Don’t show me the money

Supervisor of Elections office
A million dollars.

According to the records of the office of the Supervisor of Elections, that’s how much money was reported to have been raised and spent by candidates who wanted to be elected to a city or county position in St. Johns County four years ago.

Every candidate that I recall made some reference in their campaign to fiscal responsibility, doing more with less, or getting the most out of the resources already available to them.

None the less, collectively, they spent a million dollars just to promote themselves and to advertise “their message” to the voters in the hopes that they would be elected; a little more than half were unsuccessful.

Of course a few were elected without opposition; simply put, nobody ran against them. Charles Tinlin, for example, was elected to the County Judge seat for Group 2 unopposed; he raised and spent a total of $150.00 in the process. In fiscal 2007-2008, a county judge earned $137,020. Good money management, Chuck.

Several folks ran for boards; some that pay their members, others that don’t. Ponte Vedra elected MSD Seats 2, 3, 4 and 6, without opposition, and not one of them spent over $100.00 in the process; one spent only $26.

Suzanne Green was elected to her un-paid Airport Authority Group 4 seat spending only $50 despite her opponent spending $1,591.

Anastasia Mosquito Control District pays their members $4,800 each year and we elected three seats (1, 3 and 5) in 2004. Each of those seats drew opposition. Even though Seat 3 had three contenders and a total of $1,224 was collectively raised by the candidates, Barbara Bosanko was elected with contributions and expenses of only $170.

Some of our county “Constitutional Officers” also ran unopposed; Dennis Hollingsworth was re-elected Tax Collector, receiving and spending only $250 for a job where he earns $119,650. Penny Halyburton was re-elected Supervisor of Elections, receiving and spending only $550 for a job where she earns $101,645. Way to go, Dennis and Penny!

Given those figures, I’m not sure why Cheryl Strickland had to spend $3,130 to run for her $119,650 a year position as Clerk of Court, or, why Sharon Outland had to spend $8,980 to run for her $119,650 a year position as Property Appraiser. How much would they have spent if someone were actually running against them?

Of course $356,341 was raised and spent promoting the three candidates for Sheriff – a job that pays $128,236 a year. It’s possible that Sheriff Shoar will run for re-election this year without opposition. Since he is now well known throughout the county, I’m guessing he won’t need to spend $253,556 “getting acquainted”.

And what about those people who weren’t elected? How much did they feel they had to take from political supporters and spend promoting themselves – even though they lost?

George E. Haynes Jr. spent $8,130 and lost to Errol Jones. Jones outspent him, raising a total of $12,265 for a city commission seat; a position that is generally considered “part time” and only pays $14,338 annually (plus any approved cost-of-living adjustment).

Besides Haynes and Jones, Hank Whetstone spent $15,170 and Bill Lennon spent $42,304 in their attempt to win the mayor’s seat. All four lost to George Gardner who collected and spent $9,024 for a position that receives a $19,118 annual paycheck.

We elected two School Board members — Carla Wright to District 5 and Tommy Allen to District 2. Allen was in a 4-way race and spent $15,825 in campaign funds. Wright outspent her opponent, Hester Longstreet, 2-to-1, raising $10,090 to Longstreet’s $5,320.

School Board members earn $32,616 each year, and in my opinion, they earn every dollar. County Commissioners, on the other hand, earn $61,077. Why the disparity?

In 2004, nearly half ($440,495) of the million dollars raised on all political campaigns in St. Johns County was expended on the three county commission seats.

$194,095 was spent campaigning in District 1.

$119,218 was spent campaigning in District 3.

$127,182 was spent campaigning in District 5.

With all the uproar over this year’s budget cuts and rhetoric over fiscal conservatism, who will truly show that they can “do more with less” this campaign season?

The analysts look at “cost per vote” when evaluating the efficacy of political campaigns. Some of our elected public officials did a “good job” last time — others, not so good.

I think that as informed voters, we should hold this year’s candidates to a high standard of “political efficiency”. Show us how conservative you can be with your own political campaigns. Don’t waste hundreds of thousands of dollars on campaign signs that do little more than litter our highways and neighborhoods or on slick and glossy advertising designed to turn our heads.

Convince us that you are honest. Convince us that you will use good judgment. Show us that you will be financially responsible and be a good steward of public money entrusted to your care by being conservative in your own political campaigns; not wasteful, extravagant, or the recipient of excessive contributions.

I will be watching the periodic campaign contribution and expenditure reports with a keen eye focused on where the money is coming from and where the money is going to.

I will make the decision for the candidates I intend to elect accordingly, and I hope you will do the same.

Photo credit: Historic City Media news photographer Kerry McGuire

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