By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
DELAND - At the end of August, workers started a long awaited West New York Avenue streetscape. Right in front of the Volusia County Historic Courthouse, which is the Supervisor of Elections' office.
Supervisor of Elections Ann McFall isn't liking this.
"Two thousand people a day vote at the department during early voting," Ms. McFall said. "They usually enter the New York side, because it's easier."
Eight on-street parking spots are in front of that historic courthouse entrance. They accommodate an unknown number of cars on normal days - certainly many more during early voting. Except when there's construction barricades filling them and the sidewalk is torn up.
Early voting starts on Oct. 27. The county's canvassing board starts meeting on Oct. 22. Both draw lots of folks.
The symbolism of barricades and torn out sidewalks in front of the Supervisor of Elections office during the voting season is icky, Ms. McFall said. More importantly, the elections office is an important stop for numerous folks in October and November. Then there are the 30 elections employees and 100 temp workers.
"Election night - my god, I can't think of that," Ms. McFall said.
At its last regular meeting, Monday, Oct. 1, the DeLand City Commission got an earful from residents about the ill-timed sidewalk construction throwing up barricades in front of the elections office during a hotly-contested voting cycle.
"Voting is sacred in this country, as it should be," Susan Dupree told the commission when it was hearing comments from the public. "Back to my question - how did this happen?"
An innocent oversight, City Manager Michael Pleus said.
"The start time happened when the start time happened," he said.
Pleus said the city was coordinating the project with the Florida Department of Transportation, which is picking up most of the tab. The project, approved by the commission last year, will cost about $800,000. The city's Community Redevelopment Agency is paying about $250,000 of that. Construction will likely last until the beginning of 2013, and come in two phases - the north and then south sides of New York Avenue.
The speakers, including Ms. Dupree, were volunteer voter-registration workers for Organizing for America. All emphasized they were speaking to the commission as individuals, and were not representing the Democratic Party.
Mayor Bob Apgar agreed the city made a mess it needs to clean the best it can before early voting starts.
"I understand the perceptions and barriers and host of issues with them," he said. "There's still access to all places in the courthouse."
Ms. McFall said her office was never consulted about construction times or plans to direct the public while sidewalks and curbside parking were out of commission. She has a meeting scheduled with DeLand's city manager to discuss options for making it easier for voters and others to spot parking and entrance options. There are few that won't generate controversy, she said.
Ms. McFall said her office gets about 20 to 30 telephoned complaints a day about the barricades and construction. An uncounted number of visitors also complain.
"I can't think of anything to do but put up a sign that says, 'Complaints: call the city of DeLand,'" she said.