The first time Gov. Rick Scott suspended a high-ranking official in little Liberty County, it was the local sheriff and it started a ruckus over the Second Amendment.
On Wednesday, Scott was forced to wade into small-town politics a second time. He suspended Gloria Uzzell, the county's elected superintendent of schools, after she was charged with grand theft, official misconduct and violating the public records law for allegedly using a School Board VISA card for personal use and blacking out totals on credit card statements -- public records that comprise key evidence in the case.
Uzzell, 51, a Democrat, took office last November as head of the school system in the small, rural county west of Tallahassee. According to a state attorney affidavit released by Scott's office, she obtained the card and a $10,000 credit limit from Cadence Bank in Bristol without School Board approval and used it to pay for clothing, meals, drinks and hotel stays, some in Tallahassee in March and April, running up a $12,000 balance.
The affidavit quotes Uzzell as justifying one spending spree by saying she was traveling on School Board business, but those purchases occurred on New Year's Day when schools were closed. The affidavit says she went back to stores and hotels and made payments reimbursing the VISA account after she was confronted by the School Board chairman, Kyle Peddie.
Uzzell is a mother of three children and a former Teacher of the Year in Bay County. Her father, Jerry Johnson, was elected three times as Liberty County's superintendent, according to her biography on the school district's website.
In June, Scott suspended Liberty County Sheriff Nick Finch after FDLE agents charged him with destroying documents in a case involving a man accused of carrying a concealed weapon. Supporters of Finch have emailed the governor protesting the suspension, describing Finch as a strong supporter of gun owners' rights and threatening to work against Scott's 2014 re-election bid.
-- Steve Bousquet