There is a law on the Florida books that if a city adopts an official municipal seal, then any future use of that seal requires their express approval.
Otherwise, anyone who, by displaying or in any way employing the seal, except in an official capacity, and who has not obtained that approval, could have to sit in jail for 60 days.
Of course, the donning of the zippered orange robes never happens, but what does happen is that a mayoral candidate, like Valentina Webb has done all campaign long, uses the seal, and after called on it by opponent Amy Hersey, asks the city manager and city attorney for their opinion.
The attorney, Pat Floyd, told her the city would not interfere in the matter, and Webb continues to use it in her campaign materials, and presumably will up through Election Day Oct. 1, when the city’s voters will decide who, between her and Kevin Begos, should be their leader for the next four years.
The appearance of the official seal in Webb’s campaign literature early on caught the attention of former Carrabelle mayor Mel Kelly, who knew well the issue from her days taking part in elections. (See her letter to the editor, page 4)
Hersey asked City Manager Ron Nalley about it, who asked Floyd, who asked former City Administrator Betty Taylor-Webb. Valentina Webb asked about it too, after she was made aware of the possible infraction.
Floyd said he understood that former mayor Jimmie Nichols had proudly unveiled the seal during his days in office, and that while he did not have the details of its adoption by ordinance, he presumed that requirement of the misdemeanor statute in question had been met.
“The big question was whether we needed to address it,” said Nalley. “Nobody had come to the board, so the board did not specifically allow the use of the seal.”
Since the seal had been used many times in the past, including on the newly minted “Preserve Our Past” coffee mugs now available from the Apalachicola Area Historical Society, all without opposition from the commission, “(Floyd) didn’t think it was much of the issue at that time. It hasn’t been an issue in the past,” said Nalley.
Floyd said both Ace Hardware and physical therapist Tom Broccato had inquired at one time or another about using it on merchandise.
“We never gave them permission but we didn’t say they couldn’t,” said Floyd. “We’re not giving permission for anybody to use it.”
Not all cities have felt that way.
In July 2016, Palmetto Bay, a fancy suburb of Miami, had their attorney Dexter Lehtinen go to court to seek a civil injunction against David Singer for using it on his literature in pursuance of a village council seat.
Singer then had the image altered by a graphic designer, in an effort to be compliant, and went on to win the seat.
“After I won the election, they agreed I wouldn’t admit guilt,” he said, stressing he believed the issue was from day one rooted in council members’ opposition to his campaign.
“There were other candidates who had used the seal and they didn’t take any action against them,” said Singer.
But, unlike Apalachicola, Palmetto Bay was not one to look the other way when it came to commercial uses of their seal.
“We’ve had real estate agents try to use the seal, and they got a cease and desist order,” said Singer, a graduate of Florida State University.
Floyd said the city has not explicitly stood in the way of commercial uses.
“It hasn’t been a problem,” he said. “Historically we have not done anything to take action against a person utilizing the seal for their entrepreneurial pursuits in Apalachicola.”
Webb said she sought the city’s position after she began using it, after Hersey made her aware of it.
“Basically it was no big deal because everyone uses the city seal,” Webb said. “Other organizations have used the city seal without the city’s permission. I think they (the city commission) just ignored it. They didn’t feel like it was serious.
“This is just being done to embarrass me,” she said. “Everybody uses it on everything they create out there; the city seal is on so much stuff around town. You have it on bags, paraphernalia galore, being sold with that city seal.”
Hersey said she plans to file an ethics complaint with the state elections commission, but to Webb, her former opponent is not beyond reproach. She has claimed Hersey put out campaign materials prior to having qualified to run, and they lacked a disclaimer, both of which election rules disallow.
As for Begos, he has so far not directly involved himself in the city seal fight, but does have an opinion. “This seems like a very clear violation of Florida law, because it falsely suggests that the city has endorsed her candidacy,” he said.
Turnout for the election began last week with 136 voters, as of press time, having requested and returned vote by mail ballots. Of these voters, 99 live in the area commonly known as the Hill, and 37 on the south side of U.S. 98.
Voters can walk in to the elections office during regular hours and vote by mail there up until Election Day. The ballots would have to be returned to the city election office by 7 p.m. on Oct. 1. Voters registered in the city can continue to ask to be sent out vote by mail ballots up until Saturday, Sept 21.
Early voting will run daily from this Saturday, Sept. 21 through Saturday, Sept. 28, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with that voting taking place at the county elections office, 47 Avenue F. On Election Day, balloting will again be held from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Fort Coombs Armory.