Back to the future: Bill would bring back disgraced office of Miami-Dade Sheriff

By Dan Christensen, 

T.A. "Tal" Buchanan, Miami-Dade County's last sheriff. Voters abolished the sheriff's office after his indictment on corruption charges in 1966.

T.A. “Tal” Buchanan, Miami-Dade County’s last sheriff. Voters abolished the sheriff’s office after his indictment on corruption charges in 1966.

A bill that would resurrect the office of Miami-Dade Sheriff, a post abolished by voters 49 years ago in the wake of scandal, is winding its way through the Florida House.

The measure and a companion bill in the Senate seek to amend Florida’s Constitution to strip charter counties of their authority to change the way certain county officers – often called constitutional officers – are selected.

Specifically, House Joint Resolution 165 and Senate Joint Resolution 648 require that county sheriffs, property appraisers, supervisors of elections, tax collectors and clerks of the circuit court be elected. The bills would also limit the ability of counties to abolish those five posts and transfer their duties.

The bill, seen by some as a way to ensure more locally elected jobs for term-limited legislators, would most significantly impact the governments of Miami-Dade and Volusia counties. Both of those counties abolished the constitutional offices of sheriff, tax collector, supervisor of election and property appraiser decades ago and transferred their powers elsewhere.

Broward would be required under the new scheme to reinstate the county tax collector as an elected constitutional officer, unless the county decides instead to seek to abolish the constitutional office through a special act passed by voters. Broward’s tax collector was abolished and his duties were transferred to the Finance and Administrative Services Department as part of broad charter changes in 1974.

Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, is sponsoring the measure in the House. Sen. Travis Hutson R-Palm Coast, is the sponsor of the Senate version which is set for a 1 p.m. hearing on Dec. 1 before the Committee on Community Affairs.

Rep. Frank Artiles,R-Miami, wants to amend Florida's Constitution to require counties to elect sheriffs, property appraisers and other constitutional officers

Rep. Frank Artiles,R-Miami, wants to amend Florida’s Constitution to require counties to elect sheriffs, property appraisers and other constitutional officers

Hutson did not respond to a request for comment. Artiles, however, confirmed in an interview that if Miami-Dade voters vote to elect a new sheriff, Republican or Democrat, he or she would assume the power and duties now held by Miami-Dade’s police director.

Artiles said his bill is intended to end intergovernmental conflicts of interest, ensure the separation of powers, and restore “accountability and transparency” by making those five constitutional offices directly responsible to voters.

“What it boils down to is the bill is about giving the power to the people, direct representation through the county officers as originally placed in the Florida Constitution” in 1885, Artiles told members of the House’s Local Government Affairs Subcommittee on Nov 4.


In an interview with last week, Artiles said it was “idiotic” to think his bill is about creating jobs for legislators forced to depart Tallahassee because of term limits.

“I have no interest whatsoever in running for a constitutional office in Miami-Dade County, nor am I doing this for anybody or anyone to run for another position,” Artiles said.

The subcommittee voted 11-0 to adopt the joint resolution. The House Judiciary Committee is set to take up the matter this week, Artiles said.

Miami-Dade County and the Florida Association of Counties are leading the fight against Artiles’ bill at the Capitol. Jess McCarty, an assistant Miami-Dade county attorney and county lobbyist, calls it a flawed, “one-size-fits-all” approach.

“Our biggest concern is that the state could impose this even if Miami-Dade voted against it,” McCarty said in an interview. “I think most residents would be very concerned about people a long distance from here imposing a form of government.”

Missing from both the debate and a 10-page House staff analysis of Artiles’ bill is an examination of the history behind the various systems of local government that have evolved since 1885, or a review of the events that drove the changes the counties adopted.

In Miami-Dade, for example, systemic corruption led to both the indictment of Sheriff T.A. “Tal” Buchanan and voter approval of a referendum abolishing the sheriff’s office in 1966.

Miami Herald organized crime reporter Hank Messick

Miami Herald organized crime reporter Hank Messick

James Savage is a retired investigations editor for the Miami Herald. As a young reporter, Savage covered those events with Hank Messick, the noted organized crime writer whose crusading stories set the stage for reform.

“I cannot believe that anybody in their right mind would propose reinstating the sheriff’s office in Dade County,” Savage said last week. “There was a whole history of corrupt sheriffs that came before Buchanan… In my 40 years as an investigative reporter, getting rid of the elected sheriff was probably one of the best things we accomplished.”

If three-fifths of each house of the Legislature approves, Artiles’ proposed constitutional changes would be presented to voters statewide next November. The Constitution requires 60 percent voter approval for passage.

The reinstated constitutional officers would be filled in the 2018 general election, unless counties sought instead to pass a special act to abolish them and transfer their powers through a special referendum to be voted on by county citizens.


In Miami-Dade today, the mayor appoints both the director of the Miami-Dade Police Department and the director of the county Elections Department, which decades ago subsumed the old Supervisor of Elections. The mayor and the clerk of courts jointly appoint the director of the county’s Finance Department, which absorbed the tax collector’s duties.

Miami-Dade voters still elect an independent court clerk, currently Harvey Ruvin, and a property appraiser, now Pedro J. Garcia, who decides the taxable value of residential and commercial property. Garcia, however, is not an independent constitutional officer. Rather, he is a department head for the county.

Artiles was asked if he knew of any systemic abuses that gave rise to his bill. He said he knew of none except “the issue of the (Miami-Dade) property appraiser being beholden to the county commission that sets the tax rate for the county.”

There are 67 counties in Florida, 20 of which have adopted home rule charters. Artiles said his bill directly impacts only eight of those counties – Brevard, Broward, Clay, Duval, Miami-Dade, Orange, Osceola and Volusia – that by charter change or special act have altered the way at least one of their five constitutional officers is chosen or restructured or abolished those posts.

In all eight, the changes included the transfer of constitutional powers away from the court clerk, according to the House analysis.

In Miami-Dade the clerk’s duties as financial recorder and custodian were transferred to the Department of Financial Services, and the clerk’s auditing duties were transferred to the Commission Auditor. In Broward, the clerk’s constitutional duties as clerk of the county commission were transferred to the county administrator.

If approved, the joint resolution would require charter counties that have changed the authority of their constitutional officers to revise their charters and ordinances to conform to the new law.

The House analysis estimates Florida’s print and advertising costs to place the proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot would be about $100,000.

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Latest comments

  • Egad! Constitutional officers, as described in this article and as affected by the proposed legislation, are ministerial positions. The Statutory Code of Ethics (see 112.311(17), Fla. Stat.) requires “obedience to the law”. SO why would anyone wants these positions, in any county, to be elected? No wonder Florida has among the worst national reputation for lack of integrity. Members of the Legislature appear to be tinkering with the will of the voters, at every turn, to create positions for themselves – OR ELSE WHY WASTE PUBLIC RESOURCES PROPOSING SOMETHING OPPOSITE OF WHAT SHOULD BE DONE. What should be done? Each ministerial position should be held by an appointed person who has the training, experience, and integrity to professional perform the job.

  • Your argument would be a valid one if not for the fact that the current Miami-DADE Mayor Carlos Gimenez is the one that really runs the police department, as well as every department. The police director has a phony level of authority. The director cannot even speak to the media without first obtaining permission from the Mayor. In fact the police director is nothing more than a bobble head figure. And as for corruption, well let’s talk about that. One simple example is that Miami DADE Mayor almost got caught dealing in absentee fraud ballots. The only reason he didn’t is because the State Attorney refused a search warrant that would have otherwise been easily issued for a regular citizen. Then after the Mayor became aware that he almost became ensnared in the conspiracy, he dismantled the public corruption squad. They no longer can investigate elected officials and have not done so. In fact, no investigations of publi corruption is currently underway. I guess Miami Dade, the capital of almost every crime known to mankind, is corruption free.
    Maybe in the heyday corruption existed, just like discrimination and other ills, but it’s time the voters decide who will be their Mayor and who will be the one that only looks out for their safety ( something the current Mayor has ignored for his self serving political gains).
    If a sheriff is corrupt then the Dtate Attorney should fulfill their duty and arrest. If the claim is that they won’t, then we should abolish that office too and put it all the Mayor.
    As screwed up as Miami DADE politics, especially, under the current Mayor, it’s difficult to accept that we are the only county in the state doing it correctly, since we are the ONLY county that does not have an elected sheriff.
    We desperately need a change and no one has proven that to us better that Mayor Carlos Gimenez!

  • Volusia County has an elected Sheriff. His name is Ben Johnson, and he has been Sheriff since 2001.

  • What hair got up this guy’s a**? The very reason why this County needs an elected independent Sheriff goes back to the Florida International University pedestrian bridge collapse. After it was determined that the people injured in the accent were actually deceased, here is director Perez going in front of the news media stating that we are going to be conducting a comprehensive criminal investigation! Seriously are you kidding me? Under the way things are right now the elected mayor of Miami-Dade County is the de facto Sheriff and is the person who will points the director of the County Police Department. What is significant about this is that at the time mayor Carlos Gimenez, had a real serious problem he was going to leave his office with a full paycheck for the rest of his life which is a story for another day, and he intended to run for the house. To have the county conducted an investigation like this with a police department that he has his fingers into is a problem because his sister is married to one of the owners of the contracting company involved in this accident further, his son is a lobbyist for the contracting Company so there was a huge conflict of interest and everybody to just shaking their heads knowing that nothing was going to happen! Nobody was brought before grand jury to answer nobody appeared in criminal Court the companies insurance carriers paid off the families and wrongful death but nobody was charged with manslaughter negligent homicide or whatever?

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