Brevard County Commission position awaiting governor’s decision 2023

Now that Kristine Zonka’s seat on the Brevard County Commission dais has been vacant for several weeks, county officials and residents in her district are awaiting the governor’s appointment of her replacement for District 5.

The office of Governor Ron DeSantis, which has remained silent about the process thus far, has not been hesitant about making overtly conservative appointments. Because he and Zonka are both Republicans and the board is entirely Republican, DeSantis cannot move Brevard County further to the right, as he has with other bodies.

“We have no information about when or who it might be.”

Last month, Kristine Zonka resigned early to assume the state-appointed position of director of the Florida Department of Health in Brevard County. With over a year remaining in her tenure, the commission is left without a tie-breaking vote and in a difficult position when it comes to passing certain policies requiring a supermajority.

State statutes on county-level vacancies are explicit, granting the governor the authority to make appointments when the term of office has less than 28 months remaining. In the case of Zonka, whose term would have expired in November of next year, DeSantis has complete discretion.At the time of the vacancy, DeSantis has made numerous high-profile excursions into local politics. In the most recent election cycle, he supported conservative candidates in nonpartisan school board contests, which had historically received little consideration from the state’s chief executive.

He has also made efforts to reshape independent entities, particularly in education, to align with conservative interests, such as the board of trustees at New College and the special taxing district at Disney.

Professor of political science at the University of Central Florida Aubrey Jewett described gubernatorial appointments as “business as usual” in normal governance. He added that any appointment made during a time of political upheaval conveys this context.

Jewett says it allows the governor to influence local politics and choose a supporter of his program.

The identity of this potential appointee has not yet been determined, despite efforts by local groups to influence the governor.

This month, Brevard Republican Executive Committee Chairman Rick Lacey emailed the governor’s office with two potential candidates’ names: David Fosdick and Randall Stackhouse. Fosdick is the BREC representative for District 5, while Stackhouse belongs to the North Brevard Republican Club.

“Both of these community leaders are well-versed in the issues facing Brevard County and are principled, honest, and hardworking members of our county,” wrote Lacey in an email.

The office of Zonka is currently intact. Members of the County Commission voted at a recent meeting to maintain the office’s staff in order to address constituent concerns.

Rita Pritchett, County Commission chair, said she’s already missing Zonka.

Pritchett stated that Zonka’s experience on the County Commission, with over six years on the board, was crucial in assisting the commission to “make the best decisions” on contentious issues.

With only four commissioners, it is more challenging to achieve a three-person majority, increasing the likelihood of 2-2 stalemates. Additionally, certain issues, such as ordinance amendments, require a “supermajority” vote of at least four commissioners, which would be a unanimous vote given the current vacancy.

Pritchett referred to the April 4 County Commission meeting as a “very difficult meeting” because commissioners were unable to reach a consensus on a number of issues concerning the county’s 5% tourist development tax on hotel rooms and other short-term rentals.

Two days later, at the County Commission’s monthly meeting devoted to zoning issues, commissioners were divided, 2-2, on a proposed zoning change that would have allowed the property owner to construct two duplexes on land currently designated only for single-family homes. The proposition was effectively defeated due to the stalemate vote.

The beachfront property just north of Indialantic is located in Zonka’s former County Commission District 5. If she were still a commissioner, Zonka would have cast the deciding vote.

The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment on this story sent via email.

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