Controversy is brewing even at the local political level this season as two Kissimmee City Commission candidates face scrutiny over residency requirements and other paperwork just days before the General Election.
Candidate accused of notary falsehoods
Kissimmee City Commission seat 2 candidate Andrew Jeng sent out a press release Monday alleging notary falsifications in opponent Felix Ortiz’s residential qualifications.
The release pointed to an online investigative article by Florida National News (FNN), which states that the Notary Public who signed Ortiz’s rental agreement – to prove his Kissimmee residency – wasn’t an official Notary Public until three weeks later. The article claims that according to records at the Kissimmee City Clerk’s Office, the notarized acknowledgement was signed March 22 even though Susan Rodgers, the notary public, wasn’t commissioned by the State of Florida until April 15.
Now Jeng is asking the Orange-Osceola County State Attorney’s Office to look into the matter.
“Calling on the State Attorney’s Office to investigate is the first step to ensure trust in our election process,” said Jeng, who received less than half as many votes as Ortiz in the four-way August primary race for seat 2.
Response by Ortiz’s campaign
Marcos Marrero, Ortiz’s campaign manager, released a statement Tuesday accusing Jeng of running a smear campaign instead of helping Kissimmee residents.
“We have done nothing but run a clean, positive campaign, taking every opportunity to do good in our community,” Marrero said.
He pointed to lingering questions about Jeng’s campaign and “his share of issues with paperwork and possible voter violations.”
City Commission questions Jeng, about residency
It isn’t the first time someone has questioned Jeng’s residency.
On two different occasions, Jeng has used an Orlando address to make campaign donations, according to the Osceola County Supervisor of Elections Office website. The first was a $500 contribution to himself on Aug. 30, 2017 and the second was a $450 donation to U.S. Congressman Darren Soto (D-Kissimmee), who later endorsed Jeng.
Both Jeng and Ortiz went before the City Commission June 26 for a special meeting to clarify residency issues.
Staff asked why Jeng’s driver’s license – requested for qualification purposes – had an Orlando address, according to meeting minutes.
Kissimmee charter requires candidates to live within city limits for at least a year to qualify as a candidate in the primaries.
Jeng explained that he owns multiple homes, including one in Kissimmee, and used his Kissimmee address to run for office. He said he didn’t know he had to update the address on his driver’s license.
Jeng also said he had voted in Orlando elections after purchasing his home in Kissimmee.
City Manager Mike Steigerwald called it “a red flag” that Jeng didn’t have a Kissimmee address on his driver’s license, according to meeting minutes.
Ortiz’s residency was also questioned, since his name is on a deeded property in Osceola County, outside city limits.
But Ortiz’s attorney stated that Ortiz’s wife signed an affidavit confirming his move to an address on Church Street in Kissimmee in March 2017.
This document has also come under question though, because the original document said Ortiz moved March 2018. It was only changed to 2017 a day before the special meeting.
“We made the best decision we could”
Wanda Rentas, the commissioner whose city seat Jeng and Ortiz are vying for, was the first to make a motion approving both candidate’s applications at the June meeting.
“The city provided us with information and we made the best decision we could at the time,” Rentas said. “They both were able to prove they resided, at least part of the time, in Kissimmee for at least a year, which is the only requirement to run.”
With only a few days until the election, it’s unclear if this turmoil will effect the way Kissimmee voters cast ballots on Tuesday.