Tuesday night or early Wednesday, election results will be certified everywhere in the US, but not in Vero Beach. That is because of a lawsuit filed against the City and Canvassing Board by would-be candidate Linda Hillman. The lawsuit has not been litigated yet, but County Judge, Paul Kanarek, approved an injunction to prevent certification of the results until it is settled. If Linda Hillman wins, a special election will be held, probably sometime before the end of the year and she will be a candidate. If Hillman loses, Tuesday’s results will be certified.
This unusual set of circumstances brings to mind the last (and only) time a similar incident occurred. That was in 2009, when candidate Charlie Wilson won a seat on City Council but was removed one month later because he lied about his residency. As a result, a new candidate form was created, “Notice of Candidacy and Affidavit of Candidate,” on which the candidate declares he or she is a resident of the City. Ironically, it was this form that caused both Hillman and candidate Brian Heady to be disqualified, even though they are both clearly long time City residents.
This Tuesday’s City Council election is considered by many to be one of the most important in Vero Beach history – a tired reference, but certainly applicable in this case. During the past year, the City Council majority has made a number of controversial decisions that are at odds with the wishes of many people they were elected to serve. They primarily involve the sale or leasing of City assets considered sacrosanct by citizens who fear Vero Beach will go the way of South Florida and lose its unique identity.
Linda Hillman, a retired Publix employee who is active in her community, decided that even with no political experience she needed to run for City Council. She ran what she felt was a good, clean campaign and was hopeful for the results. She didn’t expect to be disqualified a few days after the qualifying period ended. That triggered the lawsuit and then the request for an injunction. An injunction hearing was held in Judge Kanarek’s courtroom where she was questioned along with members of the Canvassing Board by attorneys for each side. After considering all the evidence, Judge Kanarek approved the injunction. The one caveat hanging over Hillman now is the requirement that she post a $25,000 bond, the estimated cost of conducting a new City election. If her lawsuit against the City is successful, she will not have to pay the bond. But if she loses, Hillman is obligated for the bond plus her legal fees, as well as all the costs incurred from her campaign not already paid from her campaign account.
All parties are now discussing a date for the trial and other matters relating to the case. When the upcoming trial is over, either the three winners of the election day vote will take office, or a new election will be held to include Hillman, who will then have to win in order to claim a seat on City Council. She won the first battle (the injunction), now comes the second battle (the lawsuit) and if she is successful, the third battle, winning a postponed election where the electorate is probably still in emotional recovery from November 6.
Hopefully, after the new City Council takes office with or without Hillman, ordinances will be reviewed and changed where necessary to prevent a situation like this from ever happening again.