TALLAHASSEE — Florida's top elections official, Secretary of State Kurt Browning, abruptly resigned Friday, expressing "mixed emotions" about leaving on the last day of the legislative session.
His departure was not entirely unexpected. A law passed by the Legislature a year ago narrowed a loophole that allowed highly paid state workers to retire and return to their old jobs and draw two salaries. The law, which requires employees to wait six months before returning to their old jobs, takes effect July 1.
"As you are aware, I am required to retire in 2010 under the provisions of the Deferred Retirement Option Program," Browning wrote in a letter Friday to Gov. Charlie Crist. "I am therefore tendering my resignation effective today. … There remains a great deal that needs to be done to ensure the successful conduct of this year's elections."
Crist said he was sorry to see Browning leave.
"His tenure at the state and local level has been one of integrity and dedication," Crist said. "His servant's heart and strong leadership will be greatly missed."
The governor appointed one of Browning's top assistants, Dawn Roberts, a former chief of the state Elections Division, to be interim secretary.
An Eagle Scout with strongly held opinions wrapped in a friendly, country-boy demeanor, Browning, 51, received generally favorable reviews for his stewardship of Florida's 2008 presidential election. He became Pasco County's elections supervisor in 1980 at the age of 22.
Browning was thrust into an awkward position shortly after taking the state office. An outspoken advocate of electronic touch screen voting technology, he was forced to side with Crist in his insistence on switching to paper ballots to record votes.
Browning could not be reached for comment. An aide said that after Browning retired, he surrendered his state-owned cell phone.
When Browning entered the deferred retirement program in 2005, he set his retirement date as July 31, 2010. He has a pension worth nearly $500,000.
"It's not fair to the state of Florida for me to sit out for six months and have the governor come back in and appoint me. It isn't fair,'' Browning said last year.
Browning had said he would not seek any special consideration. He also said he would be willing to delay collecting any pension benefits until he leaves state employment for good. He had hoped the Legislature would amend the law in the session that ended Friday, but it didn't.
Browning also had said that he would consider taking a 30-day hiatus before being reappointed by Crist. He said he was willing to delay acceptance of a lump-sum payout and retirement benefits until his career ends and would request the state put his earnings in a non-interest-bearing account.
Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@ sptimes.com.