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Utility candidate not giving up

The state won't look into her case, but she and others say they may sue for fraud.

By Jodie Tillman, Times Staff Writer
Published February 20, 2008


HUDSON - Even in the beginning, Joan Pajerski was an insurgent candidate. She ran because she was fed up with fees and spending decisions. She formed a small coalition with like-minded citizens. She promised to change the system.

Then Hudson Water Works, the nonprofit utility serving about 2,700 customers, held its board elections. And Pajerski lost.

Or so she now wonders.

Pajerski has accused Hudson Water Works officials of election fraud.

She sent a complaint to the Florida Department of State's Division of Elections. She says that three - not two - seats should have been up for election. She says that a number of voters were turned away from the meeting. She says the utility director counted the ballots too fast and yelled at her proctor.

After the elections last month, board chairman Craig McCart reported that the two incumbents - Roy Sibley and Bill Kramer - got 52 votes each while the challengers - Pajerski and Len Puustinen - got 48 votes apiece. Pajerski included in her complaint statements from two proctors who said they counted 202 total votes, not 200.

The Division of Elections last week said no thanks to her case, saying it did not meet the legal sufficiency required to prompt an investigation into election fraud. Pajerski is undeterred. She and others are talking about suing for a new election.

Hudson Water Works did what many a stressed-out political body has done before it.

It formed a committee.

Utility director Durwood Horak, who reports to the board, says this committee will look into its records to answer Pajerski's complaint, which is now with state consumer officials.

"We feel everything was done the way it should've been," he said. "If a mistake was made, we're certainly going to own up to it."

He declined to answer questions about the allegations of his actions while counting the ballots. He said his lawyer is looking into those claims.

"These accusations look to me like they could be a defamation of character," he said.

According to available evidence, Pajerski appears to be correct about the number of seats that should have been up for election. Minutes from the 2007 annual meeting say Marie Flick was appointed to fill the remaining term of Joe Gibson, who died while in office. His term expired in January, according to previous meeting booklets. But Flick remains on the board and was not required to run for re-election this year.

Horak said the minutes and booklets may have been incorrect, and the board's committee is looking into that.

Pajerski isn't quitting. She said she's motivated by principles.

"This is my meter," said Pajerski. "This is my water company."

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.