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Commissioners send letter to Governor Scott

Rick Patrick: Greene Publishing, Inc.

Despite the insistence of the Board of Madison County Commissioners that they have no governing authority over the Supervisor of Elections office, certain members of the community insisted that the Commissioners take some sort of action. Three community members spoke demanding that the Commissioners send a letter to the Governor asking for an investigation into the Supervisor of Elections office.

The first person from the community to speak to the Commissioners was Tina Johnson. Johnson said she was from the Community Awareness Committee. Johnson said she did not accept the fact that the Commissioners do not have the authority to take action in the matter of the Supervisor of Elections office. “It is within your power to come together and say there was wrong-doing. The majority of y'all are not willing to do [that],” said Johnson. Johnson went on to suggest that there was a “partnership among you all.” Johnson finished by warning the Commissioners that, “If you can't come together and start doing what you're elected to do, we will seek out each individual at election time and make sure things are brought public.” Johnson did not elaborate on what “things” she or her committee would bring public.

The person who took the most time and had the most to say to the Commissioners was the self-proclaimed “Community Activist,” Donell Davis. “Hey Kelley, sit up, look at me, eye to eye, because it's very personal,” said Davis as he started his comments. This comment was directed to District 1 Commissioner Alston Kelley. Davis went on to reference a letter he had received from Cary Hardee with the Hardee Law Firm. Davis said that along with the letter, copies of deposit slips showing where Supervisor of Elections Tommy Hardee had paid the money back that he owed to the office. Davis claimed that Hardee had lied to the Commissioners when he said he had paid the money back. Davis went on to say that Commissioners lied when they said that Tommy Hardee had paid the money back. Davis also went on to claim that Tommy Hardee had lied in his “Letter to the Editor” wherein he explained the audit findings and that he had paid the money back to the Elections Office. Davis pointed out that the final deposit was dated Thursday, Dec. 28. This deposit included a check from Tommy Hardee in the amount of $1,538.22. Davis did not mention the deposit dated Friday, Dec. 15, which included a check from Tommy Hardee in the amount of $15,697.98.

According to the auditor's letter to Tommy Hardee, dated Monday, Dec. 18, the “net dollars owed by you to the Supervisor of Elections for FY 2016-17 is $17,235.20.” According to the deposit slips provided with Cary Hardee's letter to Davis, the total amount paid back to the Supervisor of Elections office was $17,236.20 (15,697.98 + 1,538.22), a dollar more than what was owed to the Supervisor of Elections office.

Davis also questioned why the Sheriff had not gotten involved in the investigation into the Supervisor of Elections office. “Why hasn't the Sheriff gotten involved in this stolen money?” asked Davis. Sheriff Ben Stewart explained to Davis that he does not investigate other Constitutional Officers, as this could bring up conflict of interest issues. Any time an issue comes to light regarding another Constitutional Officer, or other elected officials, the matter is sent to the Governor and/or the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) for investigation by the proper authorities. That is what has happened with this current case with the Supervisor of Elections office.

Davis asked the Commissioners if they had written letters to the Governor in the past when elected officials have been called into question and/or arrested. The Commissioners said that it had not been a practice in the past that the Commissioners draft a letter to the Governor. Davis questioned the Commissioners about not taking a more active role in the investigation. “It was unique to me that you Commissioners of this community don't research [when] someone steals money out of the County,” said Davis. Davis also went on to suggest that Hardee had lied to the Governor's office as well when he said the money had been paid back.

Davis told the Commissioners that he had a letter to send to the Governor and asked each of the Commissioners to sign the letter. Instead of signing Davis' letter, the Commissioners voted to send their own letter to the Governor.

The third member of the public to address the Commissioners on this matter was Lisa Leary. She mentioned the fact that others had been charged with criminal activity, and their charges could be found in public records. She asked what the difference was between those and the situation with Tommy Hardee. County Attorney Tommy Reeves explained that the primary difference is that those people had been charged with a crime by the State Attorney. Tommy Hardee has not been charged with any wrong doing by the State Attorney's office.

In the letter to Governor Rick Scott, the Board of Madison County Commissioners requested “that there be a full, complete, fair, and expeditious investigation... and that the results of this investigation be made public as soon as possible.” All five members of the County Commission signed the letter.

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