'You're suspended.' How Gov. Ron DeSantis differs from Rick Scott in ousting local official

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

By Skyler Swisher and Aric Chokey

Published January 30, 2019


DeSantis demonstrated a greater willingness to intervene in local issues in his first 10 days in office, suspending three elected officials even though they had not been charged with a crime.

Only three of Scott’s 51 suspensions during his eight years as governor involved officials who had not been charged with a crime, according to a review of executive orders. Former Broward elections head Brenda Snipes was the only elected official Scott suspended who had not been charged. He also suspended two members of the appointed Broward Health public hospital board who had not been criminally charged.

DeSantis has vowed to plot his own course when it comes to exercising his authority.

“I will lead with purpose and conviction on behalf of the people of Florida,” the new Republican governor said in his inaugural address. “If a local official is neglectful of required duties, I will remove that official.”

He quickly followed up that promise with rapid-fire suspensions. He ousted Broward Sheriff Scott Israel and Palm Beach County elections chief Susan Bucher. Both faced accusations of incompetence, but neither has been charged criminally. On the same day as the Israel suspension, DeSantis also suspended an elected school superintendent as well.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announces he is suspending Broward Sheriff Scott Israel.

Democrats have blasted DeSantis for his approach, accusing him of a “gross overreach.”

Florida law allows the governor to suspend officials for malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, drunkenness, incompetence, permanent inability to perform official duties and commission of a felony. The Florida Senate is charged with holding a hearing to decide whether a suspended official should be reinstated or removed.

The Sun Sentinel’s analysis did not include notaries, whom the governor is responsible for suspending.

Unlike his predecessor, DeSantis has scheduled news conferences to announce his actions. He traveled to the Broward County Sheriff's Office headquarters to announce he was removing Israel, and he revealed he was suspending Bucher on the steps of Palm Beach County’s historic courthouse.

DeSantis also suspended Okaloosa County’s elected school superintendent Mary Beth Jackson, who had been faulted in a grand jury report on child abuse in the district. The report, though, did not recommend she be charged criminally.

Scott, also a Republican, generally suspended officials charged with serious, corruption-related crimes, such as bribery, money laundering and racketeering. Others faced charges of grand theft of a motor vehicle, drug possession or sexual battery on a child.

The three exceptions involved Broward County officials. With just weeks left in his term as governor, Scott suspended Snipes and accused her of repeated election failures, despite her already announced plan to resign.

Snipes challenged the suspension in court. A federal judge ruled that Snipes could not be reinstated, but he rebuked Scott, saying he “vilified” her and didn’t provide enough specific reasons backing up the suspension. DeSantis lifted her suspension and accepted her resignation.

In addition to Snipes, Scott suspended two members of the North Broward Hospital District Board — David Di Pietro and Darryl Wright — in March 2016.

A Broward County judge ordered Di Pietro reinstated, saying she found no basis for the accusations of malfeasance that the governor leveled against him at the urging of the inspector general. The judge wrote that the inspector general could not show a single, specific act of wrongdoing. Just three days after prevailing in court, Di Pietro resigned, saying political interference by the governor had made it impossible for him to serve the hospital system.

Senate hearings for suspended officials are rare. The last one was in 2005, when the Senate voted 36-3 to remove another Broward elections supervisor, Miriam Oliphant.

DeSantis’ supporters have embraced his approach.

One of his allies — Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz — tweeted a video touting DeSantis as “America’s boldest governor cleaning up the Florida swamp.”

The video showed news footage of DeSantis’ news conference announcing Israel’s suspension. Then the video flashes to President Donald Trump delivering his signature line — “You’re fired.”

It fades out with a song typically sung by fans to losing sports teams — “na, na, na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye.”