Over the past few days, I’ve debated a lot on whether or not I should be writing this letter. Rarely am I a person who voices my opinion in an open forum as it relates to the Florida Democratic Party. However, what has brought me to this point, is the uncomfortable feeling that the party is on track to repeat the same process, where those who know how to game the system, are doing it once again.
Last Thursday, the news broke of several women making statements regarding “inappropriate behavior” about then-Chairman Stephen Bittel of the Florida Democratic Party. Many of the women came out anonymously for fear of retribution, that they felt “uncomfortable” and that several felt “he was creepy towards women.”
Shortly after these statements were released, then-Chairman Bittel announced that he would be resigning. His official resignation was submitted, yesterday, November 20, 2017 at 11:59 pm.
Hours before his official resignation, then-Chairman Bittel called for a regularly scheduled meeting of the Florida Democratic Party Executive Committee to be held on Saturday, December 9, 2017 at 1:00 pm.
It is because of this regularly scheduled meeting, that I now write this open letter. For those who may not be too familiar with our state party bylaws, the calling of this meeting may not seem out of the ordinary. However, given the current circumstances there are many things wrong with the fact that the outgoing chair, who is resigning because of allegations, has called a meeting of the executive committee for the purposes of regular business shortly after our state party convention.
I say all of this because, I feel that this is a special election to fill the vacancy under the guise of a regular meeting and I object to this. I feel in no way shape or form, can the outgoing chair be responsible for calling a state party meeting, where there could be a special election to elect his successor. For this course of action to take place would mean that we as a party will once again choose which rules we abide by or don’t abide by. The process is clearly laid out in the bylaws on steps moving forward after a resignation and we must follow these rules.
We need to uphold our bylaws. We need to live our values and allow for a clear, transparent and democratic process where the vote for our newly elected chair by the State Executive Committee is not rushed. We have a right to make an informed decision, we have a right to lay out a timeline which provides an opportunity for all who seek to run for chair to campaign across the state. We cannot advocate for expediency, which will comprise the integrity of our rules and processes. We established a process and we owe it to our party to not game the rules, we must do what is right. It is unfair to rush this process.
After consultation with several state executive committee members who understand the bylaws just as much as I do and even more than I; I recommend the following timeline to allow ample time for candidates to campaign, without having too much of a gap between the shifting leadership. At the end of the day, the First Vice-Chair and now Acting Chair holds the power to allow for a clear, transparent and engaging democratic process.
- On November 20, 2017 at 6:30 pm, State Executive Committee members received an email calling for a regular scheduled meeting to be held on Saturday, December 9, 2017 at 1:00 pm.
- On November 20th, 2017 at 11:59 pm, the official resignation of FDP Chairman Stephen Bittel was submitted and received.
- With this resignation, a vacancy was then created. This means as of today, FDP 1st Vice-Chair is our current acting chair. Refer to the FDP Bylaws, Article II, Section 2.3.1 State Chair’s Absence: The First Vice Chair shall perform the duties of the State Chair on his or her absence or in the event of a vacancy in the office. The First Vice Chair shall perform other duties usual to such office or which are required in the State Chair’s absence, except for appointments to standing committees or to the Central Committee. The First Vice Chair shall preside over meetings of the State Executive Committee in the absence of the State Chair.
With the First Vice-Chair as the Acting Chair, she can now perform the duties of the chair to void and cancel the scheduled meeting that was called by then-Chair Bittel who has officially resigned.
Once the meeting is canceled, the Acting Chair can then perform her duties as noted in Article II, Section 2.7 Vacancies: In the event of a vacancy in the office of State Chair, the First Vice Chair shall call a meeting of the Central Committee within thirty (30) days for the election of a new State Chair who shall serve until the next regular meeting of the State Executive Committee. In accordance with this section, I recommend, that the acting chair should conduct a vote-by-mail by December 20, 2017, of the Central Committee for the election of the Interim Chair. This would encourage more modernized techniques of casting a vote.
Within a timely manner, after the Interim Chair is elected by the Central Committee, the interim chair will have all of the powers to perform the duties of the chair, including appointments to standing committees or to the Central Committee. Given that we will be in the holiday season, the interim chair would call the next meeting after the holidays.
The interim chair could call the next regularly scheduled State Executive Committee meeting during the first or second weekend in January. During this meeting, the election for the new State Party chair would be held and whoever is elected would serve out the remainder of the term.
I have laid out this timeline to show that we can play by the rules and be effective and maintain the integrity of the process and our party. As elected members of the State Executive Committee, we do not serve at the discretion of our own personal beliefs, we represent local DECs who entrusted us and elected us to our positions and we must do right by them.
We cannot enter the 2018 election season with bad energies and bad vibes where members of our party and our voters see the internal functions of the party where many double standards exist.
In the moment where hatred is running rampant, people feel emboldened to target vulnerable people and communities. We should push our values forward and continue to fight for equality, equity, justice, fairness and all the things that makes us the People’s Party. But this must start at home first with transparency and an engaging process. It is only then will our voters feel empowered, we will turnout voters across the state and mobilize them to the polls, to take the Governor’s Mansion, we will hold onto our U.S. Senate seat, we will increase our numbers in the Florida House and get closer to having a majority in the Florida Senate and we will strengthen our bench and win local.
Francesca Menes, MPA
Treasurer, Florida Democratic Party
State Committeewoman, Miami-Dade Democratic Executive Committee