Five months into his term Gov. Ron DeSantis so far has suspended eight locally elected officials from their posts over charges of incompetence, malfeasance, criminal behavior or other alleged misdeeds.
According to the governor’s office’s website, the list includes a sheriff and an elections supervisor from separate counties in South Florida, a schools superintendent and court clerk from different counties in the Panhandle, the mayor and vice mayor of a city in neighboring Pasco County, a board member of the mosquito control district in eastern Flagler County and Fort Meade City Commissioner Maurice Nelson Campbell.
The Florida Constitution says the governor may suspend county-level officials for “malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, drunkenness, incompetence, permanent inability to perform official duties, or commission of a felony.”
Looking at the eight cases involved, most of us likely would agree DeSantis acted appropriately in many of them.
Still, a pair of them raises the question of whether or not there is a role for the voters.
Undoubtedly, DeSantis felt the need to act in the cases of former Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, who bungled the response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in February 2018, and former Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher, who bungled last year’s election tally in her county.
Yet it could be argued whether the voters should have the opportunity to toss them out, since unlike the other suspensions they neither were accused of nor covered up any crimes.
With city officials, the Constitution is clearer.
If a municipal official is “indicted for crime,” the governor has authority to suspend him or her “until acquitted.”
DeSantis suspended Campbell in February after she was arrested on a felony charge of aggravated stalking. The Sheriff’s Office reported that a woman claimed Campbell targeted her with profanity-laced threats, including physical harm, after suspecting she was fooling around with Campbell’s husband.
Last week The Ledger’s Suzie Schottelkotte reported that Campbell, who has served on the City Commission since 2007, reached a deal with prosecutors to plead no contest to four misdemeanor counts of disorderly conduct. She was sentenced to two years of probation and paid nearly $1,000 in court costs.
Meanwhile, as reported last week, Fort Meade officials are concerned about Campbell’s lingering absence and its effect on conducting city business. The commission will weigh its options at its June 11 meeting.
For the good of the city, Campbell, now that the criminal case has ended with a conviction, should resign, and the city should subsequently let voters pick her successor via a special election.
Campbell could have fought the charges in court, and if acquitted, returned to her post and left it to voters to decide whether the allegation was serious enough to implement a recall election, which Fort Meade allows, or to reject her at the next election. Yet her decision indicates prosecutors had a strong case, since they seemingly used her suspension as leverage. One condition of the plea deal was Campbell pledging to not seek to be reinstated to the City Commission.
Accordingly, Campbell’s options obviously are limited by her agreement with prosecutors. Thus, while it is a sad end to her long tenure on the board, the longer Campbell delays only extends the disservice to her constituents and to her fellow commissioners.
An editorial from The Ledger in Lakeland.