Seay to push to make airport elections partisan
PUNTA GORDA — Charlotte County Airport Authority Commissioner Pam Seay, along with authority Executive Director Gary Quill, will travel to Tallahassee Feb. 12-13 to lobby lawmakers to make the authority’s elections partisan.
They expect no trouble. The county’s legislative delegation voted unanimously to support the act, and state Rep. Ken Roberson, R-Port Charlotte, and Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, have agreed to sponsor it, Seay has pointed out.
In fact, Seay, at the authority’s meeting earlier this month, said there was no need for all five commissioners to make the trek to the Florida Capitol to lobby for the act. She cited the cost of air fare, hotel and rental cars, which would top some $6,000.
“We’re looking at operating losses,” Seay had said. “That is one whale of an expense for something that may be unnecessary.”
The act became necessary, according to Seay, after Charlotte County Supervisor of Elections Paul Stamoulis determined that Chapter 198 of state statutes, which requires special-district elections to be nonpartisan, applied to the Airport Authority.
The law provides an exception for special districts that have charters that specify their elections are partisan.
The Airport Authority has no charter. And its enabling act failed to specify that its elections were partisan, so Stamoulis disqualified three partisan authority candidates and canceled the election.
Gov. Rick Scott set a special nonpartisan election for the authority instead.
However Seay, a law professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, argues that the authority’s enabling act had been revised in 1998 to “repeal all prior enabling acts,” except a clause in the original one adopted in 1963. That clause had called for the authority’s elections to be held in the same manner as all county offices, which were partisan.
“We had a problem this past summer ... because the election supervisor was unable to locate our enabling legislation,” Seay told her authority board.
The proposed act states: “The authority shall be composed of five members, one from each Charlotte County commission district elected in the same manner as County officials, with party affiliation.”
The officials will visit Tallahassee as part of a Florida Airports Council Legislative Summit, according to an authority administrative staffer.
Seay expressed confidence the act would get passed, adding, “I think we should trust but verify.”
“All right, Pam, have fun,” said fellow authority member Kathleen Coppola.