Mike Williams, the Jacksonville sheriff who moved to Nassau County more than a year ago, announced Thursday he would resign next week after reporting by The Tributary showed he violated city law.
“After some consideration, I have decided a court battle over my residency would not be good for our community,” Williams wrote in a statement. “That being said, I have decided to retire on June 10th.”
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.”
Under the city charter, Gov. Ron DeSantis will appoint Williams’ interim replacement and the City Council will set special elections, likely on the same ballot as the August primary and the November general election if a runoff is necessary.
Gov. DeSantis’ office thanked Williams for his service in a statement and said it would let the public know when it has any updates.
Williams sold his Northside house and listed a new residence in Nassau County last year in March, the Tributary revealed. Rumors about Williams’ move have circulated for months.
He confirmed The Tributary’s reporting to News4Jax, Action News Jax and First Coast News, but he maintained that city law shouldn’t apply because the state had repealed its own residency requirement. The state, however, didn’t bar local governments from implementing their own residency requirements.
While Williams said he will remain in office another week, the city’s general counsel, Jason Teal, was set to issue his own opinion about the residency requirement later today. That opinion could have forced Williams out sooner.
A draft opinion shows Teal planned to say the office of sheriff was vacant as soon as the opinion was set to be published, at 2 p.m. today.
But City Council President Sam Newby withdrew his request for a legal opinion after Williams offered his resignation, and Teal didn’t publish the opinion, which would have been binding.
City Councilwoman Brenda Priestly Jackson asked Teal again for an opinion.
The Jacksonville City Council will meet Monday to schedule the coming special elections.
Because the vacancy occurs when a sheriff “should … remove his residence”, Teal could have also determined Williams has actually not been the sheriff for more than a year.
Even without Teal’s opinion, Williams’ decision to leave the county could have a cascading effect. The police union could try to challenge past discipline, and taxpayers could try to challenge Williams’ wages and pension benefits from the past year.
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has the second-most law-enforcement officers of any sheriff’s office in the state, behind only the Miami-Dade Police Department.
Williams told other news outlets that if the city ruled he had vacated the office, then he would fight the ruling and refuse to resign.
But public pressure mounted for him to acknowledge that he had already vacated the office, and it became clearer that such a fight might be untenable.
Williams was already term-limited and six candidates had filed to replace him in next year’s municipal elections.
Five of those candidates spoke about Williams’ move, but T.K. Waters, the Republican endorsed by Williams, has remained silent. Waters also skipped a candidate forum earlier this week.
Waters has raised $1.1 million in his bid to replace Williams.
Democrat Tony Cummings told News4Jax, “The citizens of Jacksonville, Florida deserve so much better than a sheriff who refuses to follow the rule of law. How can he be trusted with enforcing equal protection under the law for all citizens, when he is so willing to violate the law to satisfy his own personal needs.”
Democrat Ken Jefferson told Jacksonville Today, “We need leadership that will not just take an oath to serve but also understands your heart should be where you serve. If I’m elected I will live where I serve.”
Democrat Wayne Clark questioned why it took so long for Williams’ move to become public. “This has not been a secret for over a year,” he told News4Jax. “I am dismayed because we all understood to be a candidate for any office in Duval County, you must live in the county.”
Democrat Lakesha Burton told Jacksonville Today that she would leave discussions about Williams’ residence to the “media and City Council. I’m laser-focused on how I can work with citizens next year as your next sheriff to positively impact Jacksonville for generations. This is my hometown and my children’s hometown. It has a problem with increasing violence. Ask me what we can do to address that and you’ll find I have a lot to say.”
And Republican Mat Nemeth said he was waiting for the city’s Office of General Counsel to weigh in, but he said that he was a Duval County resident and would remain so if elected.
Williams’ tenure saw the most homicides per year of any sheriff going back three decades.
Mayor Lenny Curry defended Williams against those charges. “Don’t start saying the guy has been absent and hasn’t been sheriff,” he said at a Wednesday news conference. “That’s just not true.”
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5-30 President Randy Reaves wished Williams well and said Williams had “maintained the trust and respect of our members during his time in office. … Our members will work side by side with the next sheriff to continue making Jacksonville a safer place to live.”