Governor's office reverses, no election for third commission seat

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Crist will appoint replacement for Johnson in November

By The Staff

Staff Report

Chiefland Citizen

Gov. Charlie Crist's office has reversed itself and decided no election is needed to fill the District 1 Levy County Commission seat when Commissioner Chad Johnson of Chiefland resigns Nov. 16.

Thursday's announcement by spokesman Sterling Ivey is a turnaround on an email released on Wednesday saying the office would be on the fall election ballot.

Johnson, who was appointed by Crist in late July 2009, recently announced he would be seeking the District 2 seat  held by Commission Chair Nancy Bell of Chiefland. Johnson's family is building a new home in District 2. At the time of the announcement, he told Crist his resignation would be effective two weeks after the general election.

Crist suspended District 1 Commissioner Tony Parker of Bronson on Nov. 5, 2008, following an indictment on federal corruption charges. Parker was convicted on Dec. 5, 2009, of soliciting and accepting a bribe from an undercover FBI agent posing as a New Jersey developer interested in building a high density project in the county. He is to be sentenced on April 5.

The governor's office has contended that the seats held by Parker and Sammy Yearty, also indicted, suspended and convicted in the same case, are not vacant because both won re-election on Nov. 4, 2008. And although they are convicted they must be removed from office by the Senate during a legislative session. One official has indicated that as long as the two men are appealing their convictions — which they can do after sentencing — they are unlikely to be removed from office by the Senate.

 Ivey said in an email Wednesday evening that the governor notified the Florida Secretary of State on Tuesday to call an election. In Thursday's email, Ivey said: "Since the suspended commissioner has not resigned from office, and the Florida Senate has not removed him from office, there is not a vacancy which requires an election. When Johnson's resignation is effective this November, the Governor will make a new appointment to the District 1 seat unless we receive a resignation or the Senate removes before then."

He also said that if a suspended commissioner resigns or is removed by the Senate with 28 months left in the term of office an election will be held. But if there is less than 28 months in the term of office, state law allows the governor to make an appointment.

The Legisature is in session, biut no move has been made to remove Parker, or Yearty.

Republican Abraham Blitch of Trenton who ran twice against Parker for the seat, losing the 2008 election by only 88 votes, has contended the offices are vacant because they did not certify for office in the required time following the election. But the governor's office disagrees with that contention.

Blitch was at the Levy Supervisor of Elections office on Wednesday inquiring about filing for the race, but was told an election had not been called for the seat.

The other seat on the Aug. 24 primary and Nov. 4 election ballot is District 4. That seat is held by Lilly Rooks of Rosewood. She has drawn opposition from Noel Desmond of Chiefland.

Johnson, who changed his party registration at the time of his appointment, is running as a Republican. Bell is a Democrat. So the two will only face each other in the Nov. 4 general election unless they draw an opponent in the Aug. 24 primary.