JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Sheriff Mike Williams answered reporters’ questions Monday about living in Nassau County for the past year while serving as Jacksonville’s sheriff.
News4JAX reporter Jim Piggott asked, “Can you tell us why you didn’t tell anybody?” Sheriff Williams answered, “Listen, I think at the end of the day that inconsistency with the charter is something that was always there. Since 2010, I don’t think it was something that just appeared out of the blue, so as we move through the next couple of days, we will come to a resolution.”
(Click the play button directly below to watch the full, uncut interview with Sheriff Mike Williams)
Records show Williams and his wife sold their Jacksonville home a year ago, listing a new address in Nassau County on the deed selling their home.
According to the city’s charter: “If the sheriff should die, resign, or remove his residence from Duval County during his term of office, or be removed from office, the office of sheriff shall become vacant.”
However, Williams points to state law, which does not require a sheriff to live in a county where they serve, and Williams said the state law would overrule the city charter in this case.
Piggott also asked the sheriff, “A lot of people, and you’ve read the comments, they believe this just isn’t right, to be the sheriff and move out of town. They say it shows Jacksonville isn’t safe, what do you tell them?”
Sheriff Williams answered, “I completely disagree. We are a big metropolitan area, so there’s a lot of people that work and live in Jacksonville without residing in Jacksonville. JSO, me included, we are working everyday to keep people safe, and I think there’s example after example of that, so I disagree.”
News4JAX political analyst Rick Mullaney, the director of the Public Policy Institute at Jacksonville University, anticipates local law will trump state law.
“My legal opinion is that the charter does apply. And by that I mean, the residency requirement applies,” Mullaney said. “There does not appear, really, to be a conflict between state law here and the charter. In fact, the state law appears to be silent and local governments, charter counties can impose their own requirements such as term limits.”
Mullaney says the scenario is unusual, but to some extent understandable because there’s been a lot of litigation about term limits, residency requirements, constitutional officers and their appointments.
When asked if there would be any scenario that would make him move back to Duval County, Sheriff Williams said, “There could be, there could be. That is part of the discussion we are having and we will conclude this rather quickly.”
The sheriff said he will be speaking with the city’s Office of General Counsel on Tuesday.
Mullaney said he doesn’t think Williams was trying to deceive the public, but said he should have checked with the general counsel before moving out of the county he took his oath in.
“And I think clearly in good faith, he feels very strongly, from what I’ve read and from what I can determine, that he’s on good ground here. And he may have been advised by someone that he had good ground here, good grounds, and so he could move,” Mullaney said. “However, I do think it’s an area in which there’s going to be some disagreement, some legal disagreement. So he may not have gotten a good counsel in some place.”
Duval Democrats and Republicans weigh in
Monday afternoon, the Duval Republican Party issued a statement that reads, “Sheriff Mike Williams and the Sheriff’s Office continue to serve our city with the utmost distinction and professionalism. The Republican Party continues to back the blue, our Sheriff and the brave men and women of law enforcement.”
The Duval Democratic Party’s statement read, “Mike Williams, by his actions, abandoned the Office of Duval County Sheriff on March 4, 2021. The charter is clear, Duval’s elected Sheriff must live within the county boundaries -- full stop.”
Lawmakers and community leaders react
We asked members of the Jacksonville City Council their thoughts on this issue.
City council member Matt Carlucci said, “I think it was a mistake, and I hope he corrects it and moves back to Jacksonville. He is a good man and I want to see him finish up his term. This could be a tempest in a teapot if he does the right thing.”
City council member Joyce Morgan said, “As a city council member when I registered and filed to run, I filed under the impression that I have to live in the district that I serve. So I think that is the expectation and I think that’s what all the citizens would say.”
News4JAX also spoke with Congressman John Rutherford, a former Jacksonville sheriff. He said, “It’s the same way I feel about congressional members not living in their districts. I would live in the district I serve.”
Ben Frazier, president of the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville, issued a statement the reads in part: “The city’s top cop is violating the letter and spirit of the law.”
Mayor Lenny Curry showed his support for Sheriff Williams with a tweet.
I have worked with and served with Sheriff Williams @jsosheriff for almost 7 years. He is always engaged , present and cares deeply about this community— Lenny Curry (@lennycurry) May 30, 2022
City Council President Sam Newby wants a legal opinion from the city’s Office of General Counsel by 5 p.m. Wednesday. It’s unclear if the Counsel will have it completed by then.