for council seat vacated by Jack Howell

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The seat will be up for election in November.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

Palm Coast will seek applicants for the District 2 City Council seat vacated by Jack Howell, the councilman who resigned on Thursday, July 9, for health reasons. 

The City Council held a special meeting July 14 about how it will handle the vacant seat, which leaves the council with four members instead of the usual five.

The city must receive applications by 12 p.m. on July 24. The City Council will shortlist candidates on July 28, then interview shortlisted candidates and make a final selection on Aug. 4. 

According to the city's charter, City Attorney Bill Reischmann told council members, the city must select someone to appoint to the seat within 30 days. The seat, because there are still more than two years remaining in the term, will then be up for election at the November election.

The city will advertise the vacancy in local media and send letters to former council members and committee members, as well as graduates of the city's Citizens Academy classes, who live within District 2.

The city must receive applications by 12 p.m. on July 24. (View the application form at shorturl.at/ejvF9.) The City Council will shortlist candidates on July 28, then interview shortlisted candidates and make a final selection during an Aug. 4 council meeting, council members decided. 

"We want someone who knows a wide range of issues that we deal with on a daily basis that is different every day," Mayor Milissa Holland said. 

Council members agreed that the person who is selected to fill the seat until the election should not also run for the seat in the election, as it may give them an advantage. 

Howell's resignation came too late for the seat to be placed on the ballot for the August primary, so it will go on the November ballot, Reischmann said.

Because there will be no primary election for the seat, whoever wins the election by a plurality at the November election will win the seat. If there's a tie, the winner will be selected by a coin toss. That's happened twice in Palm Coast, Holland said. 

Because COVID-19 would complicate the process of seeking candidate petition signatures, the council discussed the possibility of waiving the usual requirement that council candidates collect 150 signed petitions or pay a $960 fee to qualify to run.

But the council decided against waiving the requirement.

"The people who really want this job: Show me how much you want to serve," Councilman Eddie Branquinho said. "... If you really want to serve, show me that you're willing to work for it.

Councilman Bob Cuff agreed. 

"We need to have some qualification," he said. He noted that lacking a qualification process could lead to an unusually broad field of candidates, and — because there's no primary and no opportunity for a runoff — the possibility of a candidate being elected with a handful of votes. 

"We could wind up with a member of the City Council that was elected because they got 27 votes, if we just throw it wide open and we get 50 candidates who want their names on the ballot," he said. 

He noted that petitions could be distributed electronically. City Clerk Virginia Smith said that the petitions would still need to be returned to the candidate as hardcopies. 

"I think providing the option for collecting the necessary signatures on petitions electronically as an alternative to paying the fee is still a good way to do it," Cuff said. The council agreed.

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