The City of Springfield did not seek a legal ruling specifically on the signatures obtained by disqualified city council candidate Larry Flenoid II, according to public information officer Cora Scott.
OI approached the city for more information regarding a “legal opinion from the city’s law department” that was referred to by a city clerk’s office staffer in a phone call that Flenoid posted on his facebook page after being notified that not enough signatures from his nominating petitions for a city council seat were valid.
While OI was not able to obtain the actual document as it is considered legal work product, city spokeswoman Scott said the issue sought by City Clerk Anita Cotter was not directed only at Flenoid’s petition.
“During the course of an election cycle, the City Clerk asks many process and procedure questions of the law department to ensure she is complying with the law,” Scott told OI. “In this case, the legal opinion is privileged, but we can further clarify it that it answered a general question of law and was not directed at any one person’s petition.”
Scott confirmed a conversation on Friday January 18, 2019 between Mr. Flenoid and Ms. Cotter where the City Clerk gave an preliminary count for certification that said he would have enough signatures to qualify for the ballot but that Cotter also told Flenoid the process was not yet final. The process to certify signatures can take up to five days and the conversation between Mr. Flenoid and Ms. Cotter took place on the third day of the five day period (which was extended one day because of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.)
This means that when Flenoid made social media postings after that conversation where he said he was certified for the ballot, those postings were made on good faith by Flenoid based on the information he had received from Cotter.
Scott said that Cotter sincerely apologizes for the misunderstanding, as she did in a phone call between herself and Flenoid that was posted on Flenoid’s facebook page.
The item that turned the vote total under the necessary signatures is based on the City Charter that states in the event of duplicate signatures, the signature is only counted for the candidate who first turns in the signature. Because incumbent Councilman Richard Ollis turned in his petitions and was certified first, no duplicates would count for Mr. Flenoid.
Section 13.4.1 of the City Charter states “…No voter shall sign more than one nominating petition for the same office, and should a voter do so, his signature shall be void except as to the petition first filed. This provision shall not be construed as preventing a voter from signing both a petition for a council member from his own zone and also for as many general council members as are to be elected. Each signer of a petition shall designate his residence by street and number, or by other description sufficient to identify his place of residence.”
OI confirmed in no previous city council elections under the Charter were duplicate signatures counted for both candidates when certifying qualification for the ballot. The first candidate to turn in the legal signature was credited for that signature.
Mr. Flenoid told OI that he rejects Cotter’s assertion that she only gave him a preliminary count for certification and feels the city is using a loophole to keep him off the ballot.
“We feel like they didn’t expect me to get the number of signatures that I did,” Flenoid told OI. “And when I did get the number of signatures, they used a loophole they never used before because they never really wanted to kick someone off the ballot until I came along.”
Flenoid noted during the phone call with an employee of the City Clerk’s office, the employee states they were doing something different because of the legal department’s instructions.
“I don’t feel this is unfair,” Flenoid said, “All I want to know is how you have three days to verify all my signatures, which you call me on that third day and tell me that I had made it with 203 from the 277 that I turned in. Now at that time in those three days wouldn’t you have verified all of that and why did you call me and tell me I was verified if you hadn’t finished verifying all of those?”
Mr. Flenoid plans a Sunshine Law request to see the signatures for both himself and Mr. Ollis to see where there may have been duplication.