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Ill elections officer plans resignation

The Pinellas officials is leaving amid a struggle with breast cancer. The interim supervisor will face a busy election.

By EDIE GROSS

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 13, 2000


CLEARWATER -- Pinellas County Elections Supervisor Dorothy "Dot" Ruggles, who is battling breast cancer, plans to resign soon from the post she has held for 12 years.

Ruggles, 59, announced just a few days ago that she probably would withdraw as a candidate in the November elections because of her illness. Her latest decision comes less than four months before the Sept. 5 primaries.

Gov. Jeb Bush has the authority to appoint an interim supervisor, and Ruggles is hoping he will strongly consider her recommendation that Deputy Administrator Deborah Clark fill the position.

Bush's office would not comment Friday, but other Republicans said they would support Clark.

"I think it's very reasonable to have Debbie Clark appointed supervisor of elections to handle the elections this year," said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor. "The continuity and experience she would bring to the job if Dot Ruggles were to resign would be unmatched by anybody else in the county. I would be supportive of that."

This will be one of the busiest and most challenging election years on record for Pinellas County. There are nearly 40 races on the ballot.

Clark, 51, a close friend of Ruggles and a county elections employee for 22 years, said she is willing to take over. She also said she would run for the office in November if chosen as the interim supervisor.

"What we do is so important to us. And we realize this is a major political year, the biggest political year we have, a presidential election, and we feel it's important to keep the staff intact."

Ruggles, who was unavailable for comment Friday, has not picked a resignation date yet, said Clark.

Paul Bedinghaus, chairman of the Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee, said elected officials and party leaders would probably make a recommendation to Bush if Ruggles resigned. He said he would be more likely to support an interim supervisor who was willing to also run in the November election.

"Then, they run as an incumbent. Then we can get unified behind somebody," Bedinghaus said.

State Rep. John Morroni, R-Clearwater, has discussed running for the supervisor of elections post in November, Bedinghaus confirmed.

Morroni, who must leave his House seat because of term limits, already has announced his intention to seek the County Commission District 6 seat, but he must move into the district to do so -- something he has not done yet.

Morroni did not return phone calls Friday. But Bedinghaus said the lawmaker had not made any final decisions.

"He doesn't want to be presumptuous. It's hard to discuss these things without looking tacky," he said. "His concern and mine is Dot and her health right now."

Ruggles has worked for the Supervisor of Elections office for about 23 years. She was automatically elected to the office in 1988, 1992 and 1996 after drawing no opposition.

Her breast cancer was diagnosed at least a year ago, and she has been undergoing chemotherapy. She has been doing some work from home lately, said Clark, but " she's still in charge, believe me."

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