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Brevard GOP leaders issue open call on chair to step aside

Brevard County Republican Executive Committee Chair Rick Lacey faces a growing uprising opposed to his re-election. Today, a list of high-ranking Republicans signed an open letter indicting his leadership over the last two years.

Hitting inboxes two days before Lacey stands for a vote, the letter makes clear there is a divide among establishment and grassroots activists in the region.

“You have to get hands dirty to clean up a mess,” said Cheryl Lankes, Brevard County State Committeewoman and one of the signatories on the letter.

Lacey, who this weekend faced criticism over a recording of him criticizing Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis’ winning gubernatorial campaign, said he remains confident he’ll stay county chair.

Randy Fine is behind all this, and I don’t have any comment,” he said.

Indeed, Fine, a Palm Bay Republican, serves as the top name on the open letter, but it sits atop 12 other names, including Brevard County Commissioners Kristine Isnardi, Bryan Lober and John Tobia, Melbourne City Councilmen Tim Thomas and Paul Allfrey and West Melbourne City Councilman John Dittmore. Party leadership on the list includes Lankes, BREC Vice Chair Nick Tomboulides and District 2 Chair John Weiler, as well as former Chair Jason Steele and former Vice Chairs Bob White and David Isnardi.

The letter holds Lacey most into account over miscommunications and failures around this year’s “slate mailers” — those listings of all the Republican candidates with party backing.

“The slate mailers were sent more than a week late and did not arrive until ten days after early voting began — versus the Democrats whose mailers were not only correct, went out in an organized and timely manner which ultimately gave them an unnecessary advantage in the election,” the letter reads.

Party leaders say by the time correct mailers reached vote-by-mail voters, many already had ballots for weeks. Meanwhile, efforts to reach early voters and those waiting until Election Day fell short because of the slate mailer mix-ups.

But the most divisive problems within the party, according to Lankes, may stem from the management of the party’s membership roster. The letter goes into detail on that complaint as well.

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“In the last week, you and your surrogates have conducted a somewhat random purge of the BREC rolls,” the letter reads.

“Elected officials who never missed a meeting were removed, but members who passed away more than a year ago remained on the roster despite multiple requests for their removal. Even today, two days prior to the meeting, no one knows who is actually a member. You have failed to follow the rules in keeping the list up to date on a regular schedule, handling excuses, and handling credentials challenges.”

The letter states Lacey oversaw the party during record dysfunction and suggests attacking DeSantis, who previously represented the Space Coast in Congress, ultimately led to a loss in confidence in his leadership.

The truth of that will be tested this Wednesday, when the party holds county elections, including naming a chairman for the next two years.

Full letter below:

Rick,

As current Brevard elected officials, as well as current and former board members of the Brevard Republican Executive Committee, we are writing this open letter to ask you to step aside at Wednesday’s proposed election and allow new leadership to take the reins of the Republican Party of Brevard.    With an ascendant Democrat Party that is being effectively run by new leadership, the bar has been raised, and as those who watched your leadership in the face of that the past two years, we need someone new who can take us to the next level.   We ask you to step down for the following reasons:

First, you have shown little more than token interest in growing the Brevard Republican Executive Committee outside of its Viera/Suntree base which contributed to election losses.    Two years ago, Rep. Fine made a single request of you — that you consider moving the meetings around the five Commission districts in order to make meetings more accessible to those living in North and South Brevard.   You refused.    That refusal resulted in weaker grassroots networks in those areas.   A tent and a few volunteers at a public event once or twice a year is not enough to convey concern to the vast constituency that lives in the Northern and Southern portions of our county. Your lack of focused effort in growing membership in these areas resulted in multiple “nonpartisan” losses in North and South Brevard — two city council races in South Brevard (Palm Bay and West Melbourne) and three council races and a school board seat in North Brevard (Cocoa and the District 2 School Board race).

Second, you have shown little ability to fundraise to create an effective party infrastructure.   In well run RECs, like Sarasota County, the REC raises money to help candidates.   That is what the Democrats did in this year’s elections — providing direct financial support to candidates. Under your leadership, a large portion of the BREC’s fundraising comes from candidates and elected officials.   In other words, you tax candidates — you don’t financially support them.

Third, you failed in your direct responsibility to effectively help Republican candidates in this cycle with the botched slate mailers. Republicans lost elections as a result.   Despite multiple people being willing to assist you, you insisted this program be managed directly by you.   The slate mailers were sent more than a week late and did not arrive until ten days after early voting began — versus the Democrats whose mailers were not only correct, went out in an organized and timely manner which ultimately gave them an unnecessary advantage in the election.   What made matters even worse, the slate mailers were riddled with errors. Some candidates were not represented in their precincts and other candidates were on mailers in areas not applicable to their races. Our port commission candidate was simply excluded from the mailer.   In West Melbourne, half the city had no idea who the Republicans were running for City Council, which directly led to the election of a Democrat in that race. By the time a second mailer went out to correct the issue, it was sent to absentee voters three weeks after they had received their ballots, and not to the early or regular voters. To restate — you sent mailers to Republicans who had voted three weeks earlier, but not other Republicans who had not yet voted. This error negatively impacted thousands of Republican voter decisions. Frankly, this travesty alone should be disqualifying.

Fourth, you have incompetently managed the membership roster, calling into question the legitimacy of the entire process.   In the last week, you and your surrogates have conducted a somewhat random purge of the BREC rolls.   Elected officials who never missed a meeting were removed, but members who passed away more than a year ago remained on the roster despite multiple requests for their removal.   Even today, two days prior to the meeting, no one knows who is actually a member.   You have failed to follow the rules in keeping the list up to date on a regular schedule, handling excuses, and handling credentials challenges.    You have allowed different District Chairs to use differing criteria in determining the membership of their districts.   One such example, Melbourne City Councilmen Tim Thomas and Paul Alfrey both attended similar meetings, and missed others to assist Republican candidates.   One remains a member; the other not — the only reason being they have different district chairs.   In effect, you have guaranteed that Wednesday’s election will be open to questions of legitimacy.   This is made worse by the fact that you could be the beneficiary of this purge.   For this reason alone, you should step aside.   You cannot be seen as benefiting from what is, at best, incompetence, and, at worst, an active effort to cook the books.

Fifth, your public comments regarding Gov. DeSantis disqualify you from leading our party.   We won [an] historic victory last month.   Despite pressure across the country, our unapologetic conservative, Trump-backed gubernatorial candidate, Ron DeSantis, won [an] historic victory.   For you to go around the county publicly trashing his campaign is simply offensive to all of us who worked hard to make that victory a reality.   For you to criticize his campaign in light of your misfeasance and incompetence on the slate mailer is particularly hypocritical.   We deserve a party chair who supports the state party; not one who tears it down.

Sixth, you have failed to unify the party and have presided over the most dysfunctional Executive Committee in the history of Brevard County.   To be clear, some of that may not be your fault — there are certain members of BREC who have unquestionably made your job difficult.   But it is the leader’s job to figure out how to unify disparate factions, and you have not been able to so.   There is no question that dysfunction will get worse — not better — if you are to win re-election.   A true leader who put the party before themselves would recognize this and step aside.

Finally, you have lost the confidence of those of us willing to take this extraordinary step of publishing this open letter — and in no way do we represent that this list is exhaustive. Do not assume that any elected official or current or former BREC board member that is not on this list disagrees with us; this is who came together organically over the past six hours.   Others may join this call.   We, as elected officials and BREC leadership, are depending on the Chair to help lead us to victory in 2020.   It is clear to each of us that you are not equipped to do so.   We ask on behalf of ourselves, our constituents, and all Republicans in Brevard, that you do the honorable thing and step aside so that new leadership can attempt to rebuild our local party for the next election cycle.

Sincerely yours,

Randy Fine, State Representative

Kristine Isnardi, Chairwoman, Brevard County Commission

Bryan Lober, Vice Chairman, Brevard County Commission

John Tobia, Brevard County Commissioner

Tim Thomas, Melbourne City Councilman

Paul Alfrey, Melbourne City Councilman

John Dittmore, West Melbourne City Councilman

Nick Tomboulides, BREC Vice Chairman

John Weiler, BREC District 2 Chairman

Cheryl Lankes, Brevard State Committeewoman

Jason Steele, former BREC Chairman

David Isnardi, former BREC Vice Chairman

Bob White, former BREC Vice Chairman

Written By

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.

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