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Carrabelle to hold special election in March

David Adlerstein
The Apalachicola Times

There’s going to be election in Carrabelle early next year, likely in early March.

At a well-attended special meeting Tuesday morning, held in person at the City Hall, city commissioners voted unanimously to move forward with a special election that is likely to be held on March 2.

The election will be to fill the seat of Commissioner Keith Walden who, in a surprise announcement at the Oct. 1 meeting, told colleagues that rules governing his retirement from Franklin Correctional Institution would force him to step down, effective Nov. 1

Walden, 67, said he discovered rules with the Florida Retirement System prevented him from working with another FRS provider, which the city commission is, for at least six months.

Keith Walden

Mayor Brenda La Paz acted quickly following the announcement, calling the special meeting and directing City Administrator Courtney Dempsey to secure election information from Supervisor of Elections Heather Riley.

“The earliest I would be able to conduct a special election would be March 16, 2021 due to the uncertainty of possible recounts following the (Nov. 3) general election.” Riley wrote. “I am having surgery mid-December and will be out of the office for several weeks. I would want to ensure proper time and attention to this election.”

Riley later said she could work with a date two weeks earlier, which would put the qualifying period the week of Jan. 13 to 17, 2021.

While there will be no early voting (which would cost an additional $1,000), and since a mail ballot election can only be held for referendums, the usual Election Day voting on site at Carrabelle’s precinct is expected to cost in the neighborhood of $5,000 to $6,000. The city has the option of providing a stamped and self-addressed envelope, at an additional cost, for those voters who choose to cast their ballots by mail, in what used to be known as absentee balloting.

City Attorney Dan Hartman briefed commissioners on the rules surrounding the filling of vacancies, which allow for the city to make an appointment for Walden’s seat. This appointment would last up until the special election and subsequent swearing in, for the winner's full four-year term.

The commissioners are expected to take up the issue of an interim appointment at their Nov. 5 meeting.

La Paz said she would like to see any appointment that is made be of a person who does not plan to seek the full four-year term. She said she has so far heard from at least four individuals who have expressed interest in running to fill Walden’s seat.

Because he remains on the commission until Nov. 1, Walden attended the meeting. He apologized that he had not known earlier of the precise rules governing his retirements and expressed gratitude for the opportunity to be of service to the community.

Earlier this year, because no one had filed to run against them, Commissioner Frank Mathes, La Paz and Walden each secured another four-year term. Each of the three, elected to four-year terms in 2015, were initially slated to face the voters last fall, but in a cost-saving move, Carrabelle in 2019 moved city elections to even-numbered years, in concert with state and local elections.

The move meant each of the three had a fifth year tacked on their terms; two of the three now will not have to face voters until 2024. The two other city commissioners, Tony Millender and Cal Allen, elected in 2017, also had a fifth year tacked on to their terms, and will not voters until mid-year elections in 2022.

Because city law requires that newly-elected officials be sworn in on the second Thursday after the first Monday of the month, La Paz and Mathes will be sworn in on Nov. 12.