Lt. Gov, Supreme Court Justices, can set up official headquarters outside of the capital. Is that good or bad?

Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez,
Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez enjoying Inauguration Day, January 2019.

With access to mobile phones, tablets, laptops and other computers, private sector employees are increasingly working outside of their traditional offices.

But how do taxpayers feel about paying top government officials to go back and forth to Tallahassee?

The Florida Constitution says that the seat of government “shall be the City of Tallahassee, in Leon County, where the offices of the governor, lieutenant governor, cabinet members and the supreme court shall be maintained…..”

Now, Florida’s Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, of Miami, will be allowed to have an official headquarters outside of Tallahassee, based on state budget legislation approved Saturday. She’s been wanting to set up an office in South Florida near her family.

That’s not all – the legislation continues to allow Florida Supreme Court justices to establish headquarters outside of Tallahassee. Five of seven justices are now doing it, according to court spokesman Craig Waters.

That started in July 2018, when justices were able to set up headquarters in district courts of appeal for Chief Justice Charles Canady, in Lakeland; justices Barbara Pariente and Jorge LaBarga, in West Palm Beach; Peggy Quince, in Tampa, and C. Alan Lawson, who established headquarters in the Orange County Courthouse.

When Pariente and Quince left the court, two new justices established official headquarters outside of Tallahassee: Justice Barbara Lagoa and Robert Luck, in courthouses in Miami.

At this juncture, only two justices have offices in the Supreme Court building in Tallahassee: Ricky Polston and new Justice Carlos Muñiz.

Waters said the situation goes back to the resignations of then-Gov. Jeb Bush appointees, Raoul Cantero and Ken Bell in 2008. The justices said they resigned “in part because it was too difficult to raise their children in their hometowns – Miami in the case of Cantero, and Pensacola in the case of Bell – while commuting to Tallahassee,” Waters said.

“Justice Bell in particular had asked the Legislature to let him keep two offices, one in Pensacola and one at the Supreme Court Building. For a variety of reasons, it never happened,” Waters said.

“He continued to express frustration over the negative impact it had had on him and his family. When he was trying to propose changes, he said he did research into the Supreme Courts of other states and found that many of them actually expect their Justices to live outside the capital. This is based on the idea that judges on the highest court should be in touch with the different regions of their states, much as Legislatures are.”

Cantero, too, said he had difficulties with his family being a several-hour drive away, and the Legislature began looking into the problem after the justices resigned.

“In particular the Legislature was concerned that talented lawyers with young families would be deterred from applying for Florida Supreme Court jobs because of what had happened to Cantero and Bell,” Waters said.

The bill in the Legislature allows the justices and the lieutenant governor to get reimbursements for travel to their satellite headquarters, and they would be eligible for certain other expenses.

Not everyone supports officials setting up offices outside of the capital for government business.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported earlier that Nuñez’ predecessor, Carlos Lopez-Cantera, of Miami-Dade, researched the idea of opening an office in South Florida but concluded it could violate the state Constitution.

The Sun-Sentinel also wrote that a spokesman for the Democratic Party criticized the Nuñez plan for a Miami office, saying, “The lieutenant governor should follow Florida’s Constitution and do the people’s work in Tallahassee instead of asking taxpayers for a handout to raise her political profile.”

 

 

 

Diane Rado
Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.

2 COMMENTS

  1. This has significant financial benefits too. It means the cost of travel from your home base to Tallahassee is now a state expense instead of a commuting cost for going home. I believe department heads in the past win governor approval to have their home base in their hometowns.

  2. For justices, seems if you apply for a lifetime appointment you would plan to move to the town that appointment is in.
    For Lt. Gov, it is a full time job, again, move to the town in which the job is based.
    I don’t want to pay for the carbon footprint they are creating.

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