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Candidates qualify for Ocoee’s once scheduled, now up-in-the-air special election

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Norine Dworkin

Editor in Chief

Saturday, April 22, 2023


Norine Dworkin/VoxPopuli

Candidate Nate Robertson at Ocoee City Hall, on April 21, the first day of the qualifying period for the special election for District 4 city commissioner.

Former District 4 Commissioner George Oliver III and Ocoee resident Nate Robertson both qualified Friday for the city's special election for District 4's city commission seat. The election is still scheduled for June 13.

The candidates each paid $90 and received a candidate packet with the rules for campaigning and a notice that the election itself was in a state of limbo.

The special election was scheduled for June 13 by unanimous vote during the March 21 commission meeting. But after three residents questioned the meaning of the phrase “general city election” in the city charter at the April 18 commission meeting, the commissioners decided to bring in outside legal counsel to render an opinion on whether the election must be held in June — which will cost the city $8,000 to $10,000 — or whether it could be delayed until the March 2024 presidential primary. The commission will take up the matter again May 2.

Robertson said “it’s really an honor to qualify today” in a quick interview outside the city clerk's office at Ocoee City Hall, and listed his priorities as managing development, fixing roads, controlling traffic and maintaining Ocoee as "a great place to live and raise a family.”

“There’s always things to work out. We can always disagree on some of those things, and we can always come back to the table and come to the middle and say what can we work on to actually get done,” he said.

Oliver’s run for his old seat has stoked anger in some quarters among residents furious that the city may have to foot the bill for a special election because he vacated his seat to run for mayor two years before his term ended. Oliver was initially elected in 2018 and re-elected in 2021. The District 4 commissioner's term expires in 2025.

Oliver told VoxPopuli in an interview at city hall that he ran for mayor rather than finish his term “because it was time.” He added that he wanted to demonstrate that no one should be afraid to run for office regardless of who opposed them. “It took courage to give up my seat, knowing that I was a voice for District 4, to run against someone that had so many different connections, to run against someone I knew was going to play dirty. I still stand on who I am. I stand on my convictions. I stand on the same principles."

As for trying to reclaim his seat now, Oliver said he wants to continue to be a voice for District 4.

“I should be running for my seat again to continue the work I started, but also to be that voice that will not go along with everything that they said on the dais,” he said.

Ideologically, Oliver, a Democrat, and Robertson, a conservative Republican, may not share much, but they are united in their opposition to moving the election to March 2024.

Robertson, who held his campaign kickoff event Thursday night at Bike Life in downtown Ocoee, said the way he reads the city charter, he doesn’t believe the March primary qualifies as a general city election.

“If this was a question about putting it on the March 2024 ballot, I wish that that question had been discussed on March 21, 2023, so that we weren’t here at the day of qualifying with 53 days until the June 13 election, not knowing if we’re going to have a June 13 election,” he said.

Oliver said that an argument could be made for changing the election date if the word “city” wasn’t in the phrase “general city election.” He said that “city” and “municipal” are synonymous, so the charter's meaning is clear. “We’re not having a general city election within the next 12 months, so the charter states we need to have a special election within 90 days. We’re following the charter.

“What that [effort to change the date] tells me is that we have four members that sit on that dais right now that’s willing to go against our charter, against the counsel of our lawyer. You want to know why I’m running for office? Because I’m willing to stand up for what’s right. What they’re doing is wrong. They’re not trying to suppress a vote, they’re trying to take away the vote.”

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