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HAINES CITY – The Haines City Commission voted on May 21 to request that Tenth Circuit Court Judge Steven Selph call for a special election in reference to a candidate who recently won a city commission election seat and was later alleged to be ineligible to hold office.

Haines City Commissioner-Elect Claude E. Holmes II was arrested on felony charges more than two decades ago but allegedly never fully paid court restitution costs to the victim in the case.

After Holmes won the election, former Haines City Commissioner Don Mason filed civil litigation on April 20 alleging that Holmes was ineligible to hold office and that, as such, the man who lost the election — longtime incumbent H.L. “Roy” Tyler — should win the election by default.

City Attorney Fred Reilly said that just prior to the last telephonic court hearing on May 12, Holmes' attorney reached out to Reilly to propose a stipulated agreement. According to Reilly, the proposed agreement stated, in part, that Holmes would drop out of the election and Tyler would be named winner by default.

On May 12, Selph requested Holmes' attorney to make his proposed oral stipulation agreement in writing and requested that the Haines City Commission vote on how they would like to proceed in the matter for the purposes of serving as a judicial consideration.

For the past month, the city commissioners were legally advised not to speak on the matter because each was listed as parties in active litigation. Because Selph requested their input, the commissioners were all able to speak on the matter late into night May 21 during a commission meeting.

Nearly three hours into the meeting, which featured a workshop and other matters of city business, Reilly raised the subject most of those who were in attendance or following along online were there to hear.

“There were some spirited discussions,” Reilly said, referring to meetings held with the commissioners and other city staff over the past month, later adding his belief that, “The only fair thing to do is to hold a special election.”

Vice Mayor Anne Huffman and Commissioner Jayne Hall were vocal in reference to not wanting to award Tyler the seat on the dais by default. Huffman said she believed the 1,188 residents who voted for Holmes could have been voting against Tyler, who has been on the commission for decades.

Commissioner Horrace West, the mayor's brother, was the only commissioner to vote against the motion that was eventually passed. West said he was in favor of endorsing a judicial decision to allow Tyler to win by default. West said he would have no problem with a special election should the judge decide that is what is best.

Mayor Morris West said the matter should be left for the voters to decide.

Reilly said he would be meeting the lawyers involved May 22. Selph has yet to rule on the matter as of the time of publication on May 22.

Contact Charles A. Baker III at cbaker@d-r.media.