JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Sheriff Mike Williams announced his sudden retirement Thursday morning amid controversy about a recent move from Duval to Nassau County. His letter to the public said he is retiring on June 10.
The city’s Office of General Counsel had been expected to weigh in Thursday on the question of whether the sheriff of Jacksonville can remain sheriff while living in another county.
The question arose when information came to light that Williams, 54, has been serving as Jacksonville’s sheriff for a year while living in Nassau County.
“After some consideration, I have decided that a court battle over my residency would not be good for our community,” Williams wrote in a letter announcing his decision. “I’m proud of my 31 years of service to this City and am excited about a new chapter and new challenges.”
News4JAX tried to call Williams for comment but he did not answer.
City Council President Sam Newby gave the city’s general counsel office until Thursday at 2 p.m. for a legal opinion on the issue, but Williams made the issue somewhat of a moot point Thursday when he announced he will retire next week.
The lawyer for the city of Jacksonville drafted what would have been a legally binding opinion that found Williams vacated his office when he moved from Duval County to Nassau County last year. Newby told News4JAX on Thursday that he withdrew his request for that report from the General Counsel after Williams announced his retirement. Newby said he thinks since Williams is retiring that it resolves the issue for now.
“After talking to legal they said that there was no point for us and City Council only has two questions, to see if there’s a vacancy then to call a special election. So when the sheriff resigned that opened up the vacancy,” Newby said.
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 said state law, which does not require a sheriff to live in a county where they serve, would overrule the city charter in this case. The city’s lawyer disagreed with that, according to a draft opinion obtained by News4JAX.
On Monday, Williams said he had no intention of resigning as sheriff, but he changed his mind sometime after meeting with city attorneys at the sheriff’s office on Tuesday.
Jacksonville City Council will hold a special meeting Monday to set a date in August for a special election followed by a runoff in November to fill Sheriff Williams’ unexpired term. It’s not clear exactly what time the meeting will happen.
Mayor Lenny Curry in a statement praised Williams’ work as sheriff and said he looks forward to working with the next sheriff, whoever that may be.
“I have worked closely with Sheriff Williams for the last seven years through many crucial situations including mass shootings, hurricanes, violent crime initiatives, investing in our children and much more. Mike is always engaged and he’s always involved. He’s given three decades of exceptional service to the people of Jacksonville. I wish him well in retirement and I look forward to working with our next sheriff to continue addressing many of Jacksonville’s most important concerns,” Curry wrote in a statement to News4JAX.
In response to Williams’s announced retirement, the Duval County Democratic Party issued a statement.
“The charter is clear, the elected Sheriff of Duval County must live within the county boundaries. Williams’s retirement, although legally dubious, now closes a chapter of lawlessness in our county,” said Duval County Democratic Party Chair Daniel Henry. “We look forward to the City Council calling an August Special Election to fill this vital position. While we call on the Governor to make a swift appointment of an interim caretaker Sheriff. The appointment should not be any candidate seeking the elected position. Voters should decide who serves as the next elected Sheriff.”
The Republican Party of Duval County also issued a statement to News4JAX:
“Mike Williams has dedicated three decades of his life in service to the citizens of the City of Jacksonville. Throughout the last seven years, Sheriff Williams has led the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office with honor, fidelity and the utmost professionalism. We thank the Sheriff for his service to our community.”
The Jacksonville Fraternal Order of Police also expressed support for Williams.
“Sheriff Williams has maintained the trust and respect of our members during his time in office. His career of service to our community spanned over 30 years and was exemplary. We wish him and his family well in whatever the future holds, he will truly be missed. Our members will work side by side with the next sheriff to continue making Jacksonville a safer place to live,” Jacksonville FOP President Randy Reaves tweeted.
Even though Sheriff Williams is retiring it does not put an end to many questions about his future and what is at stake for the office.