The Escambia County Commission on Thursday formalized a previously ordinance-approved human resources policy that requires county employees to resign or take a leave of absence before running for a seat on the commission.
“There really is very, very rarely a time when it is appropriate for a government to determine who can and cannot, or how it should participate in the political process. As you go down this road, you have a separation between elected officials, the government itself and the people it governs,” District 2 Commissioner Doug Underhill said before the vote.
Underhill read a state law (FS 104.31) that he says prevents the policy.
“Limiting the ability of employees to be nominated or participate in the electoral process in any way, I would consider a direct violation of this (law),” he said.
District 1 Commissioner Jeff Bergosh said he found it interesting that Underhill dissented on Thursday, he “rushed to make the motion” for the actual ordinance approved in March. Bergosh said his policy was endorsed by the attorney and the policy is found across the state, among other governments.
“You’re not saying they can’t do something. You just stipulate not to create a hostile work environment, not to create a dysfunctional work environment,” Bergosh said. “It’s very common.”
The full text of the county policy is below.
Effective March 7, 2022, Escambia County, Florida Ordinance 2022-13 states that an employee is required to resign or take a leave of absence on the date the employee becomes a candidate for public office elected to one of the five commissioner districts of Escambia County, Florida. An employee is prohibited from engaging in activities aimed at gaining county hour candidate qualification. Any employee who fails to comply in a timely manner with the requirements of this policy will be subject to immediate termination by the Acting/County Administrator.
If the employee elects to take a leave of absence, they may use any accrued vacation, paid vacation, or management option benefits before requesting unpaid leave. This applies to all employees who hold positions included in Classified Service, Unclassified Service, and Assigned Employees performing temporary help services for the County on behalf of a temporary help agency. This applies to all employees, whether full-time, part-time, temporary, paid volunteers or volunteers.
As used in this provision, the terms Candidate, Employee and Public Office shall be as defined in Sec. 2-66(a), Escambia County Ordinance Code.