The cost to be a St Johns County commissioner

Should county commission candidates spend over a year’s salary to get elected? Historic City News editor Michael Gold spent about 20 years consulting candidates or managing their campaigns in local elections in St Augustine, St Johns County, and five counties in Georgia and South Carolina — ten campaigns in all, before retiring in 2004; all but one was a winner.

Consultants and managers look at the business side of a political campaign; hopefully, as closely as the voters look at the candidates themselves. As paid professionals, delivering a winning message is what the job is all about — even if they otherwise have no skin in the game.

The 2012 county commission races, which already have the sage pundits startled, have the potential to change the direction of county government — either for the better or for worse. Readers need look no further than the reign of corruption at the hands of convicted felon Thomas G. Manuel and any two other commissioners in his pocket at the time to understand “the worse” part.

Because of a 1973 uniform salary amendment to an antiquated 1885 compensation law, through September 30, a St Johns County commissioner cost us, as their taxpayer-employer, an annual salary of $65,703 — plus benefits. On October 1, they got a pay raise, as they do every year, even though the other county employees did not.

They are currently elected to serve the residents and visitors of the county by about 152,000 registered voters — even though a large percentage of them will not vote.

There is, however, a different aspect of the cost of St Johns County commissioners; the cost that consultants and managers look at — the cost candidates pay to become one. How much would you be willing to pay to get the $65,703 a year job?

Four years ago, District 1 County Commissioner Cyndi Stevenson spent $67,120.00 in cash, plus received $1,742.83 in-kind contributions, to win her campaign for re-election. However, only two years earlier in 2006, Karen Stern spent $197,815.10 and lost re-election to Ron Sanchez — who only spent about $13,000.

In the final analysis, at least to a consultant or manager, it is the “cost-per-vote” upon which everything else is compared.

We are going into a General Election, and the District 3 seat has already been decided. According to the figures provided by the Supervisor of Elections, all three candidates for the open seat spent about the same. Bill McClure won the seat spending $1.74 per vote, runner up, Ray Quinn, spent $1.73 per vote, and John Ruggeri spent $1.72 per vote.

Other races are not so close.

Brian Iannucci received 9587 votes in his first run for election as County Commissioner for District 1. He spent $8,399.83 — or 88¢ per vote. He lost to Cyndi Stevenson in the Primary Election, but Stevenson spent $3.18 per vote to do it.

In the District 5 race, the incumbent, Ken Bryan, was voted out; running third in a three-man-race. He managed to get 6418 votes and paid $3.10 each to get them. Second place opponent, Alan Kelso, beat Bryan by 144 votes — even though he spent nearly $1.00 per vote less than Bryan; $2.16 per vote.

The winner in that Primary, Rachael Bennett, beat the runner-up, Alan Kelso, by only 131 votes. The difference, besides the win-loss, was that Kelso spent $2.16 per vote. Bennett spent a whopping $6.86 for each of her 6693 votes. All together on the Primary Election, Bennett spent more than any other candidate, $45,940. As of last week’s financial report, she has spent a total, cash and in-kind, of $79,922 to get elected.

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