One county does not elect its sheriff and bill would make sure that stops
Voters across Florida would be asked to decide if Miami Dade County should have an elected sheriff under a proposed 2018 constitutional amendment that passed the Senate Community Affairs on Tuesday.
The bill, SJR 134 by Sen. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, would ask voters to require Miami-Dade to convert the county's appointed sheriff to an elected post.
In 1996, Miami-Dade County voters updated its charter to provide for a strong mayor system that included giving the mayor the ability to appoint the sheriff, making it the only one of the state's 67 counties not to have a sheriff on the ballot.
For Artiles, a Miami Republican who has considered seeking county office in the past, the current arrangement is devoid of the proper checks and balances needed for a local government. He noted that the Florida Sheriff's Association supports the proposal.
"This is a no-brainer,'' he said. "The sheriff's association was very clear: 66 out of 67 counties have an elected sheriff. This is the most viable alternative to get this passed."
But the proposal is opposed by Miami-Dade County which argues that if county voters want an elected sheriff, they should be able to make the decision themselves, not get permission from voters of Pensacola to Key West.
"That's inherently a local decision," said Jess McCarty, Miami-Dade County lobbyist. "I would ask you to see if you would want this for your community?''
Artilles countered that while McCarty was "a great guy. He works for the mayor."
John Rivera, president of both the Miami-Dade and Florida Police Benevolent Association, said his organization also supports the bill. The police union has been a long-time foe of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and supported his opponent in the 2016 election, Raquel Regalado.
After narrowly missing an outright win in the August primary, Gimenez became the first incumbent mayor forced into a November runoff since the strong mayor system was implemented.
"Sometimes there are bills that hit the hornets nest,'' Rivera told the committee. He said the current system violates the principle of separation of powers, noting that in 2012 the former mayor dismantled the office of public corruption to interfere with the investigation into fraudulent absentee ballots.
"We need some separation of power, otherwise you have absolute power, absolute corruption,'' he said.
He noted that Gimenez submitted a qualifying check that was dated 2015 instead of 2016 and the supervisor of elections, whom Gimenez also appoints, allows the Gimenez campaign to replace the check.
Regalado filed suit just days before the election but failed to disqualify Gimenez's campaign.
Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, who voted against the bil, said that asking 66 counties to decide the fate of another county was neither a "good solution nor a good precedent."
"Whether we need an elective sheriff or not should be up to Miami-Dade,'' he said. "I don't think a very, very blunt instrument going statewide is the way to resolve this."