The top vote-getter in the Nov. 19 Ocala City Council runoff election was not allowed to take office Tuesday night.
Tyrone Eugene Oliver Jr., who is the co-founder of Ocala-based Deliverance Outreach Ministries, was ruled ineligible to take the District 2 seat replacing longtime Council member Mary Sue Rich because of a felony conviction more than 30 years ago. Ocala City Attorney Patrick Gilligan made the announcement at Tuesday night’s regularly scheduled City Council meeting. A special election is likely to be called at the next City Council meeting in December.
The 63-year-old Oliver defeated Ire J. Bethea Sr. by just 124 votes to win the District 2 seat. But two days after his victory, questions surfaced about his eligibility to serve. The issue was brought up on a local Facebook page and the city quickly launched an investigation, with Gilligan vowing to do extensive research before bringing his findings to the commission.
The confusion seemed to center on the passing of Amendment 4 – Voter Rights Restoration for Felons – in November 2018. Questions were raised about whether that measure restored felons’ other civil rights, including the right to hold public office and the right to serve on a jury. However, the amendment language only applied to the restoration of voting rights and was silent as to other civil rights denied to felons, a statement from the city said.
The Ocala City Charter requires that a City Council candidate shall be a “resident qualified voter within the district from which the candidate seeks to be elected, and shall have been a resident of the City of Ocala for not less than one (1) year prior to his election to office” – requirements that were met by Oliver.
A candidate also must provide a residency affidavit where he or she affirms, under oath, that they are qualified under the Constitution and the laws of Florida to hold office. Oliver attested to such when applying for the District 2 candidate position, the city’s statement says.
Background checks have never been a part of qualifying a candidate for City Council. The City Charter does not mandate background checks for City Council candidates and the City Clerk has never been instructed to run a background check on any candidate for elected office in the city. Qualification relies solely on a candidate’s sworn affirmation that all eligibility requirements have been met and the Marion County Supervisor of Elections has no role in checking a candidate’s background or verifying a candidate’s eligibility to run for office, the statement says.
Oliver spent $19,241.31 to win the election – mostly on political signs, recorded telephone calls and mailers. Bethea, who was endorsed by Rich, spent $11,437.68 in the race. Following his defeat, he thanked voters on his Facebook page and offered a message to those who supported him for the District 2 seat, which represents Northwest Ocala.
“I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me, I’m good,” he wrote on Nov. 20. “God has something he wants me to do! Pray that I’m ready when I’m called.”
Bethea also said the election wasn’t about him.
“It’s about our community!” he said. “I’m willing to work with anyone that has the best interest of the citizens and community at heart.”