When and why Florida governors have suspended elected officials

Gov. Ron DeSantis removed the Hillsborough State Attorney — what did his predecessors do?
Former Florida Gov. Rick Scott, left, and former Gov. Charlie Crist, seen here in 2014.
Former Florida Gov. Rick Scott, left, and former Gov. Charlie Crist, seen here in 2014.
Published Aug. 5, 2022

When Gov. Ron DeSantis came into office in 2019, he suspended three elected officials within his first two weeks.

He was following through on a promise that he had made during his inaugural address. There, he pledged to lead with purpose and conviction and said that “if a local official is neglectful of required duties, I will remove that official.”

None of those three officials had been charged with a crime, though some in the community had been pleading for their removal — particularly when it came to Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, whose office failed in effectively responding to the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

DeSantis also removed Palm Beach Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher for ballot counting delays and the Superintendent of Okaloosa County Schools for reports that special needs children were being neglected.

But before his removal Thursday of Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren, most of DeSantis’ suspensions had been because the elected officials were charged with felonies — a standard for Florida governors.

Rick Scott, DeSantis’s predecessor, had mostly removed officials charged with corruption-related crime or other felonies, according to an analysis from the Sun Sentinel.

Scott rarely veered outside of that pattern, but did suspend Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes, who faced no charges but was accused by Scott of election failure. A judge said Scott unfairly vilified Snipes and was too vague in his reason for suspending her. DeSantis lifted the suspension and accepted her resignation instead.

Suspending officials for committing crime isn’t unusual for Florida governors, though even those cases can cause political back-and-forth. Removals for incompetence are more rare.

When he was governor, Charlie Crist once announced he had suspended 37 public officials in just 36 months, calling it “disappointing.” His suspensions included an official charged with racketeering in a billion-dollar Ponzi scheme, a commissioner who redirected county funds to a family-owned business and officials arrested on charges of taking bribes.

Gov. Jeb Bush suspended Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer in 2005 after Dyer faced charges of paying for someone to collect absentee ballots. Dyer said it was politically motivated and promised to fight back. He won — prosecutors dropped the case, and Bush reinstated Dyer after having suspended him for six weeks.

Bush’s removal of Broward Supervisor of Elections Miriam Oliphant, who faced no criminal charge, was the most recent instance where the Florida Senate had a hearing for a removed official, according to the Sun Sentinel.

No other hearings have occurred since that 2005 case, which followed Oliphant’s suspension in 2003.

At the time, Oliphant, who was accused of incompetence, wrote to then-Attorney General Charlie Crist, saying Bush was acting like a “banana republic dictator.” Crist rejected her request for help.

Bush also removed and then reinstated a Leon County commissioner who was found not guilty of a crime, but who was under an open ethics investigation for soliciting sexual favors from female staffers. Bush said he reappointed the man reluctantly, but “...based on the law, and based on the practices that we’ve established, I felt compelled to reinstate him.

Not all Florida governors have rushed to suspend local officials charged with a crime — in the 1990s, Gov. Lawton Chiles declined to suspend Kenneth City’s mayor and council members who were charged with violating the Sunshine Law, saying he wanted to wait and see how the case turned out.