More at stake in sheriff’s residency controversy than a vacant office

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — City council members are weighing in on Sheriff Mike Williams’ residency controversy as they await an official opinion from the city’s General Counsel.

Williams defended his decision to move out of Duval County Monday, arguing state law conflicts with the city charter, which states the office of the sheriff shall be considered vacated if the sitting sheriff changes their residence outside of Duval County.

“There’s a clear inconsistency between the charter and state law,” said Williams.

Councilmember Ronald Salem is hoping the General Counsel comes back with an opinion allowing Sheriff Williams to maintain his position.

“I think the sheriff has been good for Jacksonville,” said Salem.

But he said he realizes there is a possibility that won’t happen.

“I’m told by some people the charter overrules any other state statute or provision,” said Salem.

Williams acknowledged Monday there could be a resolution where he has to move back to Duval.

“That’s part of the discussion we’re having,” said Williams.

But City Councilmember Matt Carlucci told us even that might not be enough if the General Counsel determines the office has been vacated.

“If he moves back that’s half the battle, but the other half is you know, is there a remedy for reinstatement?” said Carlucci.

In theory, the Governor could reappoint Williams, but even then, Carlucci isn’t sure the council could get around having to hold a special election, which would push Williams out in November.

“He’s in a pickle,” said Carlucci.

Northside Coalition leader Ben Frazier argued even if Williams were to move back, the ship has already sailed.

“The rule of law says this sheriff vacated his position. Moving back here would not resolve that issue,” said Frazier.

Finding a way to get Williams back in office may be the least of city council’s worries depending on what the General Counsel ultimately recommends.

Council members are already mulling worst-case scenarios.

In theory, the General Counsel could determine Williams vacated his office the day he moved out of Duval County, which was about a year ago, according to the sheriff.

Salem fears every action Sheriff Williams has made in his official capacity over the past year could be deemed null and void in that case.

“From contracts to promotions and all those things in place,” said Salem.

Carlucci added even things like sentences and dispositions on legal cases could be called into question.

“And if it does, well, you might have a bunch of lawyers moving to Jacksonville you know to take up people’s cases,” said Carlucci.

There’s also the question of salary.

By our calculations, Williams has been paid more than $200,000 as sheriff since he moved into Nassau County early last year.

Frazier suggested there could be calls for a settlement to have that money returned to the taxpayers.

“Because he’s been collecting our money on that job that he has not been serving in legally,” said Frazier.

Carlucci says there’s no way to know what all will be at stake until the General Counsel releases his opinion.

“This is really uncharted waters for the city and so our General Counsel Jason Teal’s got his work cut out for him. I’m not sure how quick an answer he can come up with, but I think we need to resolve this quickly, I think would be well-to-do,” said Carlucci.

The General Counsel is expected to render his opinion by 2 p.m. Thursday.

Ultimately the city council will act on whatever recommendation the General Counsel comes back with, but Sheriff Williams has said there’s one thing he’s not willing to do.

“I don’t see any scenario where I resign,” said Williams.