Alluding to Scandal, Florida School Board Urges Member to Resign

The elected school board in Sarasota, Fla., took the rare step on Tuesday of calling for the resignation of one of its own members, the latest development in an ongoing scandal involving a power couple in state Republican politics.

With a 4-to-1 vote, the school board rebuked Bridget Ziegler, a member for nine years, saying that the drama engulfing her and her husband had become too much of a distraction. Ms. Ziegler was the only member to vote against the nonbinding resolution; she gave no indication that she would resign.

Her husband, Christian Ziegler, the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, is under criminal investigation for sexual assault. His accuser told the Sarasota Police Department that she had a consensual sexual encounter with Mr. and Ms. Ziegler more than a year ago, according to a search warrant affidavit — a fact that both Zieglers confirmed to investigators.

That revelation, first reported last month by the Florida Center for Government Accountability, led to demands for Ms. Ziegler, a proponent of anti-L.G.B.T.Q. policies, to step down, with critics casting her as a hypocrite.

“When you claim the moral high ground and then you attack the moral integrity of others — the blatant hypocrisy of Mrs. Ziegler and how it reflects on the credibility of this board is a significant concern to this community,” Rudolph Lucek, a Sarasota resident, said during the public comment period of the meeting. Most of the dozens of speakers supported the resolution.

Ms. Ziegler, 41, dismissed the nonbinding resolution as toothless, since only the governor has the authority to remove school board members.

“I am disappointed,” she said in brief remarks. She did not mention the investigation into her husband.

Mr. Ziegler, 40, has denied wrongdoing and has refused to resign, even after the state’s top Republican officials, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, urged him to do so. The state party has scheduled a special meeting of its executive board on Sunday to consider disciplining, censuring or ousting Mr. Ziegler.

Mr. Ziegler’s accuser, whose name has been redacted from public records, said that she declined to have sex with Mr. Ziegler on Oct. 2 after realizing that his wife would not be joining them. Mr. Ziegler then went to her apartment uninvited and sexually assaulted her, the woman told the police.

Tuesday’s school board meeting began with the vote on the resolution, followed by several hours of public comments that were often raw and tinged with anger. For several years, the board has been embroiled in battles over policies related to the coronavirus pandemic, L.G.B.T.Q. issues, books and what gets taught in schools in Sarasota County, an affluent community on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Until recently, Ms. Ziegler was the board’s chairwoman.

Ms. Ziegler, a Republican, has been a prominent supporter of a parental-rights-in-education law that critics nicknamed “Don’t Say Gay,” which prohibits classroom instruction on L.G.B.T.Q. topics. During the pandemic, she co-founded the right-wing activist group Moms for Liberty; she and her husband have frequently posted on social media against transgender rights.

Some people at the meeting spoke in support of Ms. Ziegler.

“She has done nothing illegal,” Timothy Wagner said. “What an adult does in her private life is hers.”

The board’s resolution said that Ms. Ziegler’s remaining a member “would cause an irreparably harmful distraction to the school board’s ability to fulfill its critical constitutional mission.”

“It’s not about the left; it’s not about the right,” Karen Rose, the board chairwoman, said before the vote. “It’s about students.”

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