Some environmentalists are suspicious of Gov. Rick Scott’s decision to seek Cabinet approval Wednesday on the reappointment of Jon Steverson as secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection. They suspect Scott is speeding up the vote in Tallahassee as a way to limit public criticism of Steverson’s proposals to open up state parks to commercial activities such as hunting, cattle grazing and timber harvesting.
“There are people all over Florida who are concerned about this,” said Albert Gregory, a retired park planner who worked at DEP for 35 years. “This latest change kind of caught folks by surprise. I’m not a natural born conspiracy theorist, but the way this has evolved, it makes it hard not to be sometimes.”
Jono Miller of Sarasota, a member of a citizens group seeking to prevent commercialization of Myakka River State Park, said he’s not opposed to Steverson personally, but that he and many other Floridians reject the idea that state parks should be used to generate revenue. Miller said “I would prefer not” to see a vote on Steverson this week so that people can plan to attend the next Cabinet meeting on Sept. 1.
Scott did move up the timing of the DEP appointment without explanation by adding Steverson to Wednesday’s agenda as required by law. Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater’s office questioned the decision.
“How is he (Steverson) on the agenda if the Cabinet did not vote for that?” Atwater Cabinet aide Robert Tornillo asked at the July 29 Cabinet aides meeting.
Scott Cabinet aide Kristin Olsen made reference to the fact that Attorney General Pam Bondi had dropped her original request to interview other candidates for DEP, “so we just figured we’d move forward and do it,” Olsen said.
Tornillo persisted. “Did I misunderstand what happened last meeting?” he asked.
“The interview can happen at any time if it’s publicly noticed and given proper noticing,” said Bondi’s Cabinet aide, Rob Johnson. “I think that looks like how it’s teed up here. That would be what I would think, by reading this.”
But Scott had a different schedule in mind at the last Cabinet meeting on June 23. He made it clear that the job status of FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen would be decided at the Aug. 5 meeting, but Steverson’s status would be delayed until the following meeting in September. That decision appeared to be a result of Bondi’s stated interest in nominating other applicants for DEP, but Bondi has changed her mind and supports Steverson’s reappointment.
“So we’ll do FDLE at the next meeting,” Scott said on June 23, according to the transcript. “And then at the next meeting, anybody will bring any applicants for DEP.”
“Great,” Bondi replied.
“And we’ll discuss them then, and we don’t do the interviews for DEP at that meeting,” Scott said.
Steverson’s initial appointment by Scott last December was praised by Audubon of Florida. His reappointment is required because the Senate declined to confirm him in the 2015 legislative session. He has been interim secretary since May, but his status appears secure. The heads of FDLE and DEP are appointed by the governor with the approval of the three independently elected Cabinet members.
Scott’s abrupt removal of former FDLE commissioner Gerald Bailey last December with no public vote set off a furor that has forced him and the Cabinet to implement a new and more formal structure for assessing the job performance of the 10 agency heads who report to Scott and at least one Cabinet member.
Original article here.