Statewide vote could put a new sheriff in town even if Miami-Dade doesn’t want it

Redacción Agencias | 3/28/2018, 6:59 a.m.
Statewide vote could put a new sheriff in town even if Miami-Dade doesn’t want it

Miami-Dade County is the only county in Florida without an elected sheriff. But a proposed constitutional amendment could let Floridians decide this November if Miami-Dade should elect its top cop for the first time in more than 40 years.

Proposal 13, which moved forward in a state constitutional commission this week, would require counties to hold elections for five offices, including tax collectors, property appraisers, supervisors of elections and clerks of circuit court. But the biggest-ticket job on the list — sheriff — singles out the state’s most populous county, which appoints a police director instead at the discretion of the mayor.

Opponents say the change, which other voters in the state could approve by the necessary 60 percent even if Miami-Dade voters don’t agree, would violate the county’s home rule charter. But supporters counter that the change would bring Miami-Dade in line with other counties and add more transparency and public accountability to the role.

“The constitutional officers don’t implement policy from a [county] board,” said Commissioner Carolyn Timmann, clerk of the court in Martin County and the proposal’s sponsor on the Constitution Revision Commission. “They follow state laws, state rules and the state constitution.”

Miami-Dade hasn’t had an elected sheriff in 40 years, since allegations of rampant corruption led to the indictment of then-Sheriff T.A. Buchanan and a voter referendum to eliminate his elected role. Buchanan was acquitted, but the job was not — voters chose at the ballot box to do away with the elected position entirely.

In the decades since, the county has only further cemented its commitment to appointing its top cop. In 1996, its voters updated the county charter with an executive mayor system that, among other things, allowed the mayor to appoint a manager who hired department heads like the police director. In 2007, Miami-Dade adopted a strong mayor system, giving the mayor the oversight to directly appoint a police director.

For now, Miami-Dade is the only county in the state that appoints its top police officer — though Volusia County, which does elect its sheriff, divides responsibilities between the department of public safety and the department of corrections.

Six other counties — Brevard, Broward, Clay, Duval, Orange, Osceola — have changed how other positions like county clerk are filled, and would also be affected by the change. All eight counties are governed by charters that currently allow them to make changes to how they can fill certain county roles.

The Legislature has tried at least twice in recent years to require elections for those jobs. Former Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles, who resigned his office in disgrace in 2017, pushed the idea in both 2015 and 2017, though he succeeded neither time. But the Constitution Revision Commission, the powerful 37-member body that meets once every 20 years, could put the issue directly before voters on this November’s ballot.

Supporters say that making the jobs elected would improve accountability to voters and increase the autonomy of the role.

“That’s what’s unique about the office of sheriff — you have a direct say in how the office of sheriff is being run,” said Michael Adkinson, Walton County sheriff and president of the Florida Sheriffs Association. The Florida Sheriffs Association has supported the measure for several years.