Gov. Rick Scott on Monday declared a state of emergency in Alachua County three days ahead of a scheduled speech at the University of Florida campus in Gainesville by the white nationalist Richard Spencer.
“I find that the threat of a potential emergency is imminent,” Scott said in a seven-page executive order. Scott placed Wes Maul, the recently-promoted 29-year-old interim state emergency management director, as the state coordinating officer “for the duration of this emergency,” including giving Maul the authority to deploy law enforcement officers and to suspend state laws if necessary.
Maul had been chief of staff at DEM to Bryan Koon, who resigned Oct. 1 for a job in the private sector.
The governor’s order, Number 17-264, gives all state agencies the power to suspend rules and regulations, including for purchasing, travel and personnel actions. Scott also activated his authority as governor to spend surplus money as he deems necessary.
In a statement, Scott said: “We live in a country where everyone has the right to voice their opinion. However, we have zero tolerance for violence and public safety is always our number one priority. I have been in constant contact with Sheriff Darnell who has requested this Executive Order to ensure that county and local law enforcement have every needed resource. This executive order is an additional step to ensure that the University of Florida and the entire community is prepared so everyone can stay safe.”
The order activates Florida’s Mutual Aid Plan to allow the state and the sheriff’s office to “quickly coordinate resources from other state, county and municipal law enforcement agencies,” Scott’s office said.
The governor's order designates the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) as the lead agency for crisis management. FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen reports to Scott and the three elected Cabinet members.
Scott’s order noted that prior speeches by Spencer in Virginia, Alabama, California and Texas “have sparked protests and counter-protests resulting in episodes of violence, civil unrest and multiple arrests.”