If you asked every Sunday morning news show pundit, every professor of political science, every student of Panhandle politics throughout the entire universe, about the upcoming Apalachicola city elections, you would be hard-pressed to find one who would not agree the upcoming September balloting is unlike any of the others in the city’s recent, if not its long forgotten, past.
If this is an exaggeration, it is only a slight one.
With the retirement of the three longest-serving members of the city commission all opting not to run for reelection, and with the upcoming retirement from their longstanding roles of both City Attorney Pat Floyd and City Planner Cindy Clark, the city is poised to put into office a host of newcomers.
The stage was set for the upcoming drama several months ago, when Mayor Van Johnson pushed for the city to emulate Carrabelle, and extend these three commissioners’ terms each by a year, so that the city elections, which now are held in odd-numbered years and run by city staff, would by synchronized with the county’s even-numbered year elections, and run by the county’s supervisor of elections office, saving an already tight Apalachicola budget as much as $6,000 for each of these city elections.
The commission flirted with the idea, but in the end opted to keep the existing rules in place, and to punt the question of going to even-numbered years to the new commission, which will be seated in October. As it stands now, the upcoming September elections are for regular four-year terms, but a future commission would have the freedom to reduce them or lengthen them, as a way to get them aligned with even-number elections in 2020 or 2022.
Beginning noon Monday, and running until noon on Friday, June 28, aspiring candidates will have a chance to qualify to run by paying a visit to City Clerk Deborah Guillotte, whose office is at the city municipal complex, at the site of the former Apalachicola High School.
Candidates will have to decide whether they want to seek Seat #2, held by Jimmy Elliott since at least the first Gulf War under Pres. George H.W. Bush, since Elliott had to take leave from the office in order to serve in the Middle East with his National Guard unit.
Or they can run for Seat #1, long held by Mitchell Bartley. Or they can run to be mayor, a post now held by Van Johnson, who is finishing his third term after having served as a city commissioner.
Guillotte said candidates in the non-partisan election must reside within the city limits, and must pay a fee of $233.60 if they are running for commissioner, and $270 if they are vying for mayor. There is no option to qualify for the ballot by submitting a minimum number of signatures, as there is with county offices.
The candidates also will have to establish that they have a fundraising account, in order to raise any funds, and spend any, on their campaigns.
The first round of balloting will be Tuesday, Sept 3, with all votes cast at the Fort Coombs Armory, and with all city voters voting for all three offices. If there are only two candidates running for an office, then the election ends there and the winner is sworn in in early October.
In the event there are three or more candidates seeking an office, then the top two votegetters square off in a runoff Sept. 17.
So far, two candidates have publicly declared their intentions to run.
Adrianne Elliott, Jimmy Elliott’s 21-year-old granddaughter, has said she plans to seek a seat on the commission. Amy Hersey has declared herself for mayor, with husband Matt as her campaign treasurer. For several months she has been offering Facebook Live transmissions of city meetings, and recently put up a Facebook page devoted to her campaign. Her yard signs have begun sprouting up around town. Former City Commissioner Valentina Webb, who works for CareerSource Gulf Coast, is widely expected to enter the race for mayor as well.
While there have been no former public announcements, also weighing runs for Apalachicola office are accountant Despina George, pastor Barry Hand, attorney Torben Madson, hospital staffer Luis-Ramon Valenzuela and businessman Mark Rodgers.
Others will likely be soon added to the mix, and the final slate won’t be known until Friday afternoon, June 28.
In the meantime, if you live in Apalachicola and want to be sure to have a say in the election, the deadline to register as a voter, if you haven’t already, is Monday, Aug. 5 for the Sept. 3 general election, and Aug. 19 for the possible Sept. 17 runoff. That task is handled by the supervisor of elections office at 47 Avenue F. The supervisor’s office will also be where early voting takes place between Aug. 26 and 31.