But it’s no crime to ask an appellate court for guidance when things aren't clear and the effects major.
The effects from last year’s round of state constitutional amendments still are being sorted out in the Legislature and courts. And for Volusia County, Amendment 10 has the most immediate impact.
That amendment limited counties’ ability to customize constitutional offices and pick the people who run them. Constitutional officers are countywide elected officials whose duties are defined by the state constitution. The sheriff, elections supervisors, property appraiser and tax collector are constitutional officers.
A lot of Volusia County voters, maybe even most, thought Amendment 10 was about electing the sheriff and taking the sheriff’s side against the former county manager. In fact, it mandated big county charter changes. One that could mean not just a more independent sheriff, but the creation of a new elected office, the county tax collector.
Volusia County would rather not reorganize its government on deadline. And so the county sued to stop the amendment from even going to voters.
It argued that proposal bundled too many disparate things into one amendment. It said its language was deceptive. And it argued that it was unclear whether these changes would apply to past county actions or just future county actions.
The suit failed. The Supreme Court in this and similar cases said it was fine with bundled amendments. And it ruled that the ballot language met the minimum requirements for going forward. As to the part about whether the amendment would apply retroactively, the court said it would consider that if the thing won.
So now that the thing won, the county is asking that question again.
This time, the case went to Circuit Court in Leon County because it involves a state government issue and names the governor in the suit. Last week, the circuit judge ruled against the county with a written ruling to follow soon. And next week, the County Council will decide whether to appeal.
[READ MORE: Volusia loses Amendment 10 challenge; could appeal to higher court]
Since this suit was always aimed for appellate review, expect the county to authorize an appeal.
And the question for the appellate court is whether the amendment forces Volusia County to change its setup now or only says counties can’t change the duties of constitutional officers from now on.
I suspect the amendment intends to force Volusia County and other urban counties to change their charters. But that’s by no means crystal clear. Despite the vote, it’s understandable that the county wants to be certain before it starts tearing up its organizational chart.
When the County Council went forward with this suit last December, Sheriff Mike Chitwood went into full flip-out mode. In a 25-minute press conference, which was quite the hit on social media, he referred to the council majority as “a bunch of evil people” and “knuckleheads.” To the county attorney as a “slimeball.” And to County Chair Ed Kelley as “an empty suit and a sneak thief” who needed to resign.
But it’s no crime to ask an appellate court for guidance. That’s what they’re for.
The changes the amendment appears to contemplate will be in place long after Chitwood and Kelley have retired from the scene. Which means this is not about them.
A choice between two differing governmental organizational charts is hardly a titanic battle between good and evil, but I guess that’s just how political differences get framed in the Trump Era.