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Largo official wants elections post

The interim appointment, for which Dot Ruggles recommends her deputy, is up to the governor.

By EDIE GROSS

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 16, 2000


CLEARWATER -- Largo City Commissioner Marty Shelby said Monday that he plans to run for the supervisor of elections post, occupied the past 12 years by Dorothy "Dot" Ruggles.

Ruggles, who has breast cancer, announced last week that not only would she withdraw her name from the November elections but she would resign her position soon because of her health.

Ruggles is recommending that Deputy Administrator Deborah Clark serve as interim supervisor of elections until the November vote. But Shelby said he plans to apply for the interim job too, an appointment that is ultimately up to Gov. Jeb Bush.

"I'm not saying her (Ruggles') recommendation wouldn't be meaningful or have value," said Liz Hirst, a Bush spokeswoman. "But there has to be a formal application process, and the governor has to determine the most appropriate and qualified person for the job. It's a little bit premature since there has been no resignation."

Paul Bedinghaus, chairman of the Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee, called Bush on Friday to ask about the process. Bush returned his call on Sunday and listened to Bedinghaus' concerns.

"There are a number of people who might be interested in serving who have approached me in the past few months," Bedinghaus said. "I wanted to be sure the window of opportunity was not closed before everybody was heard, to make sure we have an open and fair process."

The upcoming election promises to be one of Pinellas County's busiest, with nearly 40 races on the ballot.

In light of that, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, has said he would support hiring Clark in the interim because of her experience. Clark, 51, has worked for the Supervisor of Elections Office for 22 years.

Shelby, a 43-year-old lawyer, said his newness to the job could be a benefit.

"I would bring a fresh perspective and a willingness to improve what is already good," said Shelby, who said he had been approached about running for that office months ago. "But I hadn't seriously considered it until I learned of Dot Ruggles' intent to resign."

Ruggles has not selected a date to resign yet, Clark said.

Ruggles, who has worked in the election supervisor's office for 23 years, was automatically elected in 1988, 1992 and 1996 after drawing no opposition. She is a Republican.

Shelby, also a Republican, was elected to the Largo City Commission in March 1995 and again in 1998. His term does not end until March 2001, but Shelby said he would resign his seat to run for the elections supervisor's job.

Shelby said he would like to provide more elections information on the Internet, including candidate filing forms and lists of candidate campaign contributions.

Meanwhile, State Rep. John Morroni, who once considered running for the supervisor's post, said Monday he will not run for that position.

Instead, the Clearwater Republican is sticking with his campaign for the County Commission District 6 seat, which represents Pinellas Park, Seminole, northern St. Petersburg and beach communities from Redington Shores south to St. Pete Beach.

Morroni, who must leave his House seat because of term limits, is moving to an apartment in Feather Sound, just north of St. Petersburg, to qualify for that race. He said the sale of his family's Clearwater home will be final on May 26.

"My intent was to run for commission, and that's where I'm staying," said Morroni. "I put my heart and soul into this race."

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