Issue: Elected Sheriff Vs. Appointed Chief
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The controversy about Sheriff John Rutherford's layoffs of dozens of police officers last week in response to budget cuts mandated by Jacksonville City Council continues.
It has even given new life an old idea: replacing the elected sheriff with a top law enforcement official appointed by the mayor and ratified by council.
In an interview on The Morning Show on Monday, Mayor Alvin Brown said he has kidded with Rutherford about his current job title.
"I haven't focused on whether or not, how we restructure JSO in terms of an appointment," Brown said. "He is an elected official by the citizens of Jacksonville. Sheriff Rutherford, right. It is a constitutional office. I tease him all the time (that) I'd like to change his title from sheriff to police commissioner or chief of police, which I think is better."
Past mayors have looked into the issue of having an appointed sheriff rather than an elected sheriff.
A mayor who is able to appoint the sheriff is a mayor who has much more control over a budget, since the sheriff's office represents more than one-third of all city spending.
In 2009, John Peyton asked the Charter Review Commission to consider giving the mayor the power to choose a sheriff. The commission disagreed.
"The mayor has a lot more control over an appointed commissioner than he does over an elected sheriff," said Rod Sullivan of the Florida Coastal School of Law.
Sullivan said the process to change the city charter is not simple. The City Council would have to propose a referendum and vote to put it on a ballot next November. The voters of Jacksonville would have to approve the referendum, then the state legislature would have to make it law.
"I don't blame the mayor for looking at other solutions, but I'm sure this will become a hot-bed political issue if the mayor decides to do it," Sullivan said.
Fraternal Order of Police President Nelson Cuba said that despite his public criticism of Rutherford's budget priorities, he would prefer the people choosing their leaders.
"As an American in this country, I like choosing who represents me," Cuba said. "Whether the sheriff and I, it could be the mayor, have a difference of opinion on what we agree on, at least I want that choice to vote for that person."
Channel 4's Jason Law asked Rutherford for a reaction to Brown's comment, but his office did not comment.
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