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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.  

“My primary focus is that we have strong leadership and stability at FDLE,’’ he said. The proposal late Tuesday by Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater to backtrack the vote that elected Rick Swearingen with a candidate being pushed by Atwater is. They’re a long way from that in terms of stability given everything that’s going on.

“We should be very cognizant about how we are managing and how we are empowering the leadership of that agency, and their work on a day to day basis, based on concerns, frustrations, anger about the way the previous leader was treated.” 

Now, Putnam said, he wants to see the governor and the three independently-elected members of the Cabinet exercise more authority, deliberation and transparency in discussing all decisions before the board.

He said Scott’s response to Atwater, which indicated that the governor wants to clean house of three other agency heads appointed by the Cabinet, is an opening for a new discussion.

Scott responded to Atwater late Tuesday that he wants the Cabinet to consider discussing the removal of Kevin McCarty from his job as Florida Insurance Commissioner; Marshall Stranburg from his post as executive director of the Department of Revenue and Drew J. Breakspear from his job as Commissioner of theOffice of Financial Regulation.

“In reading that letter, I learned things I did not know about his intentions with three Cabinet agencies,’’ Putnam said. “I view that as the beginning of a conversation that will involve all four of us discussing the future of those Cabinet agencies and their leadership. That is not dictum. It is the beginning of a conversation about a decision that may come from all four of us.”

However, instead of choosing a replacement selected by the governor, Putnam also said he supports electing an interim appointment and then relying on a selection committee to recruit and screen applicants -- as the Cabinet has done with the appointment of a new parole commission director and the inspector general for Citizens Proerprty Insurance. 

He said he wants to avoid leaving an agency without a director as the governor did when he allowed the Department of Revenue to remain without a head for more than a year "which I viewed as unacceptable,'' he said.

"Now I read where the governor is potentially interested in replacing that. If that’s his inclination, we better have a better process in place for fillng that position than we did last time because we can’t have the head of accounts receivable for the state of Florida – essentially a critically important role in state government – vacant for a year,'' he said.