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Scott's Cabinet agency review plan hits roadblock

Facing a pending lawsuit alleging violations of Florida's open meetings law, aides to Gov. Rick Scott and Cabinet members refused Wednesday to discuss how to make their work more transparent. The decision came at a meeting of Cabinet aides in advance of the next Cabinet meeting March 10.

Attorney General Pam Bondi's aide, Rob Johnson, cited "ongoing litigation" in postponing any talk among the aides of whether minutes of aides' meetings should be kept and training aides in compliance with the Sunshine Law, calling it "premature." But the issue remains up for discussion by Scott and Cabinet members next week.

Scott and the three Cabinet members are defendants in a lawsuit by Florida media outlets that accuses the four elected officials of secretly orchestrating the December ouster of Gerald Bailey, the former commissioner of the state law enforcement agency.

The aides then held a tense discussion of how to set new performance measures for 10 state agency heads who, like Bailey, report to the governor and Cabinet.

Aides to Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam openly challenged a five-page proposal advanced by Scott's Cabinet aide, Monica Russell. They said Scott was rushing forward too hastily without adequate input -- the same type of criticism that Cabinet members leveled against Scott after Bailey lost his job.

Atwater's chief Cabinet aide, Robert Tornillo, quickly intercepted Russell, and offered up a separate two-page proposal with a slower timetable for develping review criteria. "That's not a one-week process," Tornillo said. "Allow the agencies a month to develop their performance measures and revisit (it)."

"We're not trying to rush this," Russell said. "We need to be sure we're doing this right."

The subtext of the clash between aides to Scott and Atwater is that Scott wants to replace three more agency heads, beginning with Kevin McCarty, director of the Office of Insurance Regulation, who still has Atwater's support.

Some of the confusion expressed by Cabinet aides was not surprising because they are trying to interpret their bosses' intentions as expressed at the last Cabinet meeting on Feb. 5 in Tampa. But that discussion was made more ambiguous because Scott and the Cabinet, acting on Bondi's advice, opted to take no formal votes. Russell ended Wednesday's discussion by saying, "I don't know that we have any resolution here."