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Cabinet performance reviews: It's really not a new idea

As the aides to Gov. Rick Scott and his colleagues on the Cabinet revived the debate today over crafting a new policy about how to evaluate the performance of agency heads who report to them in the wake of the governor’s botched firing of former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey, some history:

If they had asked their predecessors, they would have learned that the practice had been in place for years and, on occasion used by this governor and Cabinet. 

Records and transcripts of Cabinet meetings reviewed by the Herald/Times show that the governor and Cabinet had a record of requiring a “performance review” of officials who reported to them.

The practice continued for the first year Scott and the three Cabinet officials came to office but then waned. DOR Secretary Lisa Echeverri did not have one in 2012 and her replacement, Marshall Stranburg, has never had one.

The Cabinet discussed Bailey’s performance on Sept, 23, 2014, and it was glowing. The transcript from the Cabinet meeting shows that Bailey noted that Florida’s crime was trending downward "across the board."

At that meeting, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam noted that this crime trend is unusual for large, populated states like Florida. Bailey agreed, noting that in other big states crime is rising. Putnam asks if Florida is an “oasis” in the sea of rising crime, and Bailey signals it is.

Scott then added to the kudos, noting "there's a high regard for FDLE" among Florida's law enforcement agencies. He added a caveat, however, “there is also high regard” for other law enforcement saying “everyone works together well."

Attorney General Pam Bondi added her praise, calling out the FDLE crime lab for its quality work.

“Not only are they a great investigative agency but all of our sheriffs and chiefs rely on that data,’’ she said.

It was far from the first time an agency head’s performance had come under review. As early as Sept. 9, 1998, when Lawton Chiles was governor, then Department of Revenue Commissioner Larry Fuchs asked the governor and Cabinet to accept his “performance contract.”

He explained that the department had met all eight measures and completed 15 of 19 goals established by the Legislature to tax administration and 11 of 14 goals for property tax.

“This year, we’re adding seven new measures,’’ he told them. “Overall, we’ve had a 7.5 percent increase in collections while keeping our expenses at about a 3 to 3.2 percent increase.”

His contract was approved by then Secretary of State Sandra Mortham, then Comptroller Gerald Milligan and then-Education Commissioner Frank Brogan.

Records show that performance reviews were routine throughout most of Bush and Crist’s terms as well.

On Sept. 21, 2004, the DOR Chief Jim Zingale told then-Gov. Jeb Bush and the Cabinet that the performance measures established for the department by the Legislature were “fairly easy to achieve.” He said the agency was prepared to implement a new “measurement system this year that’s very difficult to achieve but is challlenging.”

 “You’re an honest man, Zingale,”  Bush replied. And then Bush, CFO Tom Gallagher and Attorney General Charlie Crist voted to approve Zingale’s review.

His successor, Echeverri, was reviewed when Crist was governor.

Putnam told the Herald/Times that he is not pleased at this lack of review.

“When we haven’t seen an agency head as a first time in a year, I use that as a broader discussion about ‘we need to see you more often,’’’ he said. “This is not a way to run a railroad.

He said that in recent years the governor has conducted the meeting in a way that has led “towards fewer debates” and that needs to change.  

“There is less argument because there is more agreement,’’ he said. “But, nevertheless, there should be more open discussion and dialogue – even on areas where there is common agreement.”

He said Florida’s Cabinet structure has served the state well but “it requires robust agendas; it requires clear guidance to Cabinet agency heads that they should agree to bring items before the Cabinet that require our attention -- even if they involve controversy and even if they are not 100 percent resolved before reaching a Cabinet meeting.”

Putnam complained at the December meeting that there were Cabinet agency heads who had not been before the Cabinet in more than a year and that he had not seen their budgets before they had been submitted to the governor for his consideration.

“It is important that the public see the thought process and the deliberation in action and there needs to be more of that in the next four years than there has been in the last four,’’ he said.