The Orange County Mayor’s sudden and abrupt involvement in a Charter Review Commission workshop is turning heads.
By Jacob Engels
First, let me start by saying that nothing in politics is a coincidence. NOTHING. Whether we like to think about it or not, everything a career politician does in elected office directly relates to their political trajectory and next election. Teresa Jacobs is no exception.
The Orange County Mayor, who previously served as an Orange County Commissioner has big dreams and high hopes. Commissioner, Mayor….and now Comptroller?
After a months long whisper campaign that yielded little to no positive feedback, Orlando Political Observer publisher Frank Torres blew the whistle and reported on Mayor Jacobs’ rumored interest in resigning her post as Mayor and running for Comptroller. But why, you ask, would a sitting Mayor of one of the nations largest growing areas not finish her final term and instead elect to run for a lesser office?
Power, plain and simple. Again, nothing in politics is a coincidence. Let us explain…
Before the 2014 elections when voters had the opportunity to decide on moving towards partisan elections and a decision on term limits, the Mayor and her advisors were made aware that lumping both issues into a single question on the ballot was not only illegal, but highly confusing to voters. Jacobs, her Republican and establishment allies dictated that the ballot language be presented in one question, two issues. And so it was… no matter the fact that many legal and elections experts recommended against it.
The amendment passed, and then the Mayor moved in for a power grab. Before the Charter Review Commission was set to meet, Mayor Jacobs proposed that the county’s constitutional officers be rolled into the charter and under the purview of the Comptroller’s office.
Again, experts in both law and politics recommended against this, citing the fact that it would remove the autonomy of the offices and open them up to undue influence from the Mayor, County Commission, and special interests.
“At this point, it became very clear that Mayor Jacobs had a reason to be pushing for this, other than good governance,” an individual close to the CRC told the East Orlando Post.
Longtime GOP consultant Doug Guetzloe said that Jacobs’ interest in the Comptroller’s office has been the talk of the town for months.
“She is planning to enhance her retirement by sliding into another high paying job on the public teat,” said Guetzloe, who founded Ax The Tax, and has ties to the Florida Taxpayers Union.
Guetzloe said that Ax The Tax continues to oppose the entrenchment of professional politicians who continue to make money off the beleaguered taxpayers.
The head of an internationally recognized non-partisan polling and research firm said that Jacobs’ movements to work towards a Comptroller bid make sense.
“With the congressional lines changing and the Mayor being term limited, it seems like a logical next step – and a well paying job. The congressional and senate redistricting that the courts approved hurt the chances for Orange County Republicans seeking those seats,” explained Doug Kaplan of Winter Springs based Gravis Marketing.
Jacobs at one point had been rumored to be interested in a congressional run. However, after the lines had been set, she opted out of those plans because of the uphill battle.
“Teresa has been an elected official for a long time now. She is having a hard time realizing the fact that she could very well be at the end of the line. It has caused her to focus on this push to make constitutional officers fall under the charter,” said a local Republican operative.
Orange County residents should seriously consider the fact that their Mayor is making these recommendations and fighting a lawsuit challenging movements tied to this plan as part of her own personal ambition, not the best interests of Orange County. Currently pending legal action from the offices of Orange County Property Appraiser Rick Singh, Tax Collector Scott Randolph, and Sheriff Jerry Demings is still awaiting a final decision.
The lawsuit, challenges the way the Mayor and County Commission pushed through changes to the charter, and how they pushed them as a single issue before voters in 2014. Two key points of the complaint allege the following.
“The manner in which the proposed Charter amendment was adopted conflicts both with Florida law and the Orange County Charter, and proposes a ballot question that is deficient under Florida law.
Plaintiffs have requested pursuant to Fla. R. Jud. Admin. 2.545, and the Court has acknowledged, a speedy hearing of this action is appropriate given the fast-approaching general election to be held on November 4, 2014.”
Thomas Wilkes, who was the county attorney at one point, and also served as an advisor to several Charter Review Commissions, has expressed concern over the county’s actions and publicly sided with the lawsuit. Nonetheless….Jacobs’ has charged on.
“She became oddly overbearing and interested in this particular item. It was almost as if she had something to lose with the previous and unanimous CRC vote. She wanted them to review it and vote upon it again,” a source told us on the condition of anonymity.
But Jacobs involvement is not odd, or coincidence. If she is able to roll the power of the constitutional officers into the charter, the Comptrollers office is all of a sudden a lot more powerful. Teresa’s trajectory should be considered far past her short-term goals of the Comptroller position, as some have suggested her long-range goal is to run for the position of Florida’s Chief Financial Officer.
Those ambitions though could be easily derailed, according to a legal expert who confided to us that the Mayor’s recent behavior and request is “unlawful” and an example of “elite deviance.”
“The Mayor and her allies who are pushing for this change, are the same people who illegally pushed through the language and eventual vote in 2014. They knew it was illegal, improper, and decided to do it anyways. The law does not apply to them, or so they think.”
The expert went on to say that it is extremely hypocritical for the Mayor and media outlets to characterize the lawsuit as a waste of taxpayer money.
“We should remember that this is the same Mayor and group of county commissioners who spent hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting their illegal contact with lobbyists and litigating the West Orange school battle. Bottom line, they have the right to defend themselves, but don’t like the idea of potential political opponents holding them to account.”
No matter what Jacobs’ motivations, she should be more careful in her political calculations. An insider with knowledge of her office, said that the Mayor instructed a “gestapo” type audit of the Property Appraisers office.
“She spent months ferreting information to some of the more gullible press, that the Property Appraiser’s office had misspent hundreds of thousands of dollars. I, and several others were very uncomfortable.”
This move came after the Mayor realized that the constitutional officers were not going to easily accept her push to strip them off their independence through the Charter Review Commission. A Tallahassee based auditor who has worked with the Chief Financial Officer told us that the so called “audit” looked more like a political punishment, rooted in baseless allegations.
“The audit was a bust.”
Now, as the Charter Review Commission sub-committee prepares for their Tuesday meeting, all eyes are on the CRC and Mayor Jacobs. Will she put her political future ahead of the recommendations of experts, or strong-arm her way to the Comptroller’s office at the expense of anyone or anything in her path?
A local government lobbyist offered the following insight:
“Teresa Jacobs has always, whether as the mayor or as a commissioner, really preferred the role of auditor. She loves the gotcha moment. She loves “uncovering” something and running to the press. She doesn’t have a single signature accomplishment in over 5 years as mayor, and her accomplishments as a commissioner were usually tearing down things done by others. In short, she would be an absolutely natural fit for a job with one responsibility: audit the government. And then there’s the money. As an elected official, Jacobs earns 3.2% towards her retirement pension for every year she works.
As of next November, her 14 years will have her at 44.8%. If she’s able to do eight years as county comptroller, her pension would balloon to over 70% of her ‘high five’ (the five highest years of income), which at her current salary high would yield her about $105,000 a year, and that’s not counting the DROP number.
I saw a WFTV article that said that when Haynie retires, she will receive a one-time payment of $510,000 from DROP with a pension of over $11,000 a month. So, for Jacobs, this is as much about the future as it is the “greater good” for the county. She will likely say that she thinks the most important thing she can do for the county is shepherd this change, and I’m sure the feckless Sentinel won’t expose her for it, but that is plain old bullshit.”
Not lost in this conjecture is the possibility that there could be a Mayoral race in 2016. For Jacobs to qualify for Comptroller, she would need to resign under Florida’s Resign to Run Law, which would lead to an election, not an appointment.
That brings us to outgoing Senate President Andy Gardiner, who has a PC that has demonstrated an ability to raise hundreds of thousands at a drop of a hat. He could be instantly use that, while other candidates attempt to fundraise at a more pedestrian $1,000 per contribution clip. Gardiner has name ID and a huge, seven-figure head start to anybody else, who would have a compacted time frame to catch up. Gardiner has also pushed hefty sums to his allies in the Senate, who could pay back the favor if he decides to run.
So, to summarize, a Mayor who likely broke the law in passing an illegally worded referendum is now seeking political payback against those that are calling her out for breaking the law, so she decides she wants to expose them to increased scrutiny that… you guessed it… she will be happy to stop by leaving the job she was elected to do early, but only if she has somewhere to land.
In so doing, she will further bolster her retirement account and create an opportunity for another powerful Republican office holder to slide right in as her successor. Gross.
One way or the other, the members of the CRC should get Jacobs on the record as to her intentions of running for Comptroller. If she intends to seek the newly empowered office, the people should know that she pushed a massive change to create a soft landing spot for herself.
If Jacobs the commissioner watched then Mayor Rich Crotty try something similar, she would have shrieked like a crazed banshee to the heavens about the impropriety. Let’s see if what is good for the goose is good for the gander…
Jacob Engels, is the Founder of East Orlando Post & Seminole County Post. He is a seasoned political operative who has led numerous statewide political groups and has worked on several high-profile local, statewide, and national races. Jacob has been interviewed on national television & radio programs, with his work having been featured in the Orlando Sentinel, New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald and other publications nationwide. He can be reached at email@example.com