Oliphant fights for reinstatement

Although FAMU alumna Miriam McKenzie Oliphant was not involved with the 2000 election, or the scandal that followed, she is still suffering what some might say are the repercussions of that event.

Oliphant has been suspended as the Broward County Supervisor of Elections since November 2003.

Oliphant went before Senate Attorney and Special Master Stephen Kahn for a procedural hearing on April 5 to determine if she could reassume her post as supervisor of elections.

“The governor has brought these legal charges against Oliphant; now it’s up to him to prove them,” Kahn said.

Levying charges that include neglect of duty, misfeasance, and incompetence, Gov. Jeb Bush suspended her, without pay. Later saying he felt she was not performing her assigned duties.

Alia Faraj, press secretary for Gov. Bush, said that Oliphant could not properly manage her office.

“In this case, the proven, repeated and continuing failures of Miriam Oliphant to properly manage her office and take the most basic preparatory steps for the conduct of elections and the substantial likelihood for greater harm going forward, make it clear that Ms. Oliphant can no longer serve as Supervisor of Elections for Broward County,” Faraj said.

In January 2003, an investigations assessment team, under the supervision of then Secretary of State Jim Smith, conducted a comprehensive review of Oliphant’s performance as elections supervisor.

“He launched the investigation in response to numerous complaints about her performance and ongoing concerns about her ability to ensure proper elections,” Bush said.

After extensive investigations and assessments, Gov. Jeb Bush deemed it necessary to suspend Oliphant.

“Removing an elected official is an act of the last resort. It is a decision that should only be made after carefully weighing the rights of the voters to choose their representative against the harm done to those voters by an official who consistently fails to meet the basic obligations of his or her office,” Bush wrote in a letter written to the Senate President Jim King, R-Jacksonville.

Oliphant, however, disagrees with that statement and said she was not given a fair chance.

“(The governor and other senators) have been micro-managing my position since I have been there,” Oliphant said.

Henry Hunter, Oliphant’s attorney, said Oliphant was elected as Broward County Supervisor of Elections in 2001 after the 2000 election, which embarrassed Broward county.

“She came into the position and registered 312,000 new voters, mostly Democrats, and this is how she is treated,” he said.

Oliphant said when she was elected, she was determined to change the negativity associated with Broward County and the 2000 election.

“I went into the low-income neighborhoods, high schools and colleges, and I registered people to vote,” Oliphant said. “I conducted an aggressive, outreach program.”

At the hearing, Oliphant asked the State of Florida or Broward County to pay for her attorney’s fees in advance and also requested a motion to dismiss the charges.

Kahn denied both requests.

“Public officials can get reimbursed for their attorney’s fees, but they have to be exonerated of all charges first,” said Kahn, who has worked for the state for 32 years.

Hunter said Oliphant is ready and willing to do whatever it is that needs to be done to get her job back.

“She had her constitutional position taken from her, and we will fight by any means necessary.”

Oliphant said, “I want students to call the governor and tell him to reinstate my position.”

contact tyre sperling at tsperling2001@yahoo.com.