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Ex-DEP chief disputes Corcoran's claim that House forced him out

The timing of the resignation by Gov. Rick Scott's former environmental secretary, Jon Steverson, has stirred plenty of talk in the state Capitol.

Amid House criticism of the size of the legal expenses in a long-running multi-state dispute over water rights, Steverson submitted his resignation a week ago Friday, Jan. 20, to take a new job at the Foley & Lardner law firm.

That was the day after a House committee publicly posted an amendment to an ethics bill that would subject "appointed state officers" (including agency heads such as Steverson) to the same six-year lobbying ban that would apply to House members who want to become lobbyists. 

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, didn't think that was a coincidence.

"One day later, or give or take, from the time that we noticed that committee meeting, you see an agency head who resigns who has spent $100 million of taxpayer money on legal fees go and immediately become one of the participants in that law firm that he gave millions of dollars in legal fees to," Corcoran told Capitol reporters last Thursday. "I would tell Governor Scott -- I haven't had the chance to speak to him personally -- but I would tell him, it was nothing against him. It was nothing against his Cabinet head. It was to try to clean up the process of government."

Steverson said there was no connection. "Absolutely not," he said through the DEP's spokeswoman, Lauren  Engel. "He got an opportunity and he took it." A Times/Herald source said Steverson and the Foley & Lardner firm had been in talks for a number of weeks before his resignation became public..

The six-year lobbying ban passed the House Public Integrity & Ethics Committee last Tuesday and faces a long political road. It requires passage by both houses of the Legislature by a three-fifths margin and 60 percent of voters must agree to put it in the Constitution in 2018.

Scott has named deputy DEP Secretary Ryan Matthews as Steverson's interim replacement. But governance guidelines approved by Scott and the Cabinet after the controversy surrounding former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey's ouster in 2014 require a public discussion of a selection process for a replacement. Scott and the Cabinet will hold a special meeting by teleconference at 4 p.m. Wednesday to agree on a successor to Steverson.