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Critic hits Leon County’s Scott Maddox right where he lives

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Former Florida Democratic Party Chairman and statewide office candidate Scott Maddox is involved in another political fight this Thanksgiving season. Though elected to another term on the Tallahassee City Commission, he was blocked from taking the oath of office earlier this week.

Maddox, who served as FDP Chairman from 2003-2006, is facing a legal challenge to his official residency. The question going back and forth through the Leon County courts and the First District Court of Appeal (DCA) is whether Maddox officially lives within the city limits of Tallahassee, a fundamental requirement of the city’s charter.

Similar complaints about residency crop up around the state from time to time, usually among candidates whose district lines were re-drawn putting them outside their district. Nothing usually comes of these other than news stories, but Maddox is facing a persistent local critic in Dr. Erwin Jackson.

Jackson filed suit in the Second Judicial Circuit in September claiming Maddox is ineligible to serve because he actually lives outside the city limits. According to the filing document, Maddox, an attorney, lists his residence as a rented office building in downtown Tallahassee.

“This is a frivolous lawsuit brought by Erwin Jackson on his third attempt to discredit me,” said Maddox, who was the Democratic nominee for Commissioner of Agriculture in 2010. “This one will be thrown out like all of the others have been.”

The City of Tallahassee intervened and asked that they, Maddox’s colleagues, have the final say in determining his eligibility. Judge Charles Dodson agreed.

Jackson went to the DCA, where a three-judge panel unanimously reversed Dodson, saying “the proper forum for Jackson’s post-election contest is in the circuit court.”

The three-judge panel consisted of Charlie Crist appointee Lori Rowe, a former Executive Deputy Attorney General; Rick Scott appointee Scott Makar, a former Florida Solicitor General; and another Scott appointee, Susan Kelsey, an experienced appellate lawyer.

Dodson did not appear to take the reversal well. The DCA order to Dodson to hold a hearing used the term “immediate” before the word hearing.

He took them literally. Dodson held a hearing almost immediately and ruled in favor of Maddox. Jackson and his legal team were outraged by the fact they had little time to prepare.

This is “a miscarriage of justice,” Jackson said. “An appeal will be immediately forthcoming.”

Again, the DCA overruled Dodson, this time with a bit of a hand slap. The judges said the lower court “abused its discretion” in the way it handled the hearing.

Monday was swearing in day for the Commission and Dodson gave the go-ahead for Maddox to take the oath of office pending the residency review. The DCA stepped in by again overruling Dodson and blocking Maddox from taking the oath of office “pending further order from this Court.”

Jackson is also seeking the removal of Dodson from the case. To be reversed three times on the same case, called a hat trick in hockey, is not a good thing.

The parties are now arguing the date on which a public official is eligible. Jackson argues legal residence means Election Day, which in this case was August. The Maddox team argues November 21, or swearing in day.

To a non-lawyer observer, like this writer, that would seem to acknowledge there could be a problem if you are arguing “when” as well as “if.”

To be fair, Jackson is a relentless critic of city government. Sometimes they deserve the scrutiny, like the recent proposal to raise property taxes by 27 percent.

Maddox, to his great credit, was an opponent of the outrageous property tax plan and argued against other increases. He sounded like a conservative.

At the same time, it is understandable for elected officials to become frustrated, especially if they truly believe they are doing the right thing.

Maddox remains confident, perhaps with good reason, he will prevail. The residency challenges usually go in the favor of the candidate.

Jackson certainly isn’t going away, whether or not Dodson is relieved of command. He is 100 percent certain he has a case.

Stranger things have happened as this year’s elections demonstrated.

We will know soon.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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