Broward County's Smallest Village Has Election Issues
This story has been updated with additional information at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday
The Village of Lazy Lake is the smallest municipality in Broward County. Its population is just about 26 people, according to census data, and it's surrounded by Wilton Manors.
A listener reached out to WLRN about why Lazy Lake didn’t hold an election in 2018.
WLRN found most races for village council have only had one candidate.
Yet records from the Broward Office of the Inspector General show there have been other issues with Lazy Lake’s elections, including unqualified candidates.
Lazy Lake became its own, fully incorporated Village in 1953 in order to avoid becoming a part of a brand-new city at the time, Wilton Manors.
Fifteen houses make up the entire village. It's known for its quirks — like a trial in 1959 over illegal swans, geese and ducks — and also its one main street called Lazy Lane. (Though a few houses sit on NE 24th St.)
To represent these residents, there's a mayor and five council members. They are supposed to be elected positions, as the village charter states that elections should be held every two years.
Yet voting records from the Broward Supervisor of Elections Office show that Lazy Lake has been scheduling elections and then canceling them for years (the last one was scheduled for March 2016), as candidates seem to almost always run unopposed. There hasn't been an election in Lazy Lake since 2006.
The council members and mayor are volunteers. Residents usually rotate time on the council, which is scheduled to meet every third Tuesday of the month in Wilton Manors.
In August 2014, the Broward Office of the Inspector General concluded an investigation into Lazy Lake municipal affairs. It found some candidates running for village council were not qualified for office in 2012 and 2014.
Candidate oaths were not signed, dated or notarized as required by Florida law in those elections. Some forms were lost, or dated after the candidate qualifying period had closed.
The report even suggests that the village consider annexation.
"As an alternative to achieving lawful elective representation and governance from the municipal government of the Village, Lazy Lake's residents may explore whether and how Broward County or the City of Wilton Manors may receive the transfer of or be contracted to provide all municipal functions for the Village," the report states.
The report also questioned if any council members had legal authority to govern the village.
"The [Office Of The Inspector General] takes no joy in reporting these findings," the report continues. "We understand the constraints under which the Village operates, including lack of compensation, no staff, and limited municipal resources. Regardless, having observed the state of the administration of Lazy Lake, we are compelled to bring forward our concerns. Maintaining a minimal budget is not an excuse for circumventing laws that were designed to ensure democratic municipal governance."
Since the report, the election scheduled to be held in 2016 was cancelled. One of the members appointed during a vacancy was found to not have been a registered voter at the time he was appointed, and he was re-appointed in 2017 after qualifying.
A general election that was supposed to take place in 2018 didn't happen either. In November last year, the Broward Office of The Inspector General sent another letter to Lazy Lake, asking for corrective action.
Lazy Lake's current Mayor, Evan Anthony, responded to that letter by saying, "...There are currently no written procedures, however, we affirm that the Village of Lazy Lake has and continues to abide by all Constitutional, Statutory, Charter and Code Requirements of the State of Florida."
The village was later granted an extension to comply with requests, until March 1, 2019. It's unclear if Lazy lake met that deadline, the Office of the Inspector General does not confirm or comment on pending investigations.
Lazy Lake has been investigated for election issues in the past. There was a controversy in 1977 involving ballots stuffed in a shoebox — and the results of that election were thrown out.
The attorney representing the village declined to comment without the mayor's consent.
It's still being determined if the current mayor and council members can continue to serve in their positions until the next election, less than a year from now. The village's attorney has recommended they seek an opinion from the Florida Attorney General's Office, according to a letter from May 2019.
Anthony did not respond to multiple emails prior to this story. In a phone call Wednesday he told WLRN News, "We are waiting on a response from the state, from the Attorney General's office."
The next election in Lazy Lake is tentatively scheduled for March 10, 2020, and will cost the village $100.
You can read the full report from the Broward Office Of The Inspector General from August 2014, below: