If the departure of Gerald Bailey as the Commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement suggests anything, it’s that the state’s government is not working as it should.
The state’s three cabinet members are not gubernatorial appointees but independently elected to constitutional offices. They therefore directly serve the voters -- not Gov. Rick Scott.
Yet one wouldn’t know of this autonomy from how the Cabinet -- Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam -- responded to questions about why Bailey was leaving. Even though they each share authority over the hiring of the FDLE chief, all three expressed little to no interest into his sudden departure, ceding complete control to Scott.
According to Bailey, he was forced out by Scott and was told by General Counsel Pete Antonacci that he had the concurrence of all three Cabinet members.
When confronted Tuesday about Bailey’s allegation, Scott told reporters that Bailey had resigned. Only later in the day, after social media and blogs relayed Bailey’s counter narrative, did Scott’s office correct the record with a vague statement that Scott actually did make the move: “Gov. Scott thinks it’s important to frequently get new people into government positions of leadership.”
Despite this confusion over the shakeup of an agency they oversee, Cabinet members repeated Scott’s narrative after unanimously approving Bailey’s replacement during Tuesday’s meeting.
When asked after the Cabinet meeting, all three Cabinet members responded in ways that even suggest they were cribbing off the same memo that Scott was using.
Echoing Scott’s sentiment that Bailey did a “great” job, Putnam said he served Florida in an “outstanding way,” Atwater said “he had served admirably” and Bondi said he was an “amazing man.” He was so good, in fact, that Bondi said she and her staff were planning to honor him in some way. To further emphasize that she thought highly of Bailey, Bondi actually said “I think the world of Commissioner Bailey” five separate times in response to various questions during a 60-second stretch of a two-minute interview.
So if Bailey was THAT good, nobody had any questions about why he was leaving? Did anyone ask? Atwater said he didn’t. Bondi didn’t answer the question, responding instead, apropos of nothing, that “I can tell you that I’ve known Commissioner Bailey for many years.”
Although Scott later acknowledged, sorta, that Bailey hadn’t willingly resigned, Bondi and Atwater said that Bailey had in fact resigned.
“We were informed that he was stepping down,” Atwater told a reporter, adding he hadn’t spoken to Bailey himself. Bondi said after the Cabinet meeting that she didn’t know why Bailey was leaving, but thought it might be because he retired. Only later did a Bondi spokesman clarify with a statement that echoed what Atwater originally said: “My office was told Commissioner Bailey was resigning.”
Who told them? Neither Bondi nor Atwater cared to share.
Were Bondi, Atwater or Putnam curious about Bailey’s departure after reporters told them he was forced out? Each one was asked, separately, if they had heard whether Bailey was forced out. None of them expressed surprise. Putnam didn’t reply in a germane way. Bondi replied with her stock answer: “I think the world of Commissioner Bailey.” While Atwater implied that he had heard reports stating otherwise, he shrugged it off by saying “if he had anything else to add, I would assume he would have added that.”
(Attention CFO Atwater: Oh, he has -- READ THIS).
Putnam and Atwater sounded alike at times when they pontificated on the ebbs and flows of administrations. When Putnam was asked if he was told why Bailey was forced to resign, he replied in this non-answer: "Well, certainly with the change of any administration, it is routine for there to be some turnover in agencies, and we’ve seen that across the board, not just in FDLE." Atwater made the same point: ”When you come to the end of a term, I think there will be even more changes that will be taking place with agency leaders.”
Putnam pointed out that Bailey had “presided over a 43-year-low in crime.”
Scott dropped the same factoid when asked if Bailey had been forced out. “Commissioner Bailey did a great job. Commissioner Swearingen is going to do a great job. The cabinet approved him today. We have a 43-year-low in our crime rate.”
So there’s a 43-year-low in the crime rate. Bailey did a great job.
And no Cabinet member would say whether they asked Scott why Bailey was getting replaced or if they were told why he was resigning?
That’s the story, at least for now.