FORT LAUDERDALE — Dania Beach City Commissioner Albert “Al’’ Jones will fill the vacant Broward County Commission seat vacated by Josephus Eggelletion.
Gov. Charlie Crist made the announcement of his appointment on Monday, Nov. 23. The announcement comes two months after Crist suspended Eggelletion, the District 9 commissioner, following his arrest on money-laundering charges.
“This is a life-changing experience for me, and I want to make it a life-changing experience for the people of District 9, one in which there is transparency and an open door,” Jones said Monday during a brief acceptance speech at the Broward County Governmental Center in Fort Lauderdale.
Eggelletion was arrested on Sept. 23 by federal agents in connection with an international money-laundering scheme.
The Broward State Attorney’s office also arrested Eggelletion on Nov. 5, charging him in a separate case with one count of unlawful compensation. The state charge is related to another, ongoing public corruption probe into Eggelletion’s lobbying activities.
In the state case, prosecutors accused Eggelletion of receiving a $3,200 golf membership at the Parkland Golf and Country Club from a developer, in exchange for supporting the projects that the company had before the county commission.
Jones, 63, is a respected community leader who is also a South Broward Hospital District commissioner. He spent several months on the Broward County school board after then- Gov. Jeb Bush appointed him on Sept. 29, 2006 to complete the term of Carol Andrews, who retired due to an illness.
“Al's broad range of service to his community gives him the necessary experience and insight to serve the people of Broward County with distinction and honor,” Crist said on Monday before about 150 people in his glowing introduction of Jones.
“His commitment to the community's young people during his 40-year career as a coach and educator and his involvement on the board of Memorial Healthcare System, including serving as past chairman, has demonstrated his desire to keep the best interests of all residents in mind.”
Asked if he would remain on the hospital board, Jones said, “I have not made that decision. I will have to see what the attorneys say.”
The announcement of Jones’ appointment came just over two months after Eggelletion’s Sept. 23 suspension, and nearly a week to the day after local leaders criticized the governor for failing to make a timely appointment to the seat.
Although federal agents arrested Broward School Board Member Beverly Gallagher for allegedly taking bribes on the same morning they arrested Eggelletion, Crist named her replacement nearly a month earlier, in October.
Seven county commission meetings took place between Sept. 23 – when Eggelletion was suspended – and Monday, when Crist named his replacement. Community leaders have accused Crist of failing to give fair representation to the predominantly black county commission District 9.
Crist said the delay is due to the thoroughness of the replacement selection process.
Eggelletion is currently suspended from office, but has not been fully removed from office. A suspension is temporary until the criminal case is resolved. If he is cleared of the state and federal charges, Eggelletion can return to office.
Unless Eggelletion resigns from the seat or is cleared of the charges, Jones will serve the remainder of Eggelletion’s term, which ends in 2012.
If Eggelletion reaches a plea agreement, or is otherwise convicted, he will be permanently removed from office. If he resigns, there would be either a special election, or the governor would appoint a replacement, depending on how much time is left in the term.
If the majority of time is left in the term, there would be a special election. If less than the majority of time is left in the term, Crist would appoint the replacement.
Broward County’s District 9 is predominantly black and overwhelmingly Democratic. Jones is a Republican. Eggelletion is under intense pressure to resign, thus triggering a special election. This would allow a Democrat, and possibly one who has lived in the district, to run for the seat.
Jones does not live in the district, and has 30 days to relocate there, which he said he fully intends to do. He also said that no matter which scenario unfolds, he will run for re-election to the seat.
“Yes. I will run,” Jones said about the possibility of running as a Republican in the district, whose voters are 72 percent Democratic.
If Jones runs as a Republican, he will face off in a general election against the winner of the Democratic primary.
If Jones switches parties and runs as a Democrat, his chances of victory would be increased due to the power of incumbency and competing in a primary with multiple candidates. Close friends say the likelihood of a party switch for Jones is unlikely.
Other people seeking the county commission seat reacted.
“You’re talking about a district which has the most needs, and one that has had the worst representation since it was formed in 2000,” said Allen Jackson, who twice ran unsuccessfully against Eggelletion for the seat, and has opened a campaign account to run in 2012, or in a special election, if one should develop.
“He’s [Jones] a decent guy, but for him to move into the district is nothing more than political opportunism,’’ Jackson said. “If Eggelletion had not been indicted, [Jones] would not have even considered moving there, and challenging him. Now he has this overnight interest in District 9, but the voters won’t buy it.”
The district includes many predominantly black neighborhoods that wind through portions of several cities, including Fort Lauderdale, Plantation, North Lauderdale, Lauderhill, North Lauderdale and Pompano Beach.
Eggelletion has represented the district since it was first formed in 2000. At that time, he was the majority vote winner in a primary that included former Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Carlton Moore and the late Pompano Beach City Commissioner E. Pat Larkins. He went on to defeat Moore in the general election.
Eggelletion won reelection in 2004 over Jackson, who did surprisingly well, and then again in 2008, again defeating Jackson and several other candidates.
Two other Democrats, Moore and Lauderhill Commissioner Margaret Bates, have opened campaign accounts to run for the seat in 2012, and will likely compete if any special election takes place.
Dania Beach officials will schedule a date for a special election, allowing voters to pick a replacement for the departing Jones.
Jones will be formally sworn in as the District 9 commissioner at the Nov. 30 county commission meeting.
“It has been an honor to serve my community, and I consider it an incredible privilege to have the opportunity to now serve Broward County as a whole,” he said. “I look forward to doing what I can to move good governance forward.”
Photo by Elgin Jones/SFT Staff. Albert Jones