Court backs Alachua sheriff in budget dispute

A state appeals court sided Friday with Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell in a dispute about whether she could transfer money within her budget without approval from the Alachua County Commission.

A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal upheld a circuit-court decision that said Darnell had the authority to move the money. Under state law, sheriffs propose budgets to county commissions, which then can make changes before giving approval.

The legal dispute centered on whether Darnell had “unilateral authority” to subsequently transfer money within her budget without approval from the commission, according to Friday’s five-page ruling.

In part, the ruling pointed to the sheriff’s status as a constitutional officer and a section of state law that it interpreted as a “broad preservation of all powers necessary for the sheriff to carry out the duties and responsibilities of her office, which necessarily must include authority over her budget and office’s expenditures.”

Also, the ruling said nothing in state law requires the sheriff to seek approval from the commission before transferring money.

“Absent a statute requiring the sheriff to first seek board approval before transferring monies between (budget) objects, we find her independent authority should be preserved in this area,” said the ruling, written by Judge Clay Roberts and joined by judges Joseph Lewis and Brad Thomas.