JACKSONVILLE, Fla — Action News Jax investigator Ben Becker has learned from multiple sources the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and at least one member of the City Council pushed back against Mayor Donna Deegan over the job title of a former political rival of Sheriff T.K. Waters.
Lakesha Burton ran for sheriff against Waters in November 2022 and lost. Mayor Deegan announced Burton’s position of Chief of Public Safety on June 16 as part of her incoming administration.
However, just eleven days later Deegan told Action News Jax’s Tenikka Hughes on June 27 in a one-on-one interview, Burton’s title had changed to Director of Community Initiatives.
“I think there was some confusion in the community when we called her the Chief of Public Safety,” Deegan said at the time. “People wondered if we were trying to set up our own, you know, sort of dynamic with the Sheriff’s Office, and that was never the case.”
Becker was told by one source Deegan’s initial announcement “ruffled some feathers” and that Burton’s new title would suggest she’s a JSO Chief when she is a retired JSO Assistant Chief.
It also raises the question if the pushback was political payback for running against Waters.
University of North Florida political science professor Dr. Michael Binder predicted problems in an interview with Action News Jax shortly after the news came out in June.
“That can be seen as, ‘I [Waters] beat this person [Burton]. I am the Sheriff and now you’re appointing them over me?’ And that could be taken the wrong way,” Binder said.
In June, JSO wasn’t shy about asserting Waters’ constitutional authority. “The Sheriff was constitutionally elected to serve as the highest-ranking law enforcement officer in Duval County with powers derived from both state and local law. He is solely responsible for law enforcement and public safety in Jacksonville,” a JSO spokesperson said. “The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office always welcomes civilian engagement in promoting public safety.”
Becker emailed JSO to ask what role it played in Burton’s change of job title and if it’s now satisfied but never heard back.
Becker asked the Mayor’s Office if it felt pressured. “It was our decision in the Mayor’s Office to update the title to better reflect her focus on prevention and intervention programs that build safer communities,” a spokesperson said.
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It’s not the first time Burton, a two-decade veteran of JSO has drawn attention from the agency. Burton received a cease-and-desist letter from JSO prior to the election that demanded proof she received written permission from former Sheriff Mike Williams to wear a uniform in ads – permission that was extended to Waters after he provided a letter from former Sheriff Pat Ivey.
Burton’s appointment will likely now be approved by City Council. The same cannot be said for another Deegan appointee, Al Ferraro, who sources tell Becker faces an uphill battle to serve as the Director of Neighborhoods.
Ferraro once owed thousands of dollars in fines to that very department and there is some bad blood among his former Republican colleagues on City Council because Ferraro crossed party lines to join the Deegan administration after he ran for mayor against Republican establishment choice, Daniel Davis. Ferraro’s nomination goes to the Rules Committee in two weeks.