After scandal, Fla. county eyes ending sheriff elections

By Amy Sherman
The Miami Herald
BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. When Ken Jenne was swept out of office Tuesday, the concept of a political king running the sheriff's empire may have been swept out with him.

Jenne's monogrammed saddle was still warm when Broward County commissioners began to discuss whether it was time to end the era of electing a sheriff.

County Mayor Josephus Eggelletion Jr. immediately asked the county attorney's office to research the idea of changing the sheriff's position from an elected to an appointed one, setting off a debate about how best to structure what has been one of the most influential offices in Broward County.

Jenne, once regarded as Broward's most powerful political figure, resigned last week after admitting that he earned tens of thousands of dollars in unreported income. He will face up to two years in prison when he is sentenced in November.

Eggelletion will take his case to the county's Charter Review Commission on Wednesday, asking the panel to investigate the possibility of putting the sheriff-selection issue on the November 2008 ballot.

A majority of county commissioners support Eggelletion on that issue. That's important, because if the 19-member Charter Review Commission chooses not to put the question to voters, county commissioners could do it themselves.

In fact, charter commissioners rejected the idea about a year ago when they were asked to consider ballot questions about the county's four constitutional officers: sheriff, supervisor of elections, clerk of courts and property appraiser.

"I felt like an elected sheriff was a good idea responsible to the people," said Charter Review Commission member Richard Weiss.

It's possible that the November 2008 ballot will include candidates for sheriff three people had filed papers to run by Friday as well as the question of whether Broward should stop electing the sheriff.

It's not yet clear how that might play out.

"I'd be surprised if the sheriff's office is perceived at the same political level that it has in the past," said Mitch Ceasar, chairman of Broward's Democratic Party. "Those days are part of a bygone era. I think the county has turned a page in its historical book as it relates to the sheriff."

Miami-Dade County is one of only a few in the nation whose law-enforcement agencies have an appointed police director a switch that voters made in 1966. The goal was to reduce the influence of gamblers who funded sheriffs' campaigns, said Paul George, a Miami Dade College history professor.

"In theory, you get a much more capable person who is not just somebody who is popular," George said. "In reality, I'm not sure a lot changed. I think a lot of political jockeying short of campaigning goes on to put somebody in that office."

Many Broward County commissioners had a close, personal relationship with Jenne for decades some routinely greeted him warmly. But there is a move afoot to try to regain control over the sheriff's budget, which swallows more than half of the county's general fund. If the County Commission or the county administrator appointed the sheriff, commissioners would control the budget.

"Clearly, this organization is massive," said Commissioner John Rodstrom, who has long favored an appointed public-safety director. "A very large organization should have professional management. ... The budget will come under greater scrutiny."

Jenne was elected to the County Commission in 1975 and later served several terms in the state Senate. He was appointed sheriff in 1998 and was elected to the post later that year.

"Sheriff Jenne had such a long political resume and such stature throughout the state, politically it's going to be next to impossible for the next sheriff to match that," said Justin Sayfie, who was a spokesman for former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Jenne's critics are hoping for a less political successor.

'His entire approach to everything was, 'What does this mean for me politically?' " said Susan McCampbell, who served as acting sheriff after Ron Cochran died, until Jenne was appointed. "It had little to do with public safety."

However, there is no guarantee appointing the sheriff would save money, improve public safety, reduce scandal or remove politics from law enforcement.

"You'd have politics at a different level," said Dorothy Schulz, a police administration professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. "The politics would be who is applying and who would make the selection."

Broward County commissioners Ken Keechl and Kristin Jacobs oppose ending elections for sheriff.

"It's an attempt to create a fiefdom that would not serve residents well," said Jacobs, referring to attempts by some of her colleagues to push for a strong mayor and more power over the airport and seaport, in addition to appointing a police director. "I think it gives an unnecessary amount of power to the County Commission."

Copyright 2007 Miami Herald

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