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Questions remain about whether newly-elected Broward school board member can legally hold office

broward_schools.jpeg
Charles Trainor Jr.
/
Miami Herald

Rod Velez won his race for the Broward County School Board this week, carrying 52% of the vote over his competitor Marie Murray Martin's 47%. But she alleges Velez isn't able to hold office because he has a felony conviction and hasn't had his civil rights restored.

Days after Rod Velez was elected to the Broward County School Board, questions remain about whether he can legally hold office.

Velez is a property manager and a parent of school-age children. He also has a past felony conviction for aggravated battery in 1995.

Thanks to a constitutional amendment passed in 2018, Floridians convicted of most felonies are able to register to vote, once they’ve served their time and paid any associated fines and fees.

But Amendment 4 only dealt with the right to vote — not with other civil rights that are revoked when Floridians are convicted of a felony, like the right to own a firearm, to serve on a jury, and to hold elected office.

In order to regain those rights, returning citizens must submit an application to the state Office of Executive Clemency.

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Marie Murray Martin, a teacher who ran and lost against Rod Velez, alleges he has not had his rights restored and therefore is ineligible to be a school board member.

“I’m not stopping until he either proves his clemency or doesn’t,” Martin said. “And then the powers that be will have to make the determination on what to do with Mr. Velez’ certification of his votes and being sworn in.”

Velez declined an interview request from WLRN and did not respond to questions about his eligibility. A search of the state’s clemency database shows no record that his civil rights have been restored. A spokesperson for the agency did not respond to questions about Velez’s case.

Velez is eligible to vote, according to the Broward County Supervisor of Elections Office. But a county spokesperson said that determining a candidate’s legal eligibility to hold office is not the SOE’s responsibility:

“The supervisor has no authority to challenge candidates or question their eligibility to hold office,” said spokesperson Ivan Castro.

Asked whether Velez consulted with the Broward SOE about his eligibility, Castro replied: “He did not ask and we would not give legal advice if he had asked.”

When filing to run for office, candidates must affirm that they are qualified. In signing his candidate eligibility paperwork and launching a bid for the school board, Martin said that Velez fooled voters.

“There are voters who feel like they have been deceived,” Martin said. "They feel misled. They feel like they were lied to."

Martin says she has been trying for months to get county and state officials to assess Velez' status. She suggested she may take legal action to challenge his eligibility but declined to specify what her next steps could be.

“Until Mr. Velez produces his clemency, it is not over," she said.

Broward County’s newly-elected school board members are scheduled to be sworn in on Nov. 22.

If Velez takes office, Martin worries he could be removed by Gov Ron DeSantis, who could then appoint his replacement.

Martin knows the risk of removal well; she’s the daughter of Ann Murray, a former Broward School Board member whose retirement came early when DeSantis removed her and three of her colleagues from office in August.

Kate Payne is WLRN's education reporter