As the future race for Orange County mayor continues to be a mystery involving potential major candidates still thinking about it but none yet committing, one name that keeps coming up raises questions of precedent and interpretation of curious language differences in the county charter.
Former Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty, who served two-plus terms leading the county’s administration over the past decade, is considering running again. He’s thinking about reclaiming the office that he held for ten years, between the brief tenure of Mel Martinez and the current tenure of Mayor Teresa Jacobs.
Crotty told FloridaPolitics.com that he is being “strongly encouraged” to run for the 2018 opening. Jacobs is certainly barred from running for re-election, by the charter’s term-limit language.
Crotty’s potential candidacy is like that of at least a couple of others — notably Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings or former Florida Speaker Andy Gardiner — with weight is so intimidating that other potential candidates are sitting back, waiting to see if they do or don’t, before stepping in.
No major candidates have entered the race yet. The seat is non-partisan, so, though party affiliations will be critical to lining up support, and potentially in winning votes, they won’t appear on the ballot.
But unlike Democrat Demings, Republican Gardiner, Republican Orange County School Board Chair Bill Sublette, Democratic Orange County Property Appraiser Rick Singh, Democratic Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph, former Republican Orange County commissioners Scott Boyd and John Martinez, and other talked-about Orange County mayoral candidates including Orlando’s chamber of commerce chair Rob Panepinto, a Republican, and former Republican Clerk of Courts Eddie Fernandez, Crotty’s possible candidacy might be challenged on a legal interpretation.
The Orange County Charter has untested language about whether someone can run for a third term as mayor, and no one has ever tried.
Current Orange County Attorney Jeffrey Newton, and the lawyer who wrote that language in the late 1980s, Linda Weinberg, both said they believe the door is open to a third term because it is nonconsecutive.
Others who might not want to see Crotty in the race, might challenge that, arguing that the language seems to limit the mayor to two full terms.
“The county mayor shall be elected for a term of four years and shall be limited to two full consecutive terms,” is how the Orange County Charter states it.
That is distinctly different from the language written on the term limits of county commissioners, and commissioners have run for three nonconsecutive terms.
The commissioners’ charter language reads:
“A county commissioner who has held the same commission district office for the preceding two full terms is prohibited from appearing on the ballot for re-election to that office.”
So was the mayor’s term limit language written differently, in order to limit the mayor differently?
As Weinberg recalls, no.
“While the language is quite different, they both essentially provide that the elected official is limited to two consecutive terms and then cannot run for re-election during the next election cycle,” she stated, responding to a question from Orlando-Rising. “However, there is nothing that expressly prohibits either a commissioner or the mayor for running for election to the same office at a future time. And indeed, there was never any discussion or intent to prohibit a mayor from ever seeking the office again after having served his or her two terms.
“I believe the language is different because that section related to the mayoral terms has not been modified since the original charter, whereas the section related to terms for county commissioners has been modified on a number of occasions [we went to single-member commission districts and redistricting,]” she continued.
“I suspect that a lawyer involved in the re-drafting process felt like they could draft that provision more clearly.”