RIVIERA BEACH – Mayor Thomas Masters defeated two challengers to win a fourth term in office – but not without controversy.
Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher criticized Masters for dropping off 300 absentee ballots just an hour before polls closed.
Masters responded that in addition to wanting to be re-elected, he was also making sure every vote was counted in the March 12 voting.
He defeated former Council Chairwoman Billie E. Brooks and Councilman Shelby Lowe.
Masters said sometimes ballots are held until there is a number deemed significant enough to drop off because his staff is not reimbursed for gas or the time it takes to make the pickup.
“As a candidate, we are constantly getting [absentee] ballots and calls to pick up ballots. We are not going to run to the Supervisor of Elections Office every time we get 10 ballots,” he said. “That’s more than five miles away from Riviera Beach. It would be different if we had an office closer.”
Bucher said the polls did close at 7 p.m. so Masters was within his legal right to drop off the absentee ballots at 6 p.m. But, she said, it delayed the official certification of the votes.
“We wouldn’t turn anyone away before 7 p.m. but Masters understands that we have to process the votes,” Bucher said. “We have this type of situation with the general election when voting for president but they generally don’t hold on to ballots. (Staffers) bring them in as they get them.”
Masters said additional staff or different hours may be needed at the Supervisor of Elections Office to ensure the expedient tallying of votes.
“It is not our intent to inconvenience the supervisor of elections and if there is a way we can bring the absentee ballots in at 4 or 5 p.m., we certainly would work with that,” he said.
Bucher said her office has the ability to start tabulating votes as early as 15 days before the actual day of the election.
Masters said he will push on with his efforts to curb youth crime in the city. He said he has worked hard in the last six years to rid the city of crime with a curfew on youth. “Not one young person has been shot or killed during the curfew hours,” he said. “I would like to continue to make the city safer with security cameras.”
Crime has gone down slightly but high-profile incidents of gun violence such as last year’s “Sweet 16” shootings have cast a negative image on Riviera Beach.
That incident took place during a birthday celebration on Sept. 1 in Newcomb Banquet Hall at the Riviera Beach Marina, 180 E. 13th St. Two teenage boys were killed and six others were injured when a gunmen started shooting after an argument.
Lowe, who served three consecutive terms as councilman, told the South Florida Times in an interview just before the election that the perception of Riviera Beach has not been favorable, which was why he decided to enter the race for mayor.
“The perception of our government is incompetence, corruption, high crime and unemployment,” he said. “These are the things people are talking about when referring to our city.”
Masters said he was befuddled by these comments since Lowe had spent six years on the council and he asked what the former councilman did to address those concerns.
Brooks, who served two terms as councilwoman and most recently as council chairwoman, could not be reached for comment.
Masters, Brooks and Lowe were nearly all disqualified from the mayoral race when it was discovered that all three candidates signed campaign checks to pay for qualifying fees.
According to state law, only the campaign treasurer or deputy treasurer is authorized to sign checks unless the candidate names herself or himself treasurer.
City Clerk Carrie Ward reviewed the mistakes and decided to certify the candidates in spite of the potential disqualifying technicality.
In other Riviera Beach races, Bruce Guyton beat Elizabeth Pertee Robinson for the District 1 seat that was vacated by Brooks. Incumbent Cedrick Thomas won over challenger Rodney R. Roberts for the District 3 seat. Kimberly Jackson lost to Terence “TD” Davis, who secured Lowe’s District 5 seat.
In West Palm Beach, Commissioners Keith James of District 4 and Isaac “Ike” Robinson Jr. of District 2 ran unopposed. Robinson is the longest sitting commissioner, completing his seventh term prior to this election, the last five being consecutive.