HAINES CITY – During a city commission meeting May 7, several area residents asked questions about the April 7 municipal election that is currently being contested in court.
However, Haines City Mayor Morris West explained that no questions about the election could be answered, citing pending litigation.
On April 20, former Haines City commissioner Don Mason filed litigation alleging that Haines City Commissioner-Elect Claude Holmes is a convicted felon whose rights were never restored — making him ineligible to hold office.
Mason requested the court appoint longtime incumbent Roy Tyler, who lost the election to Holmes, to keep his seat on the commission.
Circuit Judge Steven Selph previously ordered Haines City commissioners not to act on the election. On May 5, Judge Selph signed an order continuing the case.
On May 7, two residents accused city staff of conducting a secret criminal investigation on Holmes before determining he was ineligible to hold office.
“It was when you chose to do a private investigation of Mr. Holmes and then not relay the findings to citizens,” said one resident. “We are in a mess. We have opened up a can of worms. It’s an embarrassment.”
In fact, both the Polk County Supervisor of Elections and the Haines City Clerk are legally barred from asking about criminal background, let alone conducting a criminal investigation, to determine eligibility.
Instead, when applying for a voter ID card or when filing paperwork to become a candidate for office, said applicant signs an oath attesting that he or she has voting rights. There is no government investigation unless someone challenges the election in court.
At any time during the election process, anyone can hire an attorney and file civil litigation contesting an election.
Other residents asked how the city commission could prevent this from happening in the future. The mayor told them that city commissions do not create or interpret laws – that is what the courts are for.
As of the time of publication on May 10, Selph has yet to determine whether Holmes can be sworn into office.