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Palmer Remains APD Chief, Seminole Co. Elex Chief Ertel Named Secretary of State

Agency for Persons with Disabilities Director Barbara Palmer speaking to award recipient and self-advocate Amanda Baker Thursday.
Sascha Cordner

Barbara Palmer will remain on as head of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, Governor-elect Ron DeSantis said Friday. He also named Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Mike Ertel as Secretary of State, replacing Ken Detzner.

“Barbara has spent many years working to advance the needs of Floridians with disabilities and I have seen that she has the leadership capabilities and subject matter expertise needed to drive innovative public policy that will allow persons with disabilities to flourish in our communities across the state for years to come,” DeSantis said in a statement.

APD serves more than 50,000 people with disabilities such as autism, cerebral palsy, spina bifida and Down syndrome. Palmer has been at the Agency for Persons with Disabilities since 2011 and was promoted to Secretary in 2012 when former APD Chief Mike Hansen left to work for the Florida Senate. She was his chief of staff. Prior to joining APD, Palmer was also an Assistant Secretary at the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Meanwhile, Michael Ertel, Seminole County’s supervisor of elections since 2005, has been named Secretary of State, a position that requires Senate confirmation.

Ertel is a 49-year-old Republican. He will oversee state elections,  the Division of Corporations, the Division of Cultural Affairs, the Division of Historical Resources and the Division of Library and Information Services.

“I look forward to Mike bringing not only his elections expertise to Florida voters, but his steady leadership to the Department of State, as it seeks to improve the quality of life for all Floridians through its various activities, including preserving the state’s historical and cultural heritage; maintaining an open government by providing all Florida citizens access to information; and, enhancing Florida communities through business-friendly grant programs,” DeSantis said in a prepared statement.

Ertel was first appointed as Seminole County supervisor by then-Gov. Jeb Bush and then was elected voters four times.

After Friday’s announcement, Ertel tweeted that DeSantis “has a bold vision for Florida. I am proud to be a part of his team!”

Groups such as the League of Women Voters of Florida have often clashed with Detzner and his department. Asked for comment about Ertel, League of Women Voters President Patti Brigham said the organization looks “forward to working with Florida's new secretary of state on many vital election issues, most immediately the implementation of Amendment 4.”

Questions have swirled in recent weeks about how the state will move forward with Amendment 4, a ballot measure approved by voters in the Nov. 6 election. That measure will automatically restore the voting rights of most felons after they have fulfilled their sentences.

Ertel, who grew up in Seminole County, served eight years with the U.S. Army. His service included a stint as a public-affairs representative, and he was part of Operation Able Sentry in which the Army set up a base in Macedonia to monitor sanctions against Serbia.

In returning to Seminole County, Ertel remained in the public-affairs field, serving in that role for Seminole County before the appointment by Bush.

After the 2012 presidential election, in which Florida was criticized nationally for long lines and other issues that caused irritation for voters, Ertel defended how the election was conducted.

"We had a good election statewide in Florida; we have to remember this," Ertel told members of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee in January 2013. As to late-night jokes at the expense of the state, Ertel added: "I don't care what Jay Leno thinks. I care what Florida voters think."

In July 2017, Ertel took to Twitter as privacy concerns mounted about data breaches and identity theft in response to a special commission created by President Donald Trump that sought voter information --- including dates of birth, party affiliation, and the last four digits of Social Security numbers.

Ertel tweeted that he had spent “the past several days” trying to convince voters to remain registered.

“In my 12 years in office, I've never had to have this many of these conversations,” Ertel tweeted. “Please don't let an action you disagree with have the effect of silencing your most powerful tool to change or affirm it: your vote.”