Gov. Rick Scott's chief of staff, Steve MacNamara, sat down with the Herald/Times Wednesday to rebut elements of a series of articles about his tenure as the governor's top adviser and the contracts he signed when he was chief of staff in the Florida Senate.
MacNamara said that while the stream of stories may hasten his plans to leave the administration later this year, he is not leaving -- yet.
"This whole thing may just hurry my departure by a few months,'' he said.
Scott hired MacNamara in July 2011 to the $189,000-a-year job after a blistering first six months of low poll ratings and icy relationships with lawmakers. Even with his departure, MacNamara said, the governor is "going to keep pressuring people to cut budgets and make efficiencies and people are going to continue to think they’re being picked on.''
A Sunday story in the Herald/Times reported that current and former members of Scott's administration have accused MacNamara of being a heavy handed manager who controls who is hired and fired, influences which key contracts get advanced and installs people into government jobs who are loyal to him.
The Herald/Times reported that MacNamara also signed a $5.5 million no-bid contract with Anna Mattson of Spider Data Systems to create a web platform that will provide the public access to the legislature's budget process. Mattons, who developed the program, is a business partner with MacNamara's close friend, Jim Eaton.
MacNamara said he believes that people are complaining because the governor's attempts at efficiencies are making people mad.
"There’s hundreds of millions of dollars that’s not going to get renewed and they start throwing people under the bus,” he said.
He said he pursued Mattson's budget program so that Senate President Mike Haridopolos could introduce more transparency into the budget process after a grand jury report blasted the legislature for an appropriations process that gives "unbridled discretion" to the House and Senate leadership.
“I told Mike we needed to leave some legacies,'' MacNamara said. He recalled seeing the online budgeting system developed by Mattson when he worked in the House a decade before and sought out Mattson to implement it.
But, MacNamara said, the system took longer to implement than expected as many people throughout state government resisted providing Mattson with the data needed to complete the job.
“These people said let’s put all this together and a lot of people go: 'No. We’re not going to give everyone the keys to the kingdom',” he said.
MacNamara said he didn't know Mattson and Eaton were business partners.
"I didn’t know about Jim Eaton having a business partnership with Anna Mattson until I read it in the blog last night,'' he said, referring to the Herald/Times report. "I called him up and said what is this? He said it’s got nothing to with that. It’s a whole different project."
Other rebuttals from MacNamara:
* On the $360,000 no-bid contract to Abraham Uccello, whom he had known when he served as a director on the board of the Uccello family brand marketing firm: “I had to find Abe through is brother,'' MacNamara said. "I remembered Abe being a very smart guy and every idea everyone offered Abe would say here’s how you do it cheaper and different and we’ve become great friends since then. But I didn’t throw it to my friend. This is a guy who’s never held a government job. A total outsider. Doesn’t know who’s he's bruising and everything."
He said he has since become friends with Uccello but wasn't friends with him when he signed the contract.
* On the sign outside his office: MacNamara said it was "beyond the pale" to characterize a sign quoting from the Wizard of Oz as a symbol that he uses it to keep people out. Instead, he said, it is a light-hearted reminder of the old friend who gave it to him, former state Rep. John Cosgrove, D-Miami.
“I do that in his honor. I don’t do that to be a jerk to anybody,'' he said.
* On his relationship with Liberty Partners, the lobbying firm formed originally by MacNamara and former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack of Florida in 2007. Eaton joined the firm later:
"My association with Liberty Partners is my dad was Connie, Michael and Dennis McGillicuddy's football, high school and baseball coach,'' he said, referring to the Senate's formal name. He said his family has known their families for years.
* On Eaton's work as a lobbyist for The GEO Group, a company seeking to expand the number of private prisons it operates in Florida: "He never talked to me about geo stuff...I had no idea he was working for GEO.”
* On controling the governor's schedule:"I don't set his schedule...He's in charge of his life. That's who he is."
* On intervening on a decision about barrel racing at the Division of Parimutuel Wagering: "That's totally wrong...I hate gambling." Here is the letter sent to MacNamara from parimutuel lobbyist Marc Dunbar, scolding the department: Download Dunbar on Rules repeal Download Dunbar and MacNamara exchange on Rules report
* On Sunburst, the web-based system intended to allow the public to see the emails of the governor and his top staff: "We’re having a Sunburst meeting to make sure it doesn't take more than 24 hours'' to post most emails, he said. The maximum time is "supposed to be seven days, but that’s the goal."
As MacNamara then left -- 20 minutes late -- for the staff meeting on the Sunburst system, he said as he approached the room: "They all think I'm resigning."
This reporter asked the obvious, "Are you?"
"I knew you'd ask that,'' MacNamara said. "No, I'm not."