At the heart of Volusia County’s lawsuit against Amendment 10 is a question: Which document takes priority in the operation of county government?
Is it the Florida Constitution, which voters just changed by passing Amendment 10? Or is it the Volusia County home-rule charter, which local voters adopted in 1970?
With the County Council’s endorsement, Volusia County Attorney Dan Eckert has filed a post-election challenge to prevent Amendment 10 — also known as Revision 10 — from taking effect in Volusia County.
Among other changes it would bring, Amendment 10, if upheld, would give the sheriff, elections supervisor and property appraiser the status of constitutional officers. Currently, those individuals are elected department heads, and the County Council has the final say over their budgets.
Constitutional-officer status would give these elected officials the right to appeal to the governor if they believe the County Council is not adequately funding their agencies.
They could budget money, for example, to build new buildings, buy new vehicles, hire new staff or make other changes not approved by the County Council.
County officials warn that if the constitutional change takes effect, the new constitutional office holders could blow up the expenses of county government, because each of the officers could set up a bureaucracy for budget, personnel, purchasing and legal services, for example.
“I’m not sure our citizens really understood the cost,” County Council Member Fred Lowry said.
Lowry said the vote count for Amendment 10 may have been different, “if the law had been presented to our people clearly.”
“There could be an impact on capital,” Interim County Manager George Recktenwald said.
The county’s legal challenge pits the 48-year-old home-rule charter against the Florida Constitution.
If Amendment 10 is upheld in the courts, Volusia would be like non-chartered Florida counties, where the sheriff, for example, may wield greater authority in setting policies for his office, as in hiring and firing and purchasing.
Another change: Candidates seeking election to constitutional offices run as members of a political party.
Under Volusia County’s charter, elections for sheriff, elections supervisor and property appraiser are nonpartisan.
Amendment 10 would also require the county to resurrect the elected position of tax collector. The elected tax collector would also be a constitutional officer.
In Volusia County, the tax collector and his or her office were abolished several years ago when its duties were transferred to the Finance Department.
Eckert names Volusia County and two architects of the county’s home-rule charter, Dr. Philip T. Fleuchaus and Dr. T. Wayne Bailey, as plaintiffs supporting the county’s status quo.
The charter Fleuchaus and Bailey helped craft was adopted by a majority of the county’s electorate in 1970 and took effect Jan. 1, 1971.
Both Fleuchaus, a retired oral surgeon, and Bailey, a Stetson University professor emeritus of political science, led the commission that drafted the charter, which was permitted under the Florida Constitution.
The county’s lawsuit championing the supremacy of that charter names Gov. Rick Scott and Florida Secretary of State Kenneth Detzner as defendants. (The Florida Department of State includes the Division of Elections.)
Eckert filed the complaint in Leon County Circuit Court, noting Leon County surrounds Tallahassee, the seat of state government.
A supermajority of 63.15 percent of Florida voters said yes to Amendment 10 in the Nov. 6 general election. In Volusia County, perhaps because of knowledge of its effect on the local home-rule charter, Amendment 10 didn’t reach supermajority approval; but 53.56 percent in Volusia County voted yes.
Before the election, Volusia County sued to prevent Amendment 10 from being placed on the ballot, because it combined a variety of issues under one proposition. Amendment 10 included a requirement that a state anti-terrorism office be established; set the date for the Florida Legislature to convene in even-numbered years; and mandated a state department of veterans affairs.
The clause of the ballot summary dealing with county government reads: “Ensures election of sheriffs, property appraisers, supervisors of elections, tax collectors and clerks of the court in all counties, removes county charters’ ability to abolish, change term, transfer duties, or eliminate election of these offices.”
In Volusia County, the clerk of the court is a constitutional officer, and candidates for that post usually run under partisan labels.
Reinstatement of constitutional status for the sheriff, elections supervisor, property appraiser and tax collector is supposed to go into effect Jan. 5, 2021, just a little more than two years from now.