September 20, 2016

Will the governor and Cabinet hold FDLE accountable for investigating inmate deaths?

Prison deathsSix years after 27-year-old prison inmate Randall Jordan-Aparo died at Franklin Correctional Institution  after being gassed by corrections officers, an investigation has still not been complete and witnesses to the incident, who allege he was tortured and beaten by corrections officers, have still not been interviewed, according to a 33-page federal civil rights lawsuit filed Monday.

On Tuesday, the head of the agency charged with investigating the state's role in the death, Rick Swearingen, faces his six-month performance review before the governor and Cabinet today. The governor and Cabinet jointly are responsible for oversight of FDLE.

On Monday, the Herald/Times asked if the governor and Cabinet believed FDLE was sufficiently following up  on the abuse-related deaths at the Department of Corrections, as the agency had told legislators it would do. For the past three years, the Miami Herald has chronicled or revealed details about many of the deaths.

The question was not about the pending investigation but how the governor and members of the Cabinet is holding FDLE accountable regarding its performance about an inmate death nearly six years ago and other deaths the agency is charged with reviewing. 

Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater responded. No one chose to answer the question, or explain why they didn't want to answer it. We did not receive a response from Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Here is what we asked:

"We are writing today about a federal lawsuit being filed in connection with the death of inmate Randall Jordan Aparo in 2010. We understand the investigation was re-opened by FDLE, however, many of the witnesses in the case and others have not been interviewed, according to the lawsuit. 

"As you prepare the performance review of FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen on Tuesday, could the governor provide us with an answer to this question:

"Have you have been assured that Commissioner Swearingen and his staff are sufficiently following up on the abuse-related deaths at the Department of Corrections? If you are confident these investigations are underway, please explain how you reached that conclusion."

Here's how the governor's office answered the question at 9:47 p.m.

"Commissioner Swearingen has done a great job in his leadership role at FDLE. We look forward to his performance review tomorrow,'' said Lauren Schenone, the governor's press secretary. "Florida is now at a 45-year crime low because of the hard work of Florida’s law enforcement officers, and Commissioner Swearingen has dedicated his career to making sure Florida is the safest state in the nation.”

Here is how the office of CFO Atwater responded: "Our office has not had specific conversations about inmate investigations," said Ashley Carr, spokeswoman for Atwater.

Here is how Bondi's office responded: "It would not be appropriate to comment on a pending investigation,'' said Kylie Mason, Bondi press secretary. "Furthermore, any discussion relating to FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen's performance review must be addressed in the open at the public Cabinet meeting."

February 04, 2016

Capitol Buzz: Five things to watch today in Tallahassee

Legislative committees continue meeting in Tallahassee, while the state's top officials go to the fair. Here's what we're watching:

* They won't have an official cabinet meeting, but Republican Gov. Rick Scott, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Attorney General Pam Bondi will still be at the Florida State Fair in Tampa to help kick off the festivities. The governor will host a luncheon there at noon.

* At 9 a.m., the House Judiciary Committee will again take up the proposed "Pastor Protection Act," which allows clergy to turn away gay couples seeking to marry. The committee's vote was postponed last week.

* The House State Affairs Committee could vote to send to the House floor a proposal that changes the legal language of Florida's absentee voting to "vote-by-mail." That panel also meets at 9 a.m.

* The Senate Transportation Committee, also gathering at 9 a.m., will give a first hearing to a bill by Republican Sens. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, and Anitere Flores of Miami, which aims to outlaw the use of red-light camera devices in Florida.

* A bill dealing with cremation fees that counties charge is set for its final committee hearing in the House. The Regulatory Affairs Committee meets at 1 p.m.

January 21, 2016

University presidents aim to meet governor's call for post-grad job placement

@ByKristenMClark

Presidents and administrators from Florida’s 12 public universities and one private one presented their ideas Thursday to Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet on how they plan to meet Scott's call to increase job placement of graduates in the universities' most popular programs.

The most common ideas proposed include offering career counseling services as soon as freshmen enroll and continuing that effort during the students' time on campus through dedicated advisers, internship placement programs and job-skill training activities.

Some of the more unique solutions mentioned range from free passports for Florida A&M University students in Tallahassee who study abroad to prepare themselves for a global workforce, to a freshman-year tuition rebate for students at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, who use campus career services, stay enrolled for four years and secure a job within six months of graduation.

FGCU president Wilson Bradshaw told the governor and cabinet that he expects that initiative will cost $1.5 million, which the university plans to fund through private donors.

"This will save them (the students) money and provide them with some much-needed start-up funds as they start on the path to a successful career," he said.

Each of the university presidents expressed emphatic support for Scott's "Ready, Set, Work" challenge, which he issued in December. He wants 100 percent of the students graduating from each university's two most popular programs to secure jobs within one year.

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January 08, 2016

Gov. Scott wants university presidents to meet with Cabinet

@ByKristenMClark

Republican Gov. Rick Scott has invited the presidents of Florida's 12 public universities to the next Florida Cabinet meeting, so that they can present their ideas on how to meet a charge he recently issued.

Starting in November, Scott rolled out "Ready, Set, Work" challenges to the state's 28 community colleges and 48 technical colleges, as well as the public universities, encouraging them all to improve post-graduation employment rates for their students.

He wants the universities to ensure 100 percent of the students graduating from each institution's two most popular degree programs land full-time jobs within one year.

Most every university and college president accepted his challenges, but the catch is that they're on their own to fulfill it. Scott is not offering any money or other resources to assist the institutions in reaching their goals.

Scott wants to hear what the university presidents have come up with during the Jan. 21 meeting in Tallahassee.

It's unknown whether he plans to solicit similar presentations from the state and technical college presidents as well.

February 05, 2015

Gov. Rick Scott at Cabinet meeting: 'I take responsibility'

Governor Rick Scott’s Cabinet Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Good morning. I want to start the meeting by discussing the departure of Jerry Bailey. While I wanted to bring in new leadership at FDLE as we transitioned into a second term in office, it is clear, in hindsight, that I could have handled it better.

The buck stops here, and that means I take responsibility.

I am focused on working together today on creating a more transparent and predictable process for transitioning cabinet agency leadership as we move forward.

I cannot stress how important it is to add clearly defined accountability and clearly defined measurement to our cabinet agencies. In the private sector, there are no lifetime jobs. In successful companies, no worker is immune from regular performance reviews that determine whether they are meeting clearly defined objectives. State government should be no different. Taxpayers expect the government they pay for to be efficient and productive.

That is why, today, we are proposing a process that would add annual reviews to all cabinet agency leadership positions.

With this new, more transparent and predictable process, all cabinet agency leadership, including FDLE, would be up for a review in June of this year. During that review, any member of the cabinet can make a motion – at our public meeting – for the cabinet to consider the removal of an agency head and begin a search for new leadership.

If we are able to agree to a new more transparent and predictable process today, I would like to invite the current leaders of DOR, OFR, and OIR to the next cabinet meeting to specifically discuss their accomplishments and their specific goals for their agencies and how those goals serve the needs of Floridians. We each have our own goals, but I think we need input from the whole cabinet to set agency goals together.    

Before I open up for discussion, I want to add that searching for new leadership is often important to bring in new energy and fresh ideas. In fact, we have made changes all across state government as part of a transition to a second term.

Successful companies have regular reviews, measurement and accountability – all tied to company objectives. Adding measurement, accountability, and regular reviews is the best way to ensure there is no favoritism among leadership and that every appointed official is focused on what is best for the citizens of our state.

We have a proposed process for discussion today that builds on the process designed by Commissioner Putnam; but I think we need to have a bold discussion about the best process moving forward. We need everyone’s input on this. It is important that we work to make the entire process for transitioning cabinet agency leadership more transparent and predictable. I look forward to hearing your ideas and I have additional copies of the proposal for those who may need them.

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!”

Continue reading "Why won't the governor move the Cabinet meeting from the fair grounds? Some reasons" »

January 29, 2015

Gov. Rick Scott expresses confidence in his staff

Gov. Rick Scott expressed confidence in his staff Thursday, dismissing the notion that they are responsible for the controversy caused by the hurried dismissal of former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey.

"I have a great chief of staff," Scott said at the Tampa Chamber of Commerce, where he was discussing his proposed $470 million communications tax cut. "Melissa Sellers, along with my other team, is doing a great job."

The response came a day after the three elected Cabinet members criticized the governor's handling of Bailey's dismissal and said they were not consulted before the decision was made to replace him.

At a news conference Wednesday in Tallahassee, Attorney General Pam Bondi proposed that the controversial ouster of Bailey in December could have been the doing of the governor's staff without his knowledge. By law, The FDLE commissioner works for the governor and the elected cabinet.

"We all knew there were going to be changes made in the upcoming months, but did I know that Jerry Bailey was going to be told he was fired and have his things packed up, his entire life as a career law enforcement officer in a cardboard box, and be told to be out of the office before the end of the day? Absolutely not," Bondi said. "Nor do I believe the governor knew it."

More here.

-- Josh Solomon, Tampa Bay Times

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

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.  

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

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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