Florida Cabinet members have said they were blindsided by Gov. Rick Scott's decision to oust former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey on Dec. 16.
"(It) caught a lot of us by surprise," Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater recently told Capitol reporters.
It appears that it wasn't a complete surprise to Atwater, whose office began lobbying for one of his top aides to get the FDLE job before the ink was dry on Bailey's letter of "departure" (he refused to use the word resignation).
Emails show that Atwater's chief Cabinet affairs aide, Robert Tornillo, began promoting deputy CFO Jay Etheridge as the new head of FDLE even before Bailey's ouster was became publicly known. Bailey has said he got a surprise visit from Scott's former general counsel, Pete Antonacci, at about 11:45 a.m. on Dec. 16,and minutes later, Tornillo hand-delivered Etheridge's resume to Attorney General Pam Bondi's office on the first floor of the state Capitol building in Tallahassee.
Asked to explain the timing, Atwater spokeswoman Ashley Carr said: "At that time, it was known that the Governor's Office wished to make leadership changes at several agencies, including at FDLE. We offered the credentials of an individual who would make a candidate for consideration when the selection process was to begin."
It was nearly four hours later before Scott's office announced that he had appointed Rick Swearingen as interim FDLE commissioner. Atwater later called for a re-opening of the FDLE appointment, but neither his two Cabinet colleagues nor Scott agreed with him.
Here's Tornillo's email:
From: Tornillo, Robert
To: "Kent Perez"; Rob Johnson
Date: Tuesday, December 16, 2014 11:52:39 AM
I dropped off two folders to Emery containing cover letter/resume for Jay Etheridge. Please call me if you have any questions.
Director, Cabinet Affairs
Office of Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater