South Florida

New Broward Elections Chief Sworn In Thursday as Ousted Leader Vows Legal Fight

What to Know

  • Peter Antonacci replaces Dr. Brenda Snipes, who was suspended even though Snipes had already agreed to step down from her post.

The new leader of Broward’s elections was sworn into office Thursday – but the woman he is replacing vows not to leave without a fight.

Peter Antonacci, a longtime associate of outgoing Florida Governor Rick Scott who has served in a variety of positions during his administration, took over the Supervisor of Elections position at a ceremony in Fort Lauderdale.

"I think you try to look ahead and not look behind," said Antonacci shortly after getting sworn in. "There's much to do and much to get to know."

Antonacci met with workers at the Department of Elections and said he'll be working over the next few weeks to figure out what went wrong during the last election, and will start preparing for the next. 

"Change is inevitable and that's a good thing," he said. 

Antonacci replaces Dr. Brenda Snipes, who Scott late Friday suspended even though Snipes had already agreed to step down from her post in early January.

Snipes responded by rescinding her previous resignation — and will now be "fighting this to the very end," her attorney said during a weekend news conference.

"We believe these actions are malicious," said Burnadette Norris-Weeks, who said that Broward County voters should be concerned about what Scott is trying to do in the Democratic stronghold by putting in an ally who could oversee the office into the 2020 elections.

Snipes has been the top elections official in the south Florida county since 2003 when then-Gov. Jeb Bush appointed her. She came under withering criticism for her handling of this year's elections, as well as its legally required recount in close races for governor and U.S. Senate. She had been elected three times and her current term was not scheduled to end until 2020.

In his executive order, Scott said he was suspending Snipes due to misfeasance, incompetence and neglect of duty. His order cited problems during the recount, including reports of more than 2,000 ballots being misplaced. She also came under fire in 2017 after she destroyed year-old ballots in violation of law. Shortly after the recount started, Scott himself suggested possible fraud, but never offered any concrete examples.

"After a series of inexcusable actions, it's clear that there needs to be an immediate change in Broward County and taxpayers should no longer be burdened by paying a salary for a supervisor of elections who has already announced resignation," Scott said in a statement.

During his eight years in office, Scott has rarely suspended elected officials unless they were first charged with a crime. Florida law requires the state Senate to either remove or reinstate county officials who are suspended by the governor.

Antonacci has been known as Gov. Scott's "fixer for years. He played a pivotal role in the controversial decision to force the ouster of Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey in 2015. Antonacci has been president of Enterprise Florida, the state's economic development agency since last year.

Before that, he spent two years as the Executive Director for the South Florida Water Management District as well as two years as Scott’s general counsel along with serving as the interim State Attorney for Palm Beach County after being appointed by Scott.

Snipes appeared at the start of the Saturday press conference, where she urged people to "have an open mind about this whole process." She maintained that "we have always done our work in an air of quality and integrity."

Norris-Weeks expressed concern that the appointment of Antonacci was being done in order to push ahead with questionable actions ahead of the next presidential election. Scott's administration has been sued several times over election matters including lawsuits over early voting and attempts to purge voters from the rolls.

Democrats in South Florida echoed some of those concerns.

Cynthia Busch, chairman of the Broward County Democratic Party, questioned why Scott did not appoint someone from the community and appointed someone who is a "Republican Party stalwart."

Antonacci was raised in Hialeah and graduated from Hialeah High School and Miami-Dade College before graduating with a bachelors, masters and law degree from Florida State University.

Rep. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat from Broward, called the suspension a "play on his politics on his part."

Chris Smith, a former state senator from Fort Lauderdale, called the decision to suspend Snipes after she had agreed to resign as "spiteful."

McKinley Lewis, a spokesman for Scott, did not respond to statements from Snipes or her attorney, saying that the governor's "executive order and statement speak for themselves."

While Scott initiated the action against Snipes, his administration told Governor-elect Ron DeSantis about the pending move shortly before it happened. DeSantis will be sworn in as governor on Jan. 8.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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