Sheriff Mike Williams to retire instead of facing 'court battle'
Jacksonville sheriff Mike Williams' is resigning, after violating the city's charter by moving to Nassau County last year.
His retirement announcement came just a few hours before city attorneys were set to release a legally binding opinion on whether Williams had vacated the sheriff's role by moving out of Duval County.
City Council president Sam Newby and city attorney Jason Teal had agreed on a 2:00 p.m. deadline Thursday to release the legal opinion on Williams' fate, according to emails obtained by WJCT News. Jacksonville's charter requires the sheriff to live in Duval County, but state law does not.
Thursday morning, before Teal's opinion was released, Sheriff Mike Williams sent a resignation letter to local news outlets stating, "After some consideration, I have decided that a court battle over my residency would not be good for our community."
Following the sheriff's public retirement announcement, Newby canceled his request to the Office of General Counsel.
"In lieu of notification of Mike Williams resignation, there’s no need to provide the binding opinion," Newby wrote in a Thursday morning email to city attorney Jason Teal.
Teal responded with, "I will stand down and not issue any opinion," according to records obtained by WJCT News.
But a draft of the legal opinion, obtained by The Tributary, said Williams indeed vacated his position as sheriff when he moved out of Duval to Nassau County last year, but that legally all decisions and actions made by Williams since then will stand — along with his salary — due to his "de facto" status as sheriff.
The draft opinion also would have made the position officially vacant as of June 2, eight days earlier than Williams' announced retirement.
Like Williams, more than 37% of Jacksonville Sheriff's Office employees live outside of Duval county, according to public records. But unlike the sheriff, officers aren't required to live in Duval in the city's charter.
According to the city's charter, Governor Ron DeSantis will appoint an interim sheriff until Jacksonville can hold a special election to fill the vacant sheriff's seat.
Gov. Ron DeSantis released this statement through his press secretary: "We thank Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams for his years of service dedicated to serving and protecting the residents of Duval County." DeSantis said Thursday afternoon he did not have an update at this time on a potential appointment to replace Williams.
The Duval Democratic Party Thursday called on DeSantis to approach the appointment with care. "The interim sheriff [should] be someone that is apolitical, that is not a candidate running for office that is focused full time on the job," Duval Dems Chairman Daniel Henry told WJCT News.
The appointed sheriff will serve until the special election this November, according to Duval Elections Supervisor Mike Hogan. Hogan said the cost of holding the special election for sheriff will be "very minor" because the special election will be on the same schedule as this year's primary and general elections, in August and November.
There will be another sheriff's race next spring, as Hogan understands it.
"The winner [in November] will serve through to June 30, 2023. In addition, the city elections will be held in March and May of 2023, and whoever wins that race will become sheriff on July 1, 2023," Hogan said in an email to WJCT News.
Six candidates are running in the 2023 election to serve a full term as sheriff.
WJCT News' Jamie Jackson contributed to this story, which continues to be updated with the latest information.