The race for the Volusia County Council at-large seat heated up with controversy May 23 after candidate Jake Johansson, former city manager of Port Orange, slammed the exclusion of the only female and Black candidate from a May 12 event held by the Volusia County Teenage Republicans (TARS).
The at-large seat is held currently by former Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson who has said he would not run for re-election. There are four candidates currently in the at-large race, so the contest will be on the primary ballot Tuesday, Aug. 23.
“I find it appalling that Chair Brower, and Terri Brower, who were both in attendance, advised or otherwise allowed the TARS to have a debate that included Doug Pettit, Andy Kelly and myself while choosing to omit Candidate Sherrise Boyd,” Johansson wrote in a Facebook post on his campaign page. “I leave it to the voters to judge who and what motivated the exclusion of Ms. Boyd.”
The race is officially nonpartisan. Johansson and Pettit are Republicans, while Kelly and Boyd are Democrats.
The teen group is separate from the official county Republican Party, but Johansson noted that the president of TARS is Brason Brower, and its club sponsor is Terri Brower, the son and wife of County Chair Jeff Brower.
The Facebook post, which was shared on community pages, led to a raft of social-media-assisted controversy, as Brower, Pettit and Boyd all responded.
“I know the purpose of this little Facebook group but when you attack my wife and son I will not let it stand. You are clearly the candidate of big government republicans led by Paul Deering and Vic Baker who accompanied you to video your performance,” Brower commented in response. “Terri does not vote on the board, the teenagers run their own board. That was their call to invite Mr. Kelly and their call to not invite Sherise [sic] who they had already heard in a debate. They did not have to explain their decision that was made for their reasons to you or anyone else.”
Pettit, a veteran and former teacher, chimed in.
“I don’t buy into all the accusations and innuendo flying around on this. It’s a private club and the kids can invite whoever they want, candidates are excluded from debates all the time,” he wrote.
Boyd, a former Volusia County employee, also got into the mix.
“Perhaps because I am the only woman in this race, it could be 100% discriminatory one could argue, unless anyone can think of another reason to discriminate toward me….,” Boyd wrote in a separate post.
“Jeff Brower is working to stack the County Council to ensure he always gets his votes passed,” she added.
Brower has endorsed Pettit, whom Boyd has called “hand-picked” by Brower as a candidate.
And finally, the Volusia TARS wrote their own Facebook post:
“Concerning Ms. Boyd; the reason she was not invited to our meeting is very simple…she does NOT hold our values. We have had the opportunity to listen to her at prior events along with what she expresses on social media platforms and it was clear to us that she espouses a liberal agenda,” the group wrote.
A little less than three months from the primary election, and several weeks ahead of the week of official qualifying for candidates, the fight appears to be already on.
Johansson leads the pack in campaign contributions so far, with $60,933.16 from a mix of individuals and businesses. He began his campaign in December 2021, and has spent $13,410.88.
Johansson is trailed significantly by Andy Kelly, who has $20,000.11 in the form of a loan to himself, plus 11 cents in bank interest. Kelly entered the race at the end of April, and so far has spent $127.14.
Pettit has a war chest of $11,254.26, mostly from individual donations by retirees. Pettit entered the race in mid-March, and has spent $2,795.87.
Boyd trails the pack in campaign money with $2,280, mostly in small amounts from individuals, and she has spent all of it. Boyd entered the race in early February.