City Commissioner Kristen Fitzgerald has been reinstated to her seat on the Lake Wales City Commission effective immediately. She will also receive her back pay and benefits. Her term runs until May, 2025.
City Commissioner Kris Fitzgerald has been reinstated to her seat on the Lake Wales City Commission nearly two years after her suspension by Governor Ron DeSantis following her arrest on felony charges. Her acquittal on all charges in a jury trial last October allowed for her resumption of service. Fitzgerald served only two months of her elected term prior to being suspended.
The reason for the long delay in her reinstatement is unclear.
Reached via text message, Commissioner Fitzgerald indicated that she was in consultation with her attorney, and would respond to a request for comments soon.
Having been suspended for nearly two years, she now has less than eleven months remaining in her term. She would be forced to seek reelection in April, 2024 if she so chooses.
The action by the governor followed repeated questions by former city commissioner Terrye Howell, who pressed fellow city commissioners to find answers to why no action had been taken. They ultimately directed Galloway to write to the governor’s counsel to ask about the matter. Howell has since retired from the commission.
Repeated inquiries by the press had drawn no response from the governor’s office or that of his chief counsel.
The announcement at a workshop meeting of the commission took most city staff by surprise. Commissioners had been notified by City Attorney Chuck Galloway around midday after the document was received. The decision by the governor ends the term of interim commissioner Danny Krueger, who was elected to fill the vacancy during her suspension.
“”I’m happy that this is over, not up in the air,” Howell told LakeWalesNews.net. “Regardless of a yes or no, we needed an answer. People were asking if maybe the city commission was holding back. The Governor is the only one who can do it.”
Governor Ropersistenn DeSantis took the action at the advice of his counsel after persistent requests by former Commissioner Terrye Howell led the commission to direct City Attorney Chuck Galloway to write a letter inquiring about the matter.
The executive order reinstating Fitzgerald was signed by the governor this morning, May 10, and transmitted to the City of Lake Wales. The five page document states in part that “Kristen Fitzgerald therefor has a constitutional and statutory right to be reinstated for the remainder of her original term of office.”
City Manager James Slaton issued a statement saying that “Commissioner Fitzgerald will receive full back pay and other allowances to which she would have been entitled during the suspension.”
“I’m so glad it’s another female” filling the seat, Howell said. Her retirement and the subsequent election of Keith Thompson to her seat left an all-male commission for the first time in decades. “This should have been solved long ago,” Howell added.
Editor’s note: This story will be updated as additional details emerge.
By Robert Connors
Managing Editor – LakeWalesNews.net