March 04, 2015

Cabinet performance reviews: It's really not a new idea

As the aides to Gov. Rick Scott and his colleagues on the Cabinet revived the debate today over crafting a new policy about how to evaluate the performance of agency heads who report to them in the wake of the governor’s botched firing of former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey, some history:

If they had asked their predecessors, they would have learned that the practice had been in place for years and, on occasion used by this governor and Cabinet. 

Records and transcripts of Cabinet meetings reviewed by the Herald/Times show that the governor and Cabinet had a record of requiring a “performance review” of officials who reported to them.

The practice continued for the first year Scott and the three Cabinet officials came to office but then waned. DOR Secretary Lisa Echeverri did not have one in 2012 and her replacement, Marshall Stranburg, has never had one.

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February 03, 2015

Why won't the governor move the Cabinet meeting from the fair grounds? Some reasons

Florida Cabinet slideThe governor’s handling of the firing of former FDLE commissioner Jerry Bailey, and subsequent dust-up over Cabinet affairs, has prompted the three members of the Florida Cabinet to call for a through vetting of the personnel policies, hiring and firing and oversight practices the state Constitution tasks them with.

But there is one problem: the next meeting of the Cabinet is scheduled to be held in Tampa during the State Fair. It’s a tradition Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has welcomed for years, and is in keeping with the Cabinet’s practice of occasionally moving the business meeting to other parts of the state. 

Aware that the deliberation is likely to be serious, intense, and interfere with the light-hearted photo op with 4-H clubs, fried ice cream and giant slides, Putnam asked Gov. Rick Scott to shift the venue back to Tallahassee. Scott said no.

We asked the governor's communications office why. They refused to answer.

Attorney General Pam Bondi didn’t protest the failure to shift the venue but her spokesman released this statement: “Although the Attorney General is pleased to have the Cabinet meeting in her hometown to honor local heroes, she is prepared to discuss the recent issues involving FDLE at a Cabinet meeting anywhere in the state.”

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater also didn’t complaint but his spokeswoman released this statement: “The CFO initiated the call for the Cabinet to address the matter of how Cabinet Agency directors are hired and evaluated. He is ready to get on with this urgent issue. Be it at the Tampa Cabinet meeting or a Tallahassee Cabinet meeting, the CFO is ready to get to it!”

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January 28, 2015

Harsh new criticism leveled at Gov. Rick Scott over FDLE firing

Top state officials in both political parties leveled harsh new criticism at Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday for his decision to oust the longtime Florida Department of Law Enforcement commissioner absent public discussion with the three Cabinet members who also oversee the agency.

In his strongest criticism yet, Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said "we were misled" about Scott's true intentions to orchestrate Gerald Bailey's removal after a glowing three-decade FDLE career.

When asked whether he believed Scott's version of the truth or Bailey's, Putnam paused and did not give a direct answer.

"Jerry Bailey's a fine man. He served our state very well. The way he was treated at the end of his distinguished career was shabby," Putnam said.

Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, accused Scott of violating the Florida Constitution, which he is sworn to uphold, by not giving the Cabinet members any voice in the replacement of the FDLE commissioner.

"Hubris appears to be the organizing principle of our executive branch," Joyner said.

Developing story here.

January 21, 2015

Florida Cabinet turns up heat on Rick Scott in FDLE scandal

TALLAHASSEE — Florida Cabinet members are turning up the heat on Gov. Rick Scott over the botched removal of a top state police official, with Attorney General Pam Bondi raising “serious questions” about Scott’s conduct.

Bondi on Wednesday became the last of the three elected Republican Cabinet members to distance herself from the ouster last month of Gerald Bailey as commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Bailey alleges that Scott and his aides meddled in law-enforcement business and used strong-arm tactics to pressure him to resign.

Taking indirect aim at Scott on his preference for secrecy over transparency, Bondi said she and the public have a right to know the truth, and that she would insist that the Bailey matter be discussed “thoroughly and in the sunshine” at the next Cabinet meeting Feb. 5.

“The recent process behind the appointment of a new FDLE commissioner has raised serious questions and those questions should be answered to ensure transparency and the public’s right to know,” Bondi said in a statement that held back on explicitly criticizing Scott or anyone in his administration.

The firing has mushroomed into the messiest controversy of Scott’s governorship and tarnished the start of his second term. At the same time, Cabinet members, at least two of whom are expected to run for governor in 2018, are frantically trying to extricate themselves from an issue that they could have avoided.

More here

Putnam says no to a do-over of vote to name Swearingen as Bailey's replacement

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said Wednesday that he does not believe the solution to the botched dismissal of former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey is to start over and redo a vote on the new commissioner. 

“Our collective concern has been focused on the way Gerry Bailey’s dismissal was handled, not on the way Rick Swearingen’s hiring was handled,’’ Putnam told the Herald/Times, a day after Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater hand-delivered a letter to Gov. Rick Scott asking to reopen the search for a new commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

“I’m not sure that this proposed cure matches the disease that we’re concerned with.”

Putnam and his fellow Cabinet members, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Atwater, have been stung by their decision to let Scott and his staff mislead them into thinking that Bailey voluntarily resigned from the post on Dec. 16. Scott initially claimed it was voluntary and then, when pressed last week, admitted he forced Bailey out.

The Cabinet unanimously voted to replace Bailey last week with Scott's hand-picked choice, Rick Swearingen, a former FDLE agent who served on the governor's security detail often during much of the governor's first term.

Putnam said he is concerned about the disruption of a vote to backtrack on Swearingen’s unanimous election by the Cabinet last week.  

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January 19, 2015

Pafford: Gerald Bailey's ouster from FDLE is 'concerning'

In response to allegations that Gerald Bailey's resignation from the top job in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement was both forced and politically motivated by the governor's office, House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford's reaction is clear but measured:

"What's been slowly coming out is concerning, obviously" Pafford told the Times/Herald on Monday.

Pafford said he would likely have a more complete statement later this week, as the Legislature returns to Tallahassee for committee meetings but said this is the kind of situation he's heard of happening before.

"There's always been hints of this type of thing for years," he said.

At issue in Bailey's removal from the job is what role was played by the other cabinet officials, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam.

They, together with Gov. Rick Scott, have oversight of FDLE. It appears Bailey was asked to resign by members of Scott's staff.

The other cabinet officials' versions of the story remain unclear: While they initially held to a similar line of comment -- that they respected Bailey and that he resigned -- all three had by last Thursday expressed their own concern about the behind-the-scenes processes that led to Bailey leaving office.

When asked about how he would have handled the situation if he had a seat on cabinet, Pafford said he thought the officials should have been made aware of any details about how and why Bailey resigned. But, he was sure to say, he isn't in the same situation.

"You want to be made aware of certain things," he said. "That's part of the gig. There are only three people doing that other than the governor, so you would hope that you would have the information, that it would be provided."

What is clear, Pafford said, is this:

"I think there's a lot more questions right now than answers, and I guess that will kind of unravel, and I'm sure there'll be a story to tell."

January 15, 2015

Is Kevin McCarty Scott's next target? Atwater, Bondi & Putnam say they haven't discussed it

Kevin McCartyBy Jeff Harrington and Mary Ellen Klas

Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty has survived sitting on one of the hottest seats in state government for more than a decade. 

Since becoming the state’s first appointed insurance commissioner in January 2003, he’s endured a string of governors and Cabinets. He’s sidestepped controversy over soaring property insurance rates, a rash of insurer insolvencies, the ever-changing mission of state-run Citizens Property Insurance and how the state’s health insurance model should integrate Obamacare.

But there’s growing signs that Gov. Rick Scott may want his tenure to come to a close, just as he sought to end the career of FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey.

Sources inside and outside the insurance office acknowledge McCarty is under pressure to resign, after 26 years in state government. 

As head of the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, McCarty is responsible for setting rates and regulating insurance companies throughout the state.

McCarty could not be reached Thursday. His office said he was traveling to a National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ gathering to assign committee posts and would not be available for comment.

Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz would not respond to questions about McCarty but insisted we print her statement indicating she was not dismissing it either.

"Government too often gets stuck in a rut and doesn’t like to change,'' Schutz said in a statement to ther Herald/Times. "But, just like in business – it is good to get fresh ideas and new leadership, especially as we move into a second term.  Executive office positions are not lifetime appointments and for the same reason there are term limits in elected office – it is important to search for the best and newest ideas whenever possible.  In regards to OIR, we have no announcements at this time.”

She did not respond to requests for an explanation of whether they thought the state's insurance regulation was "stuck in a rut."

McCarty's deputy chief of staff Monte Stevens said he could not address reports that the insurance commissioner may be stepping down.

“Commissioner McCarty is focused on doing his job,” Stevens said. “He has spent this week speaking to hundreds of corporate executives and investors, encouraging them to bring their capital to Florida.  He has also met with Legislative leaders to discuss what may be on the horizon during the 2015 session.”

Removing or replacing McCarty will take a majority of the three-member Cabinet, or a vote of the governor plus one other member. That didn't happen this week, when Scott unilaterally asked former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey to resign or be fired.

After Scott admitted to forcing Bailey out, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said he had been misled by the governor’s office, which had falsely told him that Bailey had agreed to step down. 

He and other Cabinet officials told the Herald/Times they have not discussed McCarty's fate, and now appear to be more careful in handling the governor's manuevers.

"Transparency and measured deliberation about the changes of those in leadership positions is important,'' said Ashley Carr, spokeswoman for Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. She said Atwater had "absolutely not" been consulted by anyone about a reported "deal" to replace McCarty.

Attorney General Pam Bondi has "absolutely not" been contacted about replacing McCarty, said her spokesman Whitney Ray. 

Erin Gillespie, press secretary to Putnam said he also "has had no discussions regarding Kevin McCarty in the second term.” 

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January 11, 2015

How Marco Rubio could run for president then governor and what that does to other pols


Marco Rubio is expected to run for president.

All that’s really in doubt is the year: 2016, 2020, 2024?

What’s not uncertain is that the U.S. senator has a tough decision to make: does he make a longshot bid and give up his seat or does he run for president and then seek reelection?

Either way, there’s increasing political chatter that Rubio is well-positioned to run for governor in 2018.

And then, if he wins, there’s a good chance Gov. Rubio will run for president — 2020 would be attractive if a beatable Democrat is president. The next presidential year, 2024, an open-seat year, would be more likely. He’ll only be 52.

Rubio is offering few public clues about what’s next.

“At the end of the day, it’s a very personal decision,” Rubio told reporters last week when asked about a presidential bid. “You don’t make this decision on the basis of political advisers. You make it on your own.”

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December 02, 2014

Consumers still most annoyed by violators of the Do Not Call List

Violators of the statewide Do No Call List, problems at the gas pump and motor vehicle repair problems were the top three complaints received in November at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The majority of the 2,965 complaints received concerned the pesky calls consumers want to avoid.

The agriculture department added 12,396 telephone numbers to Florida's Do Not Call list in November -- bringing the number of consumers on the list to 737,000, compared to the 71,460 phone numbers on the statewide list in 2012.

It's now free to add your name to the list but that wasn't the case two years ago when the legislature, prompted by Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam, dropped the $10 registration fee and $5 annual fee for individuals to sign up for the statewide Do Not Call list during the 2012 session.

The top calls to the agriculture and consumer services department's hotline in November were related to cable companies, the solicitation of contributions from charities and the Do Not Call list, said agency spokesmanErin Gillepsie. The agency recovered $487,934 on behalf of Florida consumers in November, she said.

To report fraud, call the agency's consumer protection and information hotline at 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352) or, for Spanish speakers, 1-800-FL-AYUDA (352-9832).


October 01, 2014

New Putnam ad takes aim at Washington

With just five weeks until Election Day, state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam's re-election campaign is kicking into high gear.

The former U.S. congressman has a new TV spot that takes aim at Washington.

"Every day, Washington finds new ways to meddle with our dreams," he says. "And every day, as commissioner, I'm making sure they don't."

Putnam also talks about the need for better schools and technology so Florida's students can "compete with the world and win." That's somewhat outside of his duties as agriculture commissioner, though the department runs some school-based education programs.

The incumbent has raised $2.7 million for his campaign, state elections records show.

His Democratic challenger, longtime U.S. Department of Agriculture employee and environmentalist Thad Hamilton, has collected about $20,300.

Putnam's large haul may be a sign that he is looking to the future. He is already considered a strong candidate in the 2018 governor's race.