North Miami Beach officials want to avoid drama, confusion and voter-fraud issues that have plagued campaign seasons of the past. The last two municipal elections were tainted with soap-opera-style incidents that included accusations of death threats, campaign misdeeds and complaints about an incumbent mayor unfairly targeting opponents with code violations.
“We don’t want to have the circus we had two years ago to happen again,” said council member Anthony DeFellipo at Tuesday’s council meeting.
With four of the seven council seats up for grabs in the May 5 municipal elections, the council discussed efforts to fend off any confusion that could result in voter fraud or any unfavorable image of their city.
Chuck Asarnow, longtime resident and president of the Eastern Shores Property Association, asked the council to instruct the city clerk to “take additional measures” to verify that candidates are qualified to run for office. Asarnow cited his time as an appointed member for the Charter Review Committee, which he said was disbanded after another appointed member failed residency requirements.
“I as well as other members wasted months of time and energy on that committee,” he said. “The city in good faith accepted that statement of residency and did little else.”
City Attorney Jose Smith explained that only the state attorney’s office or a judge has the jurisdiction to remove someone on the ballot illegally, but promised he would carefully monitor the upcoming electoral process.
“I’ve been very involved over the years in addressing the issue of election fraud, absentee ballot fraud, and I know there is a history in this community regarding non-residents filing for office,” Smith said.
But council member Beth Spiegel said it was a “pipe dream that the state attorney’s office is going to go after anyone.”
In the May 2013 run-off elections, candidate Yvenoline Dargenson lost to Spiegel just hours after a Miami-Dade judge expressed doubts that Dargenson lived in the city. A month earlier, Spiegel had filed a lawsuit alleging that Dargenson didn’t live in North Miami Beach.
“I had a judge rule that my opponent was not a bona fide resident, which meant that the oath that she signed was perjurous, and nothing happened,” Spiegel said.
Spiegel insisted that the council direct City Clerk Pamela Latimore more leeway to investigate candidates even though Smith explained that the clerk’s position was strictly “ministerial in nature.”
Latimore agreed with Smith and later said the only thing she is legally bound to do is accept and authorize documents from a declared candidate from March 23 to noon March 28.
“By law, if the candidates are serious, they have to come in, pay fees, fill out documents, and I qualify them based on that process. I have to make sure they properly filled out the forms. That’s the law, and if you don’t like it, it’s something that has to be changed in Tallahassee,” Latimore said.
As of Feb 4, council member Phyllis Smith will be facing challenger Michael Joseph as she seeks her third consecutive four-year term. Council member Frantz Pierre, if he chooses to run for a third term, will face foe and challenger Ketley Joachim. During the 2011 elections, Pierre accused Joachim of threatening to kill him and his family and filed a restraining order — only to withdraw it later. Joachim denied Pierre’s accusations.
Mayor George Vallejo is running unopposed for his second term so far, and council member Marlen Martell will be running for her second term against Paule Villard.
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▪ Ribbon-cutting ceremony for Uleta Park Community Center Playground: Tuesday, Feb. 10, 5 p.m., 386 NE 168th St.
▪ Mexican-themed Love In Valentine’s Party: Saturday, Feb 14, 7 p.m.-10 p.m. at the William & Marjorie McDonald Center, 17501 NE 19th Ave. Call 305-948-2957 for more info.
▪ Ribbon-cutting ceremony for Columbia Playground: Tuesday, Feb. 17, 5 p.m., 177th Street and 13th Avenue.
▪ The second annual Heart Health Walk: Saturday, Feb. 28, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Gates open for registration at 8 a.m. at the Gwen Margolis Amphitheatre, 16501 NE 16th Ave.
▪ The next city council meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. Feb 17 at City Hall, 17011 NE 19th Ave.