After two controversial suspensions of public officials, Gov. DeSantis suspends Liberty County elections supervisor based on allegations

By: - May 2, 2020 3:16 pm

Liberty County, FL, courthouse. Credit: Wikipedia.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has suspended the elected supervisor of elections in Liberty County, a small, high-poverty county in north Florida, west of the state capital.

The suspension of Gina Singletary McDowell, a public official who took office in January 2013, came after law enforcement officials provided April 30 arrest warrants accusing her of felony charges of fraud and official misconduct.

She was arrested May 1, according to the executive order, and has not yet been convicted of a felony.

“The governor may suspend from office any county officer for commission of a felony,” the executive order said. The order references an arrest and allegations of violating felony acts but no convictions. The “suspension is predicated upon the attached arrest warrant,” the executive order states.

The warrants allege that from August 21, 2016 to March 2, 2020, McDowell, with her boyfriend, used county operating funds to conduct 217 personal transactions that led to $42,710.78 in “fraudulent losses” to the county.

In addition, McDowell was accused of submitting an official record of her office’s finances, which she knew contained misrepresentations.

The Florida Constitution states that: “The governor may suspend from office any state officer not subject to impeachment…or any county officer, for malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, drunkenness, incompetence, permanent inability to perform official duties, or commission of a felony, and may fill the office by appointment for the period of suspension. The suspended officer may at any time before removal be reinstated by the governor.”

It is not clear yet if McDowell is hiring an attorney to fight the suspension.

The governor has suspended other public officials, including two that have been controversial.

Three days after his inauguration in January 2019, DeSantis issued an executive order suspending a Panhandle school superintendent, Mary Beth Jackson, over alleged “neglect of duty and incompetence.”

Six months later, after court fights, Senate hearings, school board concerns and community strife, DeSantis reinstated Jackson, paving the way for her to resign — which has myriad benefits, including her pension.

DeSantis also suspended Broward Sheriff Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel in January 2019, blaming him for failures by sheriff’s deputies responding to mass shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018 and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Airport the year before. Those shootings, by two gunmen, left 22 teenagers and adults dead and scores wounded.

Israel fought for months over the suspension, going all the way to the Florida Senate in October 2019, when senators backed DeSantis and voted to suspend Israel. Later, Israel decided to run for the Broward Sheriff’s office this year.

The suspension of McDowell comes after some coronavirus-related news: For those watching the days and weeks of coronavirus infections and deaths, Liberty was the small county that stood out, with 8,354 residents.

It was the last county in Florida that had zero COVID-19 infections. All other counties had at least one infection, but it took until April 10 for Liberty to report at least one infection.

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Diane Rado
Diane Rado

Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.