Controversy erupts over possible felony conviction in Ocala City Council winner’s past

Tyrone Oliver

The City of Ocala has launched an investigation into the eligibility of a candidate who won a run-off election last week.

Tyrone Oliver, who is the co-founder of an Ocala-based ministry, defeated Ire Bethea Sr. on Nov. 19 by just 124 votes to fill the District 2 seat that opened up when longtime councilmember Mary Sue Rich opted not to run for re-election. But two days after the election, city officials became aware of concerns that the 63-year-old Oliver may previously have been convicted of a felony. If that proves to be the case, the chaplain and co-founder of Deliverance Outreach Ministries would be ineligible to hold public office per the Florida Constitution, according to a City of Ocala statement released Friday.

The city attorney is currently investigating legal documents related to this matter and will bring findings and recommendations to the City Council when it meets on Dec. 3 – the same day Oliver is scheduled to sworn into office.

With the passing of Amendment 4 – Voter Rights Restoration for Felons – there has been public confusion about whether it also restored felons’ other civil rights, including the right to hold public office and the right to serve on a jury. However, the amendment language only applied to the restoration of voting rights and was silent as to other civil rights denied to felons, the statement claims.

“Mr. Oliver has been forthcoming about his past and we are working with his attorney to resolve this issue,” City Attorney Patrick Gilligan said. “We believe the confusion is connected to the passing of Amendment 4 and the presumption that all felons’ civil rights were restored.”

Gilligan called the situation a “unique circumstance” in the course and history of a city election.

“Because this has the potential to affect many people on personal and professional levels, careful consideration must be given and a resolution to this complex matter will likely not come about until next week and at the very least until Mr. Oliver’s attorney has had an opportunity to provide his analysis of the facts and law to me,” Gilligan said.

Ire Bethea Sr.

The Ocala City Charter requires that a City Council candidate shall be a “resident qualified voter within the district from which the candidate seeks to be elected, and shall have been a resident of the City of Ocala for not less than one (1) year prior to his election to office” – requirements that were met by Oliver.

A candidate also must provide a residency affidavit where he or she affirms, under oath, that they are qualified under the Constitution and the laws of Florida to hold office. Oliver attested to such when applying for the District 2 candidate position, the city’s statement says.

Background checks have never been a part of qualifying a candidate for City Council. The City Charter does not mandate background checks for City Council candidates and the City Clerk has never been instructed to run a background check on any candidate for elected office in the city. Qualification relies solely on a candidate’s sworn affirmation that all eligibility requirements have been met and the Marion County Supervisor of Elections has no role in checking a candidate’s background or verifying a candidate’s eligibility to run for office, the statement says.