CLEARWATER — Residents considering a run for elected office recently got some free advice from a panel of city officials and former politicians, including: Think twice before you run.
The officials — City Clerk Rosemarie Call, Clearwater City Attorney Pam Akin, and four-term City Councilman Bill Jonson — also warned potential political candidates to avoid big mistakes, such as missing filing deadlines.
Voters will elect the next Clearwater mayor, as well as city council seats 2 and 3, now held by Jay Polglaze and Robert Cundiff respectively, on March 17, 2020. That is also the same date as Florida’s presidential primary. Mayor George Cretekos cannot run again because he’s met term limits.
As city clerk, Call must sign off on all campaign paperwork, including candidate petitions and reports of campaign contributions. She urged candidates to pay attention to deadlines, especially Sept. 19, 2019, the first day candidates file to run. Candidates must come to her office on that day and fill out the DSDE-9, the campaign depository form.
“Before that form is filed you cannot accept any contributions or expend any funds toward the campaign,” Call told the audience of more than 50 people at the May 6 Clearwater Neighborhoods Coalition (CNC) event. “You cannot start until that form is signed and filed by my office and that can’t occur before Sept. 19.”
The next big dates are Nov. 1 through Nov. 15, 2019, Call said. Candidates have those 14 days to collect 250 valid signatures backing their run. The signatures must belong to Clearwater residents who are registered to vote. Candidates cannot collect any signatures after Nov. 15 and must have them in to the Clerk’s office by 5 p.m. that day.
Missing filing deadlines is costly, Call said.
“It’s $50 a day for the first three days after the report is due and $500 a day after that,” she told the audience.
City Attorney Akin said candidates should consider legal and ethical requirements before running, such as the requirement that elected officials sometimes have to reveal the names of clients they serve in their private businesses.
“Some things to consider, is the loss of privacy, and part of that is a legal lack of privacy,” Akin said. “You have financial disclosure … your source of income and other disclosures of financial status.”
She also warned of the lack of privacy inside the City Council “fishbowl.” All council meetings are streamed live over the city’s Internet/WiFi and are linked online at myclearwater.com where the public can watch them years later.
“A lot of that time is on TV, so if you make a mistake, misspeak, or have a bad night, it’s there forever,” she said.
She also warned prospective candidates that they must weigh conflicts of interest — relationships that could limit when they can vote — and consider how much of their daily lives will be visible to the public.
“Your emails are public record, even if they’re not exclusively about city business,” Akin said.
Jonson, who served four terms on the City Council, described the job of a city councilmember.
“It ain’t always an easy job,” he warned the audience.
“Your role is to be the interface between the citizens and the city manager,” he began. “The important stuff is to govern the continuous flow of municipal services on behalf of the community, like police, fire department, trash pickup, parks, and so on.”
Jonson also suggested that candidates check their credit as well as mentions on the Internet.
“Do a background check on yourself,” he said. “Use social media and have printed material to hand out,” he said.
Jonson said he obtained a list of registered Clearwater voters and their addresses from the City Clerk’s Office, which he reviewed to ensure all his signatures were valid before handing in his petitions.
Jonson suggested candidates turn in more signature cards than required in case some of them are disputed.
His other suggestions:
• “If you’re going to send out mailings, make sure you send them out to registered voters.”
• Attend candidate forums – they typically allow all candidates to give an opening statement and respond to questions.
• Expect endorsement interviews from special groups, such as Realtor associations and chambers of commerce.
• Speak in front of neighborhood associations, teacher unions, and other groups of citizens.
Joseph Saportas, owner of Saportas Insurance and Tech Consulting Services, said he was interested to learn the deadlines, of hiring a campaign treasurer, and other preparations necessary to run.
He also found Jonson’s description of the city council job enlightening, noting that “It’s like a part-time job.”
Saportas said he’s running on developing mass transit solutions for the city’s traffic woes.
“I’ve been a property owner for more than 40 years,” Saportas told the Beacon. “I lived in Clearwater Beach for 20 years, and there is still gridlock. They’ve done nothing to make it better for the residents in the area, let alone the businesses.”
Kathleen Beckman is considering a run for city council.
She said she had already learned about filing deadlines but learned from the panel that she had to wait until after Sept. 19 to launch her campaign webpage.
She wants to bring a new voice to the council.
“It’s striking to me that there isn’t diversity on the city council,” Beckman said. “What I know is there are five male Caucasian Republicans on the council and we need diversity of opinions and experiences. I want to speak for the residents who work and live here who I don’t feel are represented or listened to.”