Sheriff Mike Williams
Sheriff Mike Williams. [Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office]

Sheriff Mike Williams sold his Jacksonville home and moved to suburban Nassau County more than a year ago even as he continued serving as Duval County’s sheriff, potentially violating a city law that requires him to leave office if he moves out of the county.

Jacksonville’s charter requires the sheriff to live in Duval County, and “if the sheriff should … remove his residence from Duval County during his term of office … the office of sheriff shall become vacant.”

In that case, the sheriff must notify the City Council and the elections supervisor that he has left the office, and the City Council would schedule a special election. The governor could appoint an interim sheriff in the meantime.

Williams, the Sheriff’s Office and the city’s Office of General Counsel did not return requests for comment.

After The Tributary published this story, Williams confirmed to News4Jax, Action News Jax and First Coast News that he no longer lives in Duval. Williams, however, said he will not step down as sheriff.

“Whenever there’s a question of residency, I think it’s the responsibility of the elected official to let people know where they are living within the county,” said Property Appraiser Jerry Holland, who confirmed Williams no longer owns any property in the county.

Williams’ nearly eight-year tenure has seen more homicides per year than any sheriff has seen in three decades.

Jacksonville clergy and activists have complained about how difficult it has been to get Williams to meet with them.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous,” said Ben Frazier, president of the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville. “Obviously, he’s a lame duck. He needs to resign.”

Unlike past sheriffs, Williams has largely avoided news conferences or media interviews when controversy strikes. Instead, he usually sends his undersheriff, directors and chiefs to answer questions.

On Thursday, First Coast News published an interview with Williams about the city’s rising violence. Victims advocates and mothers who lost their sons to gun violence accused Williams of being absent.

Haraka Carswell, founder of Silent Women Speaking, told the news organization that When Williams doesn’t “come forward and just ask what we need, it gives the families somewhat [a feeling] of you really don’t care.”

Williams’ term was set to expire next year, with elections for his successor scheduled for March and a runoff in May. So far, four Democrats and two Republicans have filed for the sheriff’s race.

But since Williams left the county, city law says there should first be a special election scheduled, likely in August and November.

Last year in March, Williams and his wife sold their Northside home. On the notarized deed, they listed their new address as a rental home in Fernandina Beach, in Nassau County.

That home had been listed for rent on Zillow up until a week before they sold their home.

Then this year, they purchased a property in Nassau County. Again, on a notarized document, they listed their rental home in Fernandina Beach.

Williams remains a Duval County registered voter in the same precinct he was in before. However, despite endorsing Nick Howland in a special City Council election and runoff this year, Williams did not vote in those races, according to the elections office.

Williams’ wife is not registered to vote in Duval, according to the elections office. Nassau County Elections Supervisor Janet Adkins said that a lawyer told her she couldn’t confirm or deny whether Williams and his wife were registered in the county because their addresses are protected.

Elections Supervisor Mike Hogan said that his office “has no investigatory powers as it relates to issues like” this. “If and when a citizen contacts us with a similar issue we direct them to contact the City of Jacksonville’s Office of General Counsel (if it is a Charter issue) or the Florida Commission on Ethics.”

In 2010, the Florida Legislature removed a requirement that all county sheriffs reside in their counties. However, the Legislature didn’t prohibit counties from passing stricter standards.

Jacksonville’s charter continued requiring the sheriff to live in Duval.

A 2018 Department of State opinion said that a Leon County resident could run for sheriff in Jefferson County because state law didn’t prohibit it. Jefferson County, unlike Jacksonville, doesn’t have its own charter, a document that gives counties more power to regulate elections and laws. The opinion didn’t say that counties were prohibited from having their own residency requirements.

“This is a local issue, and I have not addressed it,” said Wayne Evans, general counsel for the Florida Sheriff’s Association. Earlier in a phone conversation, he said, “Nobody’s approached me about this issue recently.”

“If he’s left his residence, I would agree with [Charter Section] 8.03, which seems to cover it exactly what is supposed to happen,” said Neil Henrichsen, a Democratic lawyer who has successfully sued the city in the past when a council member didn’t primarily live in a required residence area. Residency requirements, he said, serve a policy goal of making sure elected officials are “accountable and know your community.

“You want people in touch every day at the supermarket shopping. That’s the intent behind having residency requirements. It’s a … very, very important issue.”

Andrew Pantazi edits and reports for The Tributary. He previously worked as a reporter at The Florida Times-Union where he helped organize the newsroom's union with the NewsGuild-CWA. He and his wife,...