Orange County Mayor Jacobs: Will of the people preserved

Judge's verbal opinion on referendum delivers split decision

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs scored a preemptive strike Thursday night that she said "would help preserve the will of the electorate."

The charter review commission voted Thursday to reintroduce a new ballot referendum that would change the status of constitutional officers, including Sheriff Jerry Deming, property appraiser Rick Singh and tax collector Scott Randolph, to charter officers.

It would also sustain the current charter status of term limits and nonpartisan status approved by the voters in 2014.

The vote comes after the 9th District Court issued a verbal ruling on a long-running lawsuit challenging the county referendum that approved nonpartisan status for constitutional officers and 16-year term limits.

In an interview before the charter vote Thursday, Jacobs confirmed the county’s legal team met with Judge Keith White in chambers before the start of Memorial Day weekend as he presented his ruling.

Records obtained by News 6 show the judge is leaning toward a reversal of the nonpartisan portion of the referendum first approved by 71 percent of the voters in 2014.

White said, "The court believes that the enactment (nonpartisan vote) in itself is valid," but he then ruled against it by "striking" the remainder of the referendum, arguing it to be "invalid."

"I was surprised, to say the least," Jacobs said. "I think it warrants further review, and we're waiting to see his order when it comes out."

The sections of the referendum in question provide that elections for all county constitutional offices, including sheriff, tax collector and property appraiser, are nonpartisan.

Thursday's charter vote saw heated debate as well as public statements from Jacobs, Singh and Randolph.

"The judge has indicated that he does not think the legislature has created a process that allows us to move forward on that (non-partisan ballots)," Jacobs said.

Jacobs has not ruled out an appeal but pointed out that seven other counties have conducted nonpartisan elections and have never been challenged, and this case could, in theory, set the stage for additional legal battles over nonpartisan status across the state.

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