Apparently City Councilman Val Zudans wants City Clerk Tammy Bursick to pay for the special election — with her job. At least that is what he wants to propose at next Tuesday’s City Council meeting. If so, that would be the cruelest of injustices.
Yes, Tammy Bursick, who has held this job for more than 30 years, always enjoyed the support of city managers, staff and elected officials, and is admired throughout the community for her service, including a key role in organizing the year-long Vero Beach Centennial celebrations.
So here we are, in yet another controversial proposal from the current City Council. This year we have seen Zudans, Howle and company make a number of unpopular decisions or proposals right up to replacing management at the City Marina to an ongoing controversy about the November 6 elections.
A commentary published just yesterday, December 6, on this website, (read here) gave a chronology leading up to the disqualification of Council candidate Linda Hillman, her subsequent legal action against the City and its resolution by Council at the special call meeting on November 27.
Zudans blamed Hillman for causing the $25,000 special election, but Judge Paul Kanarek felt her arguments were enough for him to issue an injunction setting aside the November 6 election results and scheduling a trial to weigh her lawsuit against the City. City Council decided to settle with Hillman rather than face the judge again. The vote to approve a settlement was 3-2, with Zudans and Moss dissenting, (Moss probably should have recused herself from that vote since she is a candidate running against Hillman.)
Zudans is supposed to refrain from blaming Hillman (the settlement stipulates that neither party is at fault), so he is now targeting Bursick for her role in certifying Hillman.
As explained in the commentary yesterday, this was an unprecedented election, with so much at stake regarding the future of our community. Zudans clearly did not want Hillman on City Council to oppose the direction he and fellow Councilman, Harry Howle were headed. Councilman Lange Sykes completed the Council’s like-minded majority, but he decided not to run for re-election.
Council members Laura Moss and Tony Young were consistently opposed to the three-man majority and they were running for re-election. With so much of the voting public against the Zudans-Howle-Sykes attempt to sell off or lease City-owned assets, Moss and Young were sure to be re-elected. Hillman was a strong contender to take Sykes’ place.
Pre-election rhetoric was sometimes explosive, as when Zudans argued with Hillman while she tried to speak during public comment in an August Council meeting.
The qualifying period ended on Friday afternoon, September 7 with six candidates. Hillman was selected to appear second on the ballot. The following Tuesday, September 11, Hillman was shocked to find out she had been disqualified (along with Brian Heady) for lack of a signature on one candidate form. What followed after that is the reason Zudans now set his sights on Bursick.
Hillman contended (as well as Heady) that she had properly filled out all paperwork and filed suit to be placed back on the ballot. Her paperwork had been placed in a file that anyone working in the office could easily access. This had never been a problem before, a candidate alleging that the form she signed was no longer in her file, but a blank form was in its place.
After failing to get satisfactory answers, Hillman filed a lawsuit against the City and City Canvassing Board.
Had all the candidate files been stored securely, it would not have been an issue at all. Bursick, who has worked in that office over 30 years and never had a problem like this, simply handled the files as she always has. But this year, with so much at stake, maybe she should have had the files under lock and key. Back in August Zudans had claimed to have a copy of Hillman’s file (on City Council meeting video from August 21). Why? And why did he wait until after the filing period ended, did he send a memo to Bursick saying there might be a problem with some candidates’ incomplete applications?
The end result of this controversy was that City Council settled Hillman’s suit out of court over the objections of Zudans. But it is not the end, because now Zudans wants Bursick to pay.
As I pointed out yesterday, it could have been a simple paperwork mistake and/or a purposeful effort to disqualify a candidate. In either case, security in the City of Vero Beach offices needs to be tightened so this doesn’t happen again. The solutions are a phone call away at the County Supervisor of Elections office and any lapses can surely be corrected if Bursick and Leslie Swan get together.
But that may not happen, because Zudans wants Bursick gone for doing the unthinkable – certifying Hillman as a candidate.