PAHOKEE — On Tuesday, Nov. 17, City Manager Chandler Williamson officially transmitted the box containing hundreds of signed recall petitions (requesting a referendum vote to remove three city commissioners from office) to the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections’ Office.
Williamson had refused to sign any receipt for the two members of the recall committee who came to city hall last Thursday morning, Nov. 12, to deliver the petitions. Even though applicable law specifies an official receipt must by signed by the appropriate city official, he declined to do so after consulting City Attorney Burnadette Norris-Weeks. However, he did enclose a note to the supervisor with the FedEx box, which said the memo was from him, but it was signed by acting city clerk Nohemi Polanco.
It stated: “The enclosed recall petitions for Mayor Keith Babb, Vice-Mayor Clara Murvin and Commissioner Benny Everett, have not been counted. Please note that duplicate petitions, missing signatures, copies of petitions, wrong addresses and other discrepancies where (sic) found by the City Clerk’s office.”
Under Florida State Statute 100.361, such petitions are to be given directly to the city clerk, then “immediately” transferred to the local SOE Office, for verification of signatures. Yet the City of Pahokee took five full days and examined the petitions.
The statute is clear: “Immediately after the filing of the petition forms, the clerk shall submit such forms to the county supervisor of elections. No more than 30 days after the date on which all petition forms are submitted to the supervisor by the clerk, the supervisor shall promptly verify the signatures ... and determine whether the requisite number of valid signatures has been obtained for the petition.”
Under the law, it is not the municipality’s function in a recall situation to verify signatures and addresses. Under F.S.S. 100.361, that work is to be handled by the local Supervisor of Elections Office (PBCSOE).
There was a filing fee of $111.20 that had to be paid by the recall committee for filing the 1,112 petition forms at 10 cents each, which was done Tuesday afternoon.
But what happened over the intervening five days, as attested by numerous social media posts throughout the weekend, was Murvin herself phoned petition signers related to city employees to ask why they signed it. And, Mayor Babb’s brother, known as “Tadpole,” “has been apparently canvassing the neighborhoods asking people to sign his petition to take away their right and choice under the Florida Constitution Statute 100.361 and remove their names from the recall petitions,” committee member Catherine Marvez wrote in a Facebook post on the “Real Pahokee Politics” page.
The committee enclosed a notarized letter to PBCSOE General Counsel Ashley Houlihan, signed by member Juan A. “Johnny” Gonzalez Jr. and Chairwoman Annie Coore, that alleged even more improprieties involving one of the three targeted commissioners. Murvin was singled out.
The missive to Houlihan stated: “City Manager Williamson, to the best of our knowledge, did not deliver same (the box of petitions) to the supervisor of elections and has, instead, permitted at least one of the city commissioners (Clara Murvin) to review the recall petitions. Commissioner Murvin went so far as to contact one of the petitioners, the wife of one of the other petitioners, Ms. Gwen Banfield, whose husband (Joel Banfield) is an employee of the City of Pahokee. See statement of Ms. Banfield attached herewith as Exhibit III.
“We find the foregoing to be extremely troublesome and would appreciate your expedited review of this alarming situation.”
Gwen Banfield’s statement, written Friday, Nov. 13, said: “I’m writing you to let you know I signed a petition for the City of Pahokee a couple weeks ago. Today at 10:45, I received a phone call from Vice Mayor Tasha Murvin questioning me by asking, did I sign the petition and why. My question to Vice Mayor Murvin was, ‘How do you know that I signed the petition?’ She responded to me by saying that ‘I have them right here in my hands and I’m looking at your name on it.’ To receive such a phone call from Vice Mayor Murvin upset me royally because I was told that my information was confidential, but obviously not.”
A committee member who has asked not to be named said he contacted Houlihan Tuesday afternoon, and she confirmed that the PBSCOE’s Office had received the petitions verbally and in an email. Now, according to him, she said the supervisor’s office will expedite review of the signatures and personal information on the petitions and determine whether a recall must go forward.