| Fort Myers News-Press
Two weeks after the issue of Ward 2 candidate Anthony Thomas’ qualification for office was raised, the Fort Myers City Council decided Monday there was nothing to do about it.
Thomas is running to unseat incumbent Johnny Streets to be councilperson for Ward 2, which comprises the Palm Beach Boulevard corridor and parts of Dunbar.
A week ago, a hearing examiner listened to testimony from Thomas and his cousin, Melissa Blue, who wrote an affidavit stating Thomas, 37, did not live at the Lemon Street home he used to qualify for his run for office. Blue was represented by attorney Sawyer Smith, who is a supporter of Streets.
The city charter states that a candidate must reside in the ward they are seeking to represent for at least six months prior to the last day to qualify for office.
Fort Myers City Attorney Grant Alley advised the council to hire an outside attorney to act as a hearing examiner to listen to testimony and look at the evidence about Thomas’ home.
Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson described it as “pretty much a he said, she said” situation.
“The charter is not very explicit in this area,” Henderson said of the qualification process. “Somebody, I don’t know who, should probably take a look at our charter.”
According to the hearing examiner’s report, the burden does not fall on Thomas to provide proof of address. Instead it relies on the city clerk’s judgment.
“Put simply, a candidate has no obligation under the City Charter to offer anything to verify his claimed residency,” the report states.
Smith, who represented Blue, said he found the report to be thoughtfully researched, but he disagreed with the interpretations of the law.
“I think the most important part of what he wrote is that the city clerk is the one with the burden of establishing residency and by operation of city charter the council can pass the city resolution further specifying how any requirements for candidate should be, and they haven’t,” Smith said. “His conclusion is because they haven’t specified anything further than the charter dictating that the city clerk is responsible for determining qualification that, that is what controls it and therefore the burden lies on the city clerk.”
Thomas compared his situation to that of Hillary Clinton when then-FBI Director James Comey announced he was investigating her emails a month before the 2016 election.
Thomas said he plans to file complaints against the city.
“They knew they had no merit to it whatsoever,” Thomas said.
“You embarrassed the city of Fort Myers, and you did it for pure political reasons,” Thomas said during Monday’s city council meeting.
Ultimately, Alley said it was the city council’s responsibility to look into the matter after possible issues of election fraud were raised.
“I want to commend the mayor and city council. You were presented with an affidavit alleging voter fraud and you could not ignore it,” Alley said. “When you are presented with that evidence you have to address it, and you had to address it.”
“When we were presented with this evidence it could have invalidated an election.”