The decision landed six of the seven council members in Sheriff Mike Chitwood's list of "Scumbags of the Week."
Volusia County will be engaging in a post-election challenge of Amendment 10 — which was passed by 53% of the voters in the county — to seek clarification of the law and find out if it violates Volusia’s charter.
The decision was made during the County Council meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 4, after County Attorney Dan Eckert brought the issue to the table. Amendment 10 bundled four separate constitutional amendments:
- Requiring Legislature to provide for a state Department of Veterans Affairs
- Create an Office of Domestic Security and Counter-Terrorism
- Change the state legislative session start day on even-numbered years
- Prohibit counties from eliminating the offices of the sheriff, tax collector, property appraiser, supervisor of elections and clerk of court, as well as require elections for all these offices.
The latter of the four is the one Volusia is, and has been, concerned with, because the amendment shifts some authority from the county to these offices in regard to budgets and human resources.
In October, County Chair Ed Kelley said creating new offices and adding a tax collector (Volusia hasn’t had one since the 1970s) would cost the county $10 million.
“If we’re going to do it, we should try to bring the case expeditiously so the case is decided in advance of mid-2020,” Eckert said.
He said it was appropriate for the county to bring this to court per Article VIII, section 1C in the state Constitution, which states: “a county government may be established by charter, which shall be adopted, amended or repealed only upon vote of the electors of the county in a special election called for that purpose.”
Not all the council was in favor of the legal challenge. Councilwoman Heather Post said she felt the county’s resources would be better spent in deciding if the current charter is still appropriate for the foreseeable future.
“I feel like the majority of the voters voted on this and approved it,” she said.
The rest of the council supported challenging the amendment. Councilman Pat Patterson said they didn’t know if the 53% of voters just wanted a Department of Veterans Affairs.
“The way they bundled this thing up, we don’t really know why people would vote for this in a particular way,” Patterson said.
Councilman Fred Lowry added that he wasn’t sure voters understood the cost that the amendment would bring to Volusia County. Because it was tethered to veterans, he believes that “clouded” a lot of people.
Had it been presented to citizens clearly, Lowry said he wasn’t sure it would have passed.
Sheriff fights back
Soon after the discussion, Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood labeled the County Council, sans Post, the county’s “Scumbags of the Week” on Facebook.
“Volusia County is a sunny place for shady people,” he wrote.
He wrote that the six other council members’ offense was “violating the public’s trust and circumventing the will of the people who voted to restore the ability of constitutional officers to answer directly to voters instead of county bureaucracy.”
Continuing on, he wrote that Eckert and the original writers of Volusia’s 1970 charter are “desperate to keep power consolidated in the hands of a select few.” Chitwood wrote that he and the Florida Sheriffs Association will fight back. He also called for Kelley to step down, as he “is an abysmal failure as county chair.”
At the end of the Council meeting, Kelley addressed Chitwood’s Facebook remarks. He said the sheriff didn’t need to call them scumbags for trying to find out if this amendment violates the charter.
“If it’s legal, it’s legal,” Kelley said. “If it’s not, it’s not — and if our rights and our charter was violated by something, then I think the [Constitution Revision Commission] deserves what they get because they pulled a fast one on everybody.”