JACKSONVILLE — Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams is defending his decision to move to Nassau County.
The sheriff told us on-camera Monday, that he moved to Nassau County about a year ago—a change from what he told us on Friday when he said he officially moved two months ago.
Either way, the question is the same: Did he violate the city’s charter?
There is some precedent for sheriffs living outside the county they serve.
A 2018 advisory opinion from the Florida Division of Elections determined a sheriff candidate for Jefferson County could run even though the candidate resided in Leon County.
But Ben Wilcox with Integrity Florida explained in that case there wasn’t a city charter in play.
“I don’t think he’s the sheriff anymore,” Wilcox said.
Wilcox noted Jacksonville’s city charter explicitly states the office of sheriff shall be considered vacated if a sheriff moves their residency outside of Duval County.
He said state statute has been silent on residency requirements for sheriffs since state lawmakers removed them in 2010.
“The state doesn’t prohibit local governments from establishing residency requirements. You know, I think this is a clear violation of the city charter,” Wilcox said.
Williams contends the two are in conflict.
“That you know, inconsistency with the charter was something that was always there. It’s been there since 2010 and I don’t think it’s something that just appeared you know out of the blue. So, you know, as we move through the next couple of day’s we’ll come to a resolution,” Williams said.
City Council President Sam Newby told us he thinks the sheriff is wrong.
He’s asked the city’s General Counsel to issue an opinion on the matter by Wednesday.
“It is unfortunate. The Sheriff has done a really great job. Like I said, we have a great relationship. I mean, we’re friends, but it’s about this residence issue and we will definitely see,” Newby said.
If the determination goes against Williams, the sheriff said a court battle isn’t out of the question.
“There’s a clear inconsistency between the charter and state law. There’s a way to correct that without court, but I don’t know that that’s gonna be an option the city takes up,” Williams said.
Wilcox suggested Williams could potentially face legal consequences if he improperly held a position he was no longer qualified to hold for a year.
“I don’t know if it would be a violation of Florida’s ethics laws, but I think certainly you know, just violating the city charter could have some kind of legal consequences I would think,” Wilcox said.
The ordeal has also sparked an outcry from community leaders.
The Northside Coalition told us it feels Williams has been an absentee sheriff for the past year.
Coalition leader Ben Frazier argued the fact Williams has now admitted to moving out of the county, just reinforces what the community had already suspected.
Frazier is demanding Williams’ resignation.
“While we have sat back and watched gun fights in broad daylight increase, gun violence and other crimes increase and unfortunately we find out he’s been living in Nassau County,” Frazier said.
So far, 2022 has seen a 17 percent spike in homicides compared to this time last year.
Multiple community demonstrations demanding action on the rise in violence have been held, but Frazier accused the sheriff of being silent on the issue.
“He’s now catching redfish and flounder and trout in Nassau County and singing that old song from the television series Green Acres,” Frazier said.
Williams said Monday he doesn’t see any scenario where he would resign.
He also said he rejects the idea he’s unable to address the needs of Duval County while living across the county line.
“I’ve been working for JSO for 30 years and I spent the majority of that time you know, working with the community so, I’m going to continue to do that. Nothing changed there,” Williams said.
Mayor Lenny Curry offered a defense of Williams on Twitter Monday, saying in part, “He is always engaged, present and cares deeply about this community”.
Performance aside, Wilcox said the optics of the situation don’t paint the sheriff in a positive light.
“To the general public this looks really bad. It looks like the sheriff intentionally hid the fact he moved to another county, and it looks like he was hoping he wouldn’t be found out,” Wilcox said.
Frazier went as far to say the sheriff’s actions set a bad example for rank-and-file officers.
“We would all agree that it is better for the police officers involved to live where they police. Unfortunately, the sheriff, a public figure, is not leading by example,” Frazier said.
Newby reiterated that the issue in question is not the Sheriff’s performance.
“He’s been doing his job. That is not the issue and I want to make sure to tell the citizens that’s not the issue. The issue is the residence. The residence is the issue that he doesn’t live here,” said Newby.
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If it is determined the office of the sheriff has been vacated, city council members will have to set a special election to be held within six months.
Newby said the elections would likely be held in August and November, the same dates as the upcoming primary and general elections.
In the meantime, the Governor would be tasked with appointing an interim sheriff.
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