City of Port St. Joe Accused of Breaking State Election Laws

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A letter recently went to homeowners in Port St. Joe with their monthly water bill. In it, it asks them to vote "No" in Tuesday's election. The election deals with development laws.

The "Vote No" message in itself is a "no-no" if it comes from City Hall because any message using taxpayer money is supposed to be neutral. So did it come from City Hall? Port St. Joe Mayor Frank Pate, Jr. says it did.

In a conversation with NewsChannel Seven, Pate says if he broke any laws, he did it out of ignorance, not out of intention. The whole issue has drawn the ire of the Panhandle Citizen's Coalition, because the group is the target of the "Vote No" letter, and now the group is fighting back.

"At least it puts the public on notice that this kind of thing is happening and hopefully they'll remember that when they vote (Tuesday)," said John Hedrick of the Panhandle Citizen's Coalition.

The coalition is filing complaints with the state elections office, saying laws were broken because when the ad ran in "The Star" newspaper in Port St. Joe, it didn't have the necessary disclaimer saying it was a paid political advertisement and it didn't say who paid for the ad.

"Ultimately we'd like a finding that the city did do this and hopefully it will prevent anything like this from happening again in the future," said Hedrick.

Billy Joe Rish, City Attorney for Port St. Joe, says to his knowledge, the city hasn't done anything wrong, but he was looking into the matter. He adds, the city never intended to and never intends to do anything illegal.

Mayor Pate also admits to using the city's phone bank system to call voters, urging them to vote no in Tuesday’s election. Polls for the election are open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Eastern time.