Alachua County Commissioner Mary Alford has submitted her resignation to the state of Florida following an investigation by the Gainesville Sun that found she didn't live within her district when elected, as required by state law.
The letter was sent Monday morning to the desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis. The timing of her resignation could allow the District 1 county commission seat to be placed on the November ballot this year.
"Effective at 10 a.m., Monday, May 16, 2022, I hereby resign as the duly elected County Commissioner for District 1 of the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners," Alford wrote.
"I have been honored to serve Alachua County and have worked hard to be an exemplary County Commissioner. However, I have had a singularly challenging few years, including several deaths in my family. Please accept this resignation."
Alford, 61, was first elected to office in 2020 after defeating longtime County Commissioner Mike Byerly, nearly doubling his vote total.
Alford represents District 1, which takes in much of southwest Alachua County and Micanopy.
The Sun reviewed property records last week that raised question about the residency of another commissioner, Chair Marihelen Wheeler. Though similar, the two situations differ in that Wheeler says she lives at two properties, including one that she co-owns with her son.
The inquiry looked into residency claims for county commissioners and other local elected officials. The Sun found that Alford claims a homestead exemption — a property tax break that requires primary residency — in East Gainesville. The home, located in District 4, is well outside the district where she was supposed to reside at the time of her election under state law.
Despite the homestead claim, Alford submitted campaign documents and voter registration information that shows she lives in a mixed-use Haile Plantation townhouse that was used for her now-closed engineering consulting business, the Sustainable Design Group. The building, which has an office downstairs and an apartment upstairs, is in the unincorporated portion of Alachua County, just southwest of Gainesville, in District 1.
Alford told The Sun she had not lived at the address she claimed residency since her campaign due to personal reasons that involved her family. Prior to the publication of the newspaper's article, Alford said she intended to resign from office.
"I realize I'm not doing the right thing, and I don't like being a person who doesn't do the right thing," she said.
Alford took to Facebook Monday after writing her resignation letter.
"Sometimes even when you know in your heart it's the right decision, that decision can still feel devastating," she wrote. "Things are going to be okay but I've been in shock and today this change feels too real and very hard. Part of me wants to crawl under a rock. This is a normal response I guess."
County Attorney Sylvia Torres sent a memo to county commissioners that outlined what steps will be made next to fill the voided seat.
The Florida Constitution and state statutes provides several remedies for the issue, the letter states.
When an incumbent official resigns, the resignation must be signed off by the governor, who then has the power to choose another person to fill the vacancy.
In 2021, Gov. DeSantis removed Alachua County school board member Diyonne McGraw from her seat after it was discovered she lived outside her district. He appointed Republican activist Mildred Russell in her place.
Florida law states that if 28 months or more remain in the term of a vacated seat, a candidate can be elected at the next general election to fill the full remaining term as long as they filed to run before qualifying closes.
Alford's term had about 30 months remaining, meaning the governor's appointee will only serve until about a week after the next general election.
"In this case, Commissioner Alford has tendered her resignation with approximately 30 months remaining in her term (ending November 19, 2024)," Torres wrote. "Therefore, the governor’s appointed official should serve from appointment until November 15, 2022."In Alachua County, the qualifying deadline is not until June 17, meaning Alford could, theoretically, re-file to run for office in time for the upcoming November election.
Not only does the timing of Alford's resignation potentially avoid an appointee from serving for nearly two years, it also provides Alford enough time to re-file for office. Once her resignation goes into effect, Alford would then have months to find a new property without penalty.
This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Alachua County Commissioner Mary Alford submits resignation