Resident claims county violated law in liquor referendum scheduling, seeks to halt election

WASHINGTON COUNTY – A Washington County resident is challenging the legality of the upcoming vote to decide on the sale of liquor in the county.

Ted Spangenberg, Jr., who has publicly spoken out against the measure that could change Washington County’s status as a “dry county,” states the Board of County Commissioners took unlawful action when the board accepted the petition of voter signatures presented by political action committee Advance Washington County.

Spangenberg says the issue is in the timing.

Advance Washington County presented the certified petition to county commissioners during the Nov. 23 meeting – 159 days after the petition was filed with the Clerk of Court on June 17.

“Chapter 567 of the Florida Statutes clearly states that a liquor sales petition for referendum election ‘must be completed and presented to the board of county commissioners within 120 days – not 159 days – of the filing with the Clerk of Court,” said Spangenberg, who calls the act a “clear violation” of state law. The signatures on the petition were certified by the Supervisor of Elections Office during the 120-day time frame; however, Spangenberg says the petition was presented to the board after the time had expired.

“I’m not a lawyer, but I can read. Based on the timing of the PAC’s official presentation of the completed petition to the County Commission, the Commission had a legal mandate to invalidate the PAC’s petition. Their failure to not realize the time violation and invalidate the petition, and their subsequent action to then schedule a referendum election, was an unlawful act and, I believe, must now be undone. I cannot imagine why the Commission Chairman and the County Attorney have not been able to readily reach the same conclusion once the clear provisions of the law have been pointed out to them.”

This is the latest in snags for the referendum, with a printing error having made it necessary for a second batch of ballots to be printed after more than 17,000 had already been mailed out to voters last week.

Supervisor of Elections Carol Finch Rudd states the second, corrected ballots will be mailed out this week.

Washington County Attorney Matt Fuqua told the Washington County News on Monday that the election will continue as planned.

“The [Advance Washington] committee is in substantial compliance with their efforts to get this on the ballot,” said Fuqua. “Once the voters have had a chance to express their preference, [Spangenberg] will have an opportunity to raise his complaint.”

Spangenberg states he has no intention of backing down and intends not only to contest the election results but is looking into the possibility to putting a halt to it altogether by filing an injunction.

“My contention is going to be with the election itself having ever been held,” said Spangenberg. “It is also a possibility that we will file an injunction with the Fourteenth Judicial Circuit to stop the election and still save whatever taxpayer dollars we can. In the meantime, if voters receive a ballot, we encourage them to fill out the ballot; we encourage them to vote.”