GAINESVILLE -- The ethics surrounding J.K. “Jess” Irby’s candidacy for Alachua County Clerk of Court continue to be questioned after complaints have been lodged by a self-proclaimed watchdog.
Jess Irby, who is currently employed as assistant director of operations with the Eighth Judicial Circuit, seeks to succeed his father J.K. “Buddy” Irby, who has held the office for 24 years and is retiring at the end of this term.
The Alachua County Clerk of the Court election has been marked by controversy. Vchal / Shutterstock
Jess Irby submitted his request on the same day that his father announced his intention not to run for office. At that time, no other individuals had registered to run for the office. Private citizen Mark Glaeser, who owns a realty company, filed a formal complaint questioning the timing of Jess Kirby’s decision to run for office, as well as other allegations regarding use of county resources and acceptance of campaign contributions from court personnel.
“It was a setup from the start,” Glaeser told the Florida Record. “The problem is it’s not an open and free election."
Jess Irby told the Gainesville Sun that “no matter what you think of the timing of my dad’s retirement, the bottom line is anyone that wanted to run could’ve run.”
“No one would run against the incumbent because he’s so well respected,” he said.
Glaeser further described Buddy Irby as “possibly the most well-respected figure in the county.” Irby is no longer running unopposed, since Sam Collins joined the race as a write-in candidate. On his website, Collins states, “Buddy Irby did not allow sufficient time for potential candidates to seek this office.” He also indicates that, if elected, he will only hold the office for one term, giving other individuals time to prepare for the 2020 election.
Among Glaeser’s concerns is that, according to the Florida state court systems personnel manual, court employees are required to submit any request to run for office at least 30 days before qualifying for the office. Candidates must also resign before running for office unless a judge finds no potential conflicts of interest. Jess Irby submitted his request five days prior to the June 20 deadline and is being permitted to continue his county employment.
The chief judge or justice is required to render a decision on such requests at least 10 days before the qualifying deadline, which was June 24 for the clerk of court election. However, Robert Roundtree, chief judge, dated his decision June 16, missing that deadline by two days.
Roundtree responded to two letters from Glaeser requesting an explanation for his decisions. Roundtree’s initial response on Sept. 8 stated, “All actions taken in regard to Mr. Irby’s employment are in compliance with the personnel regulations manual for the state of Florida court system.”
Paul Silverman, trial court administrator, responded on behalf of Roundtree via email in October. He stated that the chief judge’s decision regarding Jess Irby’s employment was based on authority granted to him by the state’s personnel regulations and that he had “imposed substantial limitations on Mr. Irby’s campaign activities.”
Neither Roundtree nor Silverman appeared to respond to Glaeser’s questions regarding the timelines surrounding Jess Irby’s candidacy.