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DeSantis could get another appointee on Broward school board, if Velez isn't sworn in

Carline Jean / South Florida Sun Sentinel
Rod Velez, who was elected to the Broward School Board, speaks to the media at the school board swearing-in ceremony at Fort Lauderdale High School on Nov. 22, 2022. Velez was not sworn in because of an eligibility issue.

Gov. Ron DeSantis could get another appointment on the Broward County School Board, if a newly-elected member isn’t sworn in within a month. That’s according to Robert Jarvis, who teaches constitutional law at Nova Southeastern University’s Shepard Broad College of Law.

Rod Velez — a property manager and father of two young kids — won his race for the Broward school board with 52% of the vote. But he wasn’t sworn in with the rest of his new colleagues on Nov. 22 because he was convicted of a felony and hasn’t had his civil rights restored.

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Under a state law that has its roots in a racist legacy of barring Black residents from participating in electoral democracy, Floridians with felony convictions are banned from voting, holding office and sitting on a jury, unless their rights have been restored. This previously byzantine process has been made much easier since the passage of Amendment 4 in 2018.

Velez — who pleaded guilty to aggravated battery in 1995 — has dodged questions about his eligibility but conceded last week that while he’s applied for his rights to be restored, he’s still waiting.

As of 9:30 a.m. on Friday, the state’s executive clemency database showed no record that Velez’s rights have been restored. That’s despite the agency’s rules stating that rights will be restored “automatically upon processing [of the application] and without a hearing”.

I'm not going to resign today, I'm going to continue this journey... The state has everything they need to hit the button and process everything
Rod Velez

Speaking at the swearing-in ceremony, Velez said he didn’t want to take the oath because he feared he would break the law — it is a third degree felony to swear a false oath related to elections.

"I'm not going to resign today, I'm going to continue this journey," Velez said. "The state has everything they need to hit the button and process everything.”

But the clock is ticking for Velez to take the oath, says Jarvis.

“The Constitution sets a 30 day deadline. And since the other members of the board were sworn in on Nov. 22, it seems to me he must be able to swear in by Dec. 22,” Jarvis said.

If he’s not sworn in by that deadline, Jarvis says the seat will be considered vacant, at which point the governor can pick someone else.

“If Velez does not qualify and is not able to take the oath by Dec. 22, Gov. DeSantis will have the constitutional power and duty to appoint someone,” he said.

If that happens, DeSantis would have two appointees on the board overseeing the state’s second-largest school district. Up until last month, there were five DeSantis appointees on the board, after he removed sitting members following a grand jury investigation.

Meanwhile, in a court filing this week, Velez’s competitor Marie Murray Martin asked a judge to invalidate his victory and declare her the winner.

Jarvis, the law professor, says even if a judge did disqualify Velez, there’s no legal basis to seat Martin — unless DeSantis were to appoint her.

“I would expect that he will do what he did the last time here in Broward, which is appoint people who could not get elected on their own because we're a heavy Democratic county. And I assume he'll again appoint a Republican,” Jarvis said. “But the voters will just have to live with that.”

Kate Payne is WLRN's education reporter