A complaint has been filed with the state’s Attorney General’s Office against a recently sworn-in Gainesville commissioner that could result in his removal from office or risk losing his full-time job and benefits.
The complaint raises questions about whether the elected official is allowed to hold two public office positions simultaneously. It also has been forwarded to the Florida Secretary of State and Alachua County Supervisor of Elections offices for review.
Commissioner Ed Book, who took office last week, is accused of violating the state’s dual office holding prohibition, as he is still employed as Santa Fe College’s chief of police and serving on the Gainesville City Commission, both of which are sworn positions.
The 59-year-old, who has nearly four decades of experience in law enforcement and has served as chief since 2011, argues the matter has already been settled.
“This is a non-issue,” Book said Tuesday.
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Book was questioned about the legality of serving in two public office positions multiple times along the campaign trail by the Gainesville Sun and others. He said he received an opinion on the matter − prior to qualifying to run for office − that it would be appropriate for him to do so.
That opinion, however, is from the Florida Commission on Ethics and only discusses ramifications for voting on potential conflicts of interest. The Feb. 9 letter, which states he doesn’t appear to have a conflict, gives no legal determination on Book’s candidacy, occupation or dual office holding, and further states that such an opinion must come from the state attorney general or Division of Elections .
“(The ethics commission) is the highest authority in the country for issues like this,” Book said.
Records show the complaint was filed by Gainesville resident Austin Kee, who says Book is illegally holding two positions, one of which gives him “police powers inside not just the City of Gainesville generally but within blocks of City Hall.”
While typically employees of state colleges in Florida aren’t necessarily considered officers of the state, Book’s position gives him legal authority in the state, which classifies him as an officer.
By law, Book has the legal authority to arrest individuals within the district that employs him and within 1,000 feet of Santa Fe College, which extends into the heart of downtown Gainesville, Kee argues.
There are numerous past rulings from the Attorney General’s Office that have forbidden people from simultaneously holding two public offices. In many cases, it’s not even necessary for someone to be a police chief to meet the threshold. Simply being a sworn officer is sufficient for disqualification, rulings show.
It’s not the first time the matter has impacted an Alachua County leader.
Sheriff Clovis Watson was once in a similar predicament. Prior to being a state representative, Watson served as city manager for Alachua while also serving on the city’s police force.
Watson ultimately stepped down as police commissioner after receiving a warning from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that said it violated state law due to the conflict.