County Commissioner Nick Nicholson was absent from the April 24, 2018 Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) regular meeting. He was arrested on April 19, 2018 on counts relating to owning, maintaining or operating an establishment of prostitution and “purchasing the services of any person engaged in prostitution.” Nicholson has not yet given a statement, and has not resigned.
Nicholson, an engineer and owner of Nicholson Engineering Associates Inc. was elected to the Hernando County Board of County Commissioners in 2012 and re-elected in 2016. He has served as Chairman and Second Vice Chairman. Having been in the community since 1986, he has served on a number of local boards.
Chairman Steve Champion began the meeting by addressing the resulting public controversy, and the perception that the BOCC has jurisdiction in deciding if Nicholson should remain on the Board. “We don’t have a say in what happens to Commissioner Nicholson,” Champion said. Legally, only Governor Rick Scott has the authority to remove Nicholson from the BOCC or allow him to remain.
Commissioner Jeff Holcomb was a member of the board in 2015 when a similar incident involving Nicholson became public. At that time, Holcomb asked Nicholson, who was Chairman at the time, to step down.
“When you’re chairman of this board, you’re the face of this county… you represent this Board of County Commissioners,” said Holcomb.
Since Nicholson was the current Vice Chairman at the April 24, 2018 meeting, Holcomb motioned to appoint Commissioner John Allocco as Vice Chairman and Commissioner Wayne Dukes as Second Vice Chairman. The board agreed unanimously.
Holcomb also asked the board as a whole to send an official letter to the Governor expressing the collective desire to have Nicholson removed.
Each commissioner spoke about their communications with the public and media over the past days. Chairman Dukes described the relationships among the commissioners, to explain why he could not answer direct questions about Nicholson’s lifestyle. “(The commissioners) are not friends, we don’t go fishing together. I don’t know how anyone lives in their house.” He went on to say that he hopes Commissioner Nicholson finds the help that he needs.
County Administrator Len Sossamon has also received angry communications from citizens who believe he has neglected to hold all of the commissioners accountable. Champion defended Sossamon, and said the reality is that “(Sossamon) works for us, we don’t work for the administrator. We work for the people.” County Attorney Garth Coller was also the recipient of such communications, and reiterated that decision is solely that of the governor.
Jimmy Lodato, who was Nicholson’s Democratic opponent during the 2016 election, spoke directly to Nicholson during Citizen’s Comments, in the event he was watching the locally televised meeting. “If you’re listening, Nick, please resign. Don’t let the Governor remove you from office. It would be too embarrassing.”
Since Mr. Nicholson’s arrest, Valerie Surette was granted a temporary injunction for protection against sexual violence from Mr. Nicholson. Although her name was redacted in the injunction, the petitioner indicates their place of residence to be Nicholson’s home on Tiburon Ave. in Spring Hill and she has spoken to news agencies in regards to a restraining order that she obtained against Nicholson.
Allegations by the petitioner graphically describe a sexually abusive relationship between herself and Mr. Nicholson in which he coerced her into having sex with him in exchange for money or other necessities.
Awaiting a hearing on May 3, 2018 in front of Judge Thomas R. Eineman, Mr. Nicholson cannot go within 500 feet of his home on Tiburon Ave among other restrictions.
Judge Kristie Ruppe is presiding over the criminal case for the second degree misdemeanor prostitution related charges against Mr. Nicholson. He has entered a plea of not guilty and a demand for jury trial. Mr. Nicholson is represented by the law firm Hyslop and Pila, PA. A Notice to Appear on May 31, 2018 before Judge Ruppe was addressed to Mr. Nicholson, his attorney and bail bondsmen.
While Mr. Nicholson has not been convicted of a crime, it may be difficult to remove or suspend him from office since his wrongful actions did not affect the performance of his duties and were unrelated to his position as an elected official. He also has not yet been convicted. According to Florida Statutes 112.51,
“(1) By executive order stating the grounds for the suspension and filed with the Secretary of State, the Governor may suspend from office any elected or appointed municipal official for malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, habitual drunkenness, incompetence, or permanent inability to perform official duties.
(2) Whenever any elected or appointed municipal official is arrested for a felony or for a misdemeanor related to the duties of office or is indicted or informed against for the commission of a federal felony or misdemeanor or state felony or misdemeanor, the Governor has the power to suspend such municipal official from office.”