Felony conviction prevents Rod Velez from taking seat on Broward School Board

Gov. Ron DeSantis replaced Velez with Daniel Foganholi, who just recently served on the board and lost another local race.

Image by Kohji Asakawa from Pixabay

When Rod Velez woke up Thursday, he expected to go to the Broward County School Board’s headquarters and be sworn in as the newest member.

But in politics things can change in an instant.

Shortly before Velez’s swearing-in, Gov. Ron DeSantis declared Velez’s seat vacant. Then his office announced that he had selected Daniel Foganholi to take Velez’s place. 

Foganholi previously served briefly on the school board, having been tapped by DeSantis to temporarily take the place of Rosalind Osgood, who was elected to the Florida Senate. Foganholi, a Coral Springs resident, ran for a seat on the Coral Springs City Commission but lost to incumbent Shawn Cerra last month. 

With Foganholi back on the board, it again throws into doubt the job status of Superintendent Vickie Cartwright; Foganholi was one of the ‘reform board’ members appointed by the governor who originally voted to dismiss her from the post. He actually made the motion to fire Cartwright.

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Of current members, Lori Alhadeff, Brenda Fam and Torey Alston also do not want Cartwright as superintendent. 

Velez won the seat for District 1 but had not been sworn in. He was awaiting clarification over whether or not his felony conviction in 1995 disqualified him from taking office.

“This is far from over,” Velez said Thursday. “The people did vote for me, 30,735 (of them). I’m not there right now, where I should be. So, once again, our governor is playing politics.”

All five ‘reform board’ members voted to fire Cartwright, including Alston, who’s still on the panel. But because of her contract, she was given 60 days to remain as superintendent. She managed to impress some of the new board members and was given until Jan. 24 to come up with an action plan that would satisfy the new board.

Foganholi’s appointment runs through 2024. 

Candidate claims confusion over restoration of rights

Velez had his voting rights restored through the state constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2018. But the same amendment does not address whether other rights are restored. Regardless, Velez said he believed he was eligible to serve. 

This week, the State Attorney’s Office decided not to pursue criminal charges against him for signing a sworn statement that he was eligible to run for the School Board seat even though his full rights had not been restored following his felony conviction. 

On Wednesday, Circuit Judge Fabienne Fahnestock dismissed a civil complaint filed by Marie Murray Martin, his political opponent. And Velez has been awaiting the state Board of Executive Clemency to hear his case. 

Under Florida law, a person who is elected to public office has 30 days to take office or the seat becomes vacant. Velez said he believed Thursday, Dec. 22 was the 30 day mark. 

At 10:40 a.m. on Thursday, however, the Governor’s Office declared the seat vacant. In under ten minutes, DeSantis appointed Foganholi to serve on the School Board.

According to the Governor's Office, he "is currently the Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Brazilian American Coalition. He is an active member of his church and volunteers his time with the Habitat for Humanity of Greater Miami, Rebuilding Together Broward County, Miami Rescue Mission Broward Outreach Centers, and Feeding America. Foganholi earned certificates in marketing and business management from Florida Atlantic University."

David Volz has been a reporter for numerous community news publications throughout South Florida over the past two decades, as well as the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and South Florida Business Journal. He covers city government, schools, sports, culture, faith groups and workplaces.

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