Two sheriffs appeal budget decisions to Gov. Scott, Cabinet
Gov. Rick Scott and the three elected Cabinet members are being drawn into contentious budget battles between two Florida sheriffs and their county commissions.
Sheriffs Sadie Darnell of Alachua County in Gainesville and Nick Finch of Liberty County in the Panhandle have filed appeals of county votes to reduce their budget requests. Scott and the Cabinet must decide which side is right, at a tense time when police officers in a number of cities have been targeted and murdered. The Florida Sheriffs Association adopted a resolution Tuesday calling on all elected officials to support law enforcement officers and to denounce hate speech against police.
State law allows a sheriff to appeal local budget decisions to the governor and Cabinet, and the clashes played out Wednesday at a meeting of Cabinet aides at the Capitol in Tallahassee in advance of a Cabinet meeting next Tuesday.
Darnell is fighting a reduction of $936,000 from her budget request of $26.3 million for this budget year. Her appeal has been grinding through the bureaucracy since last October. A staff summary said commissioners reduced her budget for school resource officers, which Darnell said forced the elimination of 12 full-time employees.
Darnell, a Democrat who faces a challenge in the Aug. 30 primary, accused county commissioners of being "punitive and vindictive" and she played a portion of a June 2 commission meeting to make her point. Her slide presentation said "reduction jeopardizes public safety" and noted: "Due to the current climate in our country, I have mandated backups be sent to all calls for service."
"This is inappropriate," Darnell said, accusing commissioners of holding her agency hostage by withholding raises for deputies.
Alachua County Attorney Michele Lieberman countered that the commission's decision was not "arbitrary and capricious" Lieberman said Darnell shifted the 12 positions from road patrol to schools in 2013 after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and that the sheriff assured commissioners that the shifting of resources would not negatively impact public safety. Lieberman also said that the schools that lost sheriff's deputies were already being patrolled by municipal police departments.
"Clearly, there is adequate funding for the sheriff's office," Lieberman told Cabinet aides. She said the county has offered Darnell $156,000, which is a two-month pro-rated share of the $936,000 for the final two months of this fiscal year. Lieberman also said the controversy could be resolved at a commission meeting next Monday, Aug. 1.
Finch is challenging the Liberty County Commission's decision to reduce his budget by $282,000.