PUNTA GORDA — Embattled Supervisor of Elections Paul Stamoulis, who came under fire for his recent handling of the Charlotte County Airport Authority election, vehemently defended his position Thursday night at a candidate forum.
“I actually did the right thing and did my job,” he told a gathering of about 25 people at the Charlotte Park Civic Association.
“Timing is everything in this business,” said Stamoulis, who is running for re-election against three other Republican candidates in the race for county supervisor of elections. “I am in the unique, unenviable situation of taking a closed primary race, which was a closed Republican primary race, and I saw that it was not going to be a legal election. So ... I had it converted to a nonpartisan general election.”
“For the first time (in 14 years), there’s going to be a legal election in Charlotte County for the Airport Authority,” Stamoulis said, referring to his decision Wednesday night to pull the authority’s election from the Aug. 14 primary ballot. Stamoulis, who was elected in 2008, said he realized it was illegal for the Airport Authority to hold a partisan race after being told state law prohibits special districts (which the authority is, as deemed by the Florida Legislature) from holding partisan elections.
“It didn’t make me a lot of friends among my Republicans,” Stamoulis said of his decision. “Truth be told, everybody’s mad at me right now. But I’m hoping they’ll come around.”
Stamoulis addressed an audience of voters who turned out to hear Republican supervisor of elections candidates Adam Cummings, James Paul Hale, Kevin C. Devries and Stamoulis state their positions on a variety of topics, including managing budgets, maintaining the integrity of the county’s voter-registration rolls and — the hot topic — oversight of elections. The forum was sponsored by the Punta Gorda Tea Party.
Devries, a former deputy sheriff with the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office and a 38-year resident, said his experience as a small-business owner, managing a budget and staff, made him a viable candidate. “(The supervisor of elections) has the responsibility of ensuring and maintaining the integrity, the accuracy and the fairness of our electoral process, and that is what I’ll do,” Devries said.
Hale, who began working with the elections office in 2003 and oversees — among other things — election equipment, precinct signs and polling sites, said it became apparent to him in the last year that there needed to be a change in leadership.
“Charlotte County deserves a full-time, engaged supervisor,” Hale said.
Cummings, a former longtime county commissioner, also criticized Stamoulis’ leadership and management decisions, saying his claim of cutting the budget by some 40 percent was inaccurate in light of exorbitant spikes in spending during previous years. He questioned Stamoulis’ decision to use taxpayer money to purchase colonial-style costumes used to portray George Washington in front of middle school students to encourage voter turnout.
“He’s doing outreach to students who are years away from being able to vote, and he spent more than $6,000 to decorate two vans,” Cummings noted. “How is that the best use of taxpayer money?”
But the point he really wanted to drive home, Cummings said, was that Stamoulis had had the opportunity to catch the legal mistake in 2010, when Airport Authority Commissioner Don Lee asked Stamoulis the same question, regarding special districts.
“He had two years to straighten this mess out,” Cummings said. “This is the kind of thing that makes Florida the laughingstock of elections.”
Stamoulis did not directly respond to the charge.
For his part, Stamoulis said he respected the authority candidates; however he stands by his decision.
“I’m not a potted plant. I am a certified elections professional,” Stamoulis said. “One of 15 (supervisors of elections in the state) to receive the highest level of certification. I’ve been around the law for 23 years, and you didn’t even need a law degree to figure this out, so I made the decision that I did.”