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In campaign literature and advertisements, James Reyes, a Democrat running for Miami-Dade Sheriff, emphasizes that he moved to Hialeah from Cuba. He went to Hialeah High School, before attending Barry University in Miami Shores.

What the campaign does not readily disclose is that Reyes – who is raking in key endorsements that make him a likely Democratic front-runner for sheriff – does not live in Miami-Dade County.

Reyes lives in Broward County. He has lived there continuously at least since 2008, WLRN can confirm.

It’s not just Reyes, either.

Rosanna Cordero-Stutz, a high-profile Republican candidate for Miami-Dade sheriff, has also lived in Broward since 1997.

Also joining them is John Barrow, a major in the Miami-Dade Police Department. The Democrat confirmed to WLRN that he has lived in Broward for nearly a decade.

“It’s not news to anyone that there’s an affordability crisis in Miami-Dade,” said Barrow.

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Barrow’s most recent salary, according to a county database: $169,541. He

John Barrow, who is a major in charge of the personnel management bureau, has been the director of music at St. Christopher’s-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church for the last 11 years.

Voter registration records, property records, employment records and marriage license records were used in this reporting.

While state law does not forbid a sheriff candidate from residing in another county, the revelation that several contenders for Miami-Dade sheriff have not lived in the county for years potentially throws a curve ball into the contested sheriff race. Seventeen candidates are running for the position.

The stakes are high: Miami-Dade has not had an elected sheriff since 1966. Whoever wins the race in November will immediately become one of the most powerful people in Florida’s most populous county.

“I never left Miami-Dade County. I raised my family here. My wife is four months pregnant here. My future is here,” said Ignacio Alvarez, a Republican candidate for sheriff.

“How can you be sheriff here and be in charge of public safety here, when you didn’t think this community was good enough for your family?” he asked.

Orlando Lopez, another Republican candidate for sheriff, told WLRN he is concerned about the prospect of a sheriff working in one county while living in another.

“If they don’t live in Miami-Dade, what are they doing running for sheriff?” he asked.

Lopez said he believes Miami-Dade will likely change the charter in the future to require a sheriff live where they work. Most residents would agree with that basic principle, he offered.

“If it’s not in the rules, it’s not in the statutes — okay. But what is your actual interest in the county? My interest here is sincere, because I live here,” added Lopez. “It’s just a job for them.”

Miami-Dade Police headquarters in Doral, pictured on April 18, 2024.
Miami-Dade Police headquarters in Doral, where the new Miami-Dade sheriff’s office is expected to be based. (Photo/Joshua Ceballos WLRN)

Living and voting north of the county line

Rosanna Stutz-Cordero, who is currently an Assistant Director of the Miami-Dade Police Department, first registered to vote in Broward County in 1997, according to voter records. She moved there from Hialeah, and has subsequently voted in Broward ever since (she did not vote in the 2022 election, but was eligible, according to the records).

Cordero-Stutz and her husband Kurt Stutz bought a house in Pembroke Pines for $575,000 in 2018, property records show. The house is homesteaded, meaning it is the couple’s primary residence.

So far, Cordero-Stutz has raised $166,000 in campaign donations, and received the endorsement of Republican Congressman Carlos Gimenez, who served as Miami-Dade mayor between 2011 and 2020. Retired Miami-Dade Police Director Juan Perez has also endorsed Cordero-Stutz, calling her “a cop’s cop, through and through.”

Her annual salary is $220,882.

Democrat John Barrow was raised in Miami Gardens, but he moved across the county line into Broward in 2015, when he said he was unable to find a house that fit his budget at the time.

“South Florida is a large metropolitan area and one needs to do what one needs to do not to be a renter your whole life,” Barrow told WLRN.

He currently serves as a major in the Miami-Dade Police Department, and has raised $70,000 in his sheriff campaign. North Miami councilman Scott Galvin, a longtime player in the local political scene, has endorsed Barrow.

If he wins election in November, Barrow said he intends to move back to Miami-Dade.

“So, I moved to Broward. But my barber is in Miami-Dade, my church is in Miami-Dade, and all my life I’ve served the people of Miami-Dade,” said Barrow. “There are folks that have only served Broward.”

Those comments appear to be directed at James Reyes, a fellow Democrat running for Sheriff.

Reyes move to Hialeah from Cuba, and spent many years there. But professionally, he worked for the Broward County Sheriff’s Office for 22 years, before being hired by Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava in 2022, first to run the county’s troubled jail system, and later as the county’s Chief of Public Safety. In that role, Reyes oversees the entire police department, fire rescue and the jail system.

Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Director James Reyes
Miami-Dade sheriff candidate James Reyes, pictured here in 2023 when he was the Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Director. (Photo/Miami-Dade County)

James Reyes and his wife Amanda were married in Broward in July of 2008. Both told the clerk of courts that they lived in Miramar at the time. In October of that year, the new couple bought a house in Miramar for $334,000, according to property records. That property is still listed in county records as homesteaded, meaning it is the couple’s primary residence.

Reyes has used that property as his voter registration address ever since 2008, according to election records. The most recent vote he cast was in the 2022 election.

Despite spending many years living and voting in Broward, Reyes still refers to Miami-Dade as “home.”

“This is home. It means the world to me to serve this community. I’m currently serving this community,” Reyes told WLRN. “And by the way, I live a stone’s throw away from the county line. I live as south in Miramar as you can live without being in Dade.”

If he wins election, Reyes promised that he will move into Miami-Dade.

“This is a very personal decision for me. During the holidays when I discussed it with my family, we unilaterally committed to moving to Miami-Dade County when we win the election. In fact, as recently as last night, I’m evaluating the real estate market and I’m looking for a home as we speak,” he said.

Levine Cava publicly endorsed Reyes for sheriff in February. Christian Ulvert, a prominent Democratic political strategist in Miami-Dade, is a senior campaign advisor for both Levine Cava and Reyes.

“He’s an import,” said Ernesto Rodriguez, a Republican candidate for sheriff who has lived and worked in Miami-Dade since arriving from Cuba at 16 years old. He lives in the Redland area.

Mayor Levine Cava wanted someone politically aligned with her administration to become sheriff, explained Rodriguez. Former Miami-Dade police director Freddy Ramirez, an ally of the mayor, dropped out of the race after shooting himself during an argument with his wife.

“She couldn’t get anybody, and so she got this guy to step into the race. If you look at it, a ton of his contributions are from Broward. It’s [Broward Sheriff’s Office] people,” he said.

Thousands in contributions to Reyes have indeed stemmed from former colleagues at the Broward Sheriff’s Office. Gregory Tony, the Broward Sheriff and Reyes’ former boss, has also endorsed Reyes.

The most recent salary listed for Reyes on the county database: $323,471 a year.

Residency is not a legal requirement

Dade County voters passed a citizen ballot initiative in 1963 that made sheriff an elected position in 1963. The ballot amendment said the election of sheriff would be governed by Florida law, which does not require a sheriff to be a resident of the county.

In 1966, after a wide ranging corruption scandal, voters abolished the sheriff’s office in Dade County, a quick turnaround of events.

When the office was repealed that year by voters, the “powers and functions” of the county sheriff were transferred to the county mayor. That led to a subtle just notable shift: According to the county charter, the county mayor must reside in the county.

The same does not apply to a directly elected sheriff, since the charter was never written to make this a requirement for that office.

Only two counties in Florida have local laws requiring a sheriff to reside in the county where they are elected, according to the Florida Times-Union. Those counties are Duval and Charlotte.

The topic came to a head in 2022, when Duval County Sheriff Mike Williams was pushed out of office after reporters discovered that he had moved to neighboring Nassau County.

Apart from Duval and Charlotte, sheriffs are not legally obligated to live in the county they serve, a position confirmed by the Florida Department of State in 2018.

So, candidates that live in Broward can be elected as Miami-Dade sheriff, even if they continue to live across the county line. At the same time, the situation presents a dilemma.

Since a sheriff would have to swear that they are a “qualified elector” of their home county when they take the oath of office, the sheriff would have to remain a resident of that county “throughout [the] term of office,” according to the 2018 Department of State determination.

The failure to do so would result in a “vacancy in office.”

In the case of the candidates that live in Broward, it means that either they must continue living there for their entire term as sheriff — assuming one of them gets elected — or they would need to move to Miami-Dade County before taking office.

Republican Mario Knapp is running for Miami-Dade Sheriff
Mario Knapp, a Republican running for Miami-Dade Sheriff, says there are legitimate questions to ask for someone who chooses to live outside of Miami-Dade while working for those taxpayers. (Photo/Mario Knapp Campaign)

‘That’s for the voter to decide’

Some candidates WLRN spoke with were shocked to learn that residency is not a requirement to run for sheriff.

“It was surprising to me, because I would have lived in Marion County and run from up there,” joked Ruamen Delarua, a Republican officer with the City of Miami running for sheriff.

Delarua spent 26 years working at the Marion County Sheriff’s Office but returned home to South Dade in 2013.

Mario Knapp, a Republican running for sheriff, said there are legitimate questions to ask if someone gets a paycheck from Miami-Dade taxpayers, and then chooses to live and spend that money in Broward. That can speak to how much faith voters might be able to put in the candidates’ commitment to Miami-Dade, he suggested.

“That’s for the taxpayers to decide. That’s for voters to decide,” said Knapp. “But me? I’ve always lived in Miami-Dade County.”

Daniel Rivero

Daniel Rivero is part of WLRN's new investigative reporting team.  His work appears under a partnership between WLRN and the Key Biscayne Independent.

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Daniel Rivero is part of WLRN's new investigative reporting team.  His work appears under a partnership between WLRN and the Key Biscayne Independent.