Gov. Scott suspends Lehigh fire commissioner
Gov. Rick Scott suspended Commissioner Robert Anderson on Wednesday from his seat on the Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District’s board.
According to the executive order from the Office of the Governor, “it is in the best interests of the constituents of the Lehigh Acre Fire Control and Rescue District and the citizens of the State of Florida, that Robert John Anderson be immediately suspended from the public office, which he now holds, upon the grounds set forth in this executive order.”
The order also states that “Robert John Anderson is prohibited from performing any official act, duty, or function of public office; from receiving any pay or allowance; and from being entitled to any of the emoluments or privileges of public office during the period of this suspension, which period shall be from today, until further Executive Order is issued, or as otherweise provided by law.”
Meanwhile, a member of the Lehigh Acres fire board had called for Anderson’s resignation at the July 25 meeting of the Lehigh Acre Fire Control and Rescue District.
Seat 4 Commissioner Debra Cunningham asked Anderson to resign amid his recent arrests and the allegations against him. She expressed concern that he is not fit to continue as a commissioner.
“I’m here with two hats on. One, I am a commissioner. I was voted on by the people of Lehigh,” Cunningham said. “Two, I’m also a taxpayer and I have some concerns. I have a problem with a member of our board being under investigation for two separate felonies. I have a problem with this individual who ran on the promise of transparency.”
She noted that Anderson has requested pay raises for the board in the proposed budget.
“That’s being paid for by you, me – taxpayers – if it’s approved. I have a problem with that,” Cunningham said. “I did a lot of searching about this inside. I talked to (fire) chief at length. I feel the proper thing to do (is) to respectfully request Commissioner Anderson (to) either take a leave of absence until his legal problems are resolved or go ahead and step down.”
Anderson, 51, of 1147 Cherokee Ave., was charged on Aug. 8 with one count of larceny grand theft $300 less than $5,000. According to court records, he reportedly stole riding lawn mowers from a local Habitat for Humanity. The mowers had been donated to the organization by the Lehigh fire district.
More recently, he was charged on June 28 with larceny grand theft $300 less than $5,000 and fraud swindle obtain property under $20,000 in an unrelated incident. He is accused of fraudulently obtaining nearly $2,600 from a business that he provided technical support to and using the money to pay his personal bills.
Anderson has pleaded not guilty to the charges in both cases.
During the meeting, which became heated, he responded to the recommendation.
“I’m not stepping down. I’m not resigning,” Anderson said. “I ran on platforms to be transparent. I also ran on ‘no new taxes.’ Now we’re deciding on some things here (in) the next couple months that are very dear to my heart and dear to (the) taxpayers who voted me in.”
He voiced a problem with Cunningham and other commissioners “attacking” him.
At the meeting, Commissioners Cathy Kruse and Linda Carter declined to weigh in on the suggestion that he resign. The board’s fifth seat is vacant due to the recent death of Commissioner Matt Smith.
Carter, however, did read aloud statutes that dictate how government agencies are to operate, specifically the releasing of information and the conduct of officials holding elected seats.
“These have hit me because what we do as commissioners reflects on this department and each and every commissioner,” she said. “There is nothing that excludes us from running a four-member or even a three-member board.”
According to Florida law, the governor can suspend an elected official from office if he or she is indicted or charged with a felony or misdemeanor. Any vacancy created by the suspension would be filled by a temporary appointment in the same manner that a permanent vacancy would be filled.
If there is no rule for filling permanent vacancies, the governor makes the appointment.
At the meeting, resident and teacher Allison Carter spoke during public comment.
“You do not represent Lehigh. You are a disgrace,” she said of Anderson. “As a teacher, we are respectful adults – we have to teach and role model. You are not a role model. You are a convicted felon or almost a convicted felon.”
Following the meeting, Anderson commented on the pressure he is facing.
“There’s pressure all around,” he said. “Now I have another commissioner attacking me – two commissioners attacking me. They have no idea what’s going on with the (criminal) cases.”
Anderson alleged that others have arrest records of their own, adding that he did not believe the criminal cases will make him lose focus.
“I’m very focused on what the people voted me in for,” he said.
Anderson won his seat on the fire board while facing the 2016 charge.
The law states that an official who has been suspended may not perform any official act, duty or function, nor receive any pay or allowance, nor be entitled to any emoluments or privileges.
If the official is convicted of the charge, the governor will remove him or her from office and the person appointed to the temporary vacancy shall serve out the remainder of the term, according to state law. If an official pleads guilty or no contest, he or she will be considered convicted of the charge.
In the case that the official is acquitted, found not guilty or otherwise cleared of the charge, the governor will revoke the suspension and restore the official to his or her office, the law states.
The trial for Anderson’s 2016 case has been set for Sept. 26.
A court date set for next week on the newer charges has been canceled.