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Scott, Cabinet will seek new highway safety chief

After four decades in state government, Julie Jones is retiring as executive director of the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

In an election year, Gov. Rick Scott and the three-member Cabinet will have to agree on a successor to run an agency that has extensive daily contact with everyday Floridians and a fair share of controversy. The issues have ranged from new document requirements for driver license renewals to a now-stalled redesign of the Florida license tag to the case of the state trooper who was fired and rehired for his handling of traffic stops involving legislators.

Jones, 56, will retire April 30 as a member of the DROP retirement program for state employees. She is paid $135,000 a year, and the agency has about 4,500 employees and an annual budget of more than $400 million.

She began her career with the old Game and Freshwater Fish Commission in 1983, rising to the rank of colonel and chief of its law enforcement division. Jones succeeded Electra Bustle as head of the highway safety agency in the fall of 2009 when Charlie Crist was governor and the Cabinet consisted of Republicans Charlie Bronson and Bill McCollum and Democrat Alex Sink.

"I didn't put in for this job," Jones recalled Thursday from Tampa at a Cabinet meeting with a tie-in to the state fair. "I was pleasantly surprised what a challenge it was and how great the people have been."   

Jones said she has floated the names of two possible successors to her bosses -- one inside the agency and one outside. She declined to identify them. It will be interesting to see how the field of candidates emerges because the vacancy is so close to a race for governor.