Attorney General Pam Bondi Wednesday suggested some palace intrigue was involved in the Bailey affair. Bondi, speaking at the annual AP pre-session briefing, said the Cabinet knew there was going to be changes made in Cabinet agencies but the former prosecutor suspects not the governor but his staff was behind the unceremonious dumping of the former director of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
“Did I know that Gerry Bailey was going to be told that he was fired and have packed up his entire life as a career law enforcement officer in a cardboard box and be told to be out of the office before the end of the day, absolutely not! Nor do I believe the governor knew it,” said Bondi. “I think the staff knew it.”
The governor’s staff had previously confirmed that former General Counsel Pete Antonacci had met with Bailey and was told about the governor’s desire for new leadership at FDLE. Bailey has told the Times/ Herald he was told that Scott had the support of Bondi, CFO Jeff Atwater and Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam.
Wednesday, Atwater, Bondi, and Putnam all said yes, they knew about Scott’s desire.
“I was expecting a process, expecting it to be fleshed out. I’m expecting we’re going to have a conversation about it,” said Atwater. Cabinet agencies like FDLE are jointly managed by the four Cabinet members with the governor presiding at meetings and selecting agency heads subject to Cabinet approval.
“If someone had said to me ‘tomorrow morning we are going to walk into Commissioner Bailey’s office, going to offer him an ultimatum, we’re going to tell him that he had lost the confidence of Mr. Atwater and you are going to be out of here by the close of business’ the event would not have occurred,” said Atwater.
Adam Putnam first served in Tallahassee in 1996 as a member of the Florida House of Representatives. He said the Cabinet for far too long has delegated too much authority and he said long-term reforms in how the Cabinet as a group manages agencies will be discussed.
“We were informed that there was an interest in making a change at FDLE and at 9 a.m. the next morning there was a dramatic change at FDLE. That’s not at all what I envisioned when we were given a heads up.”
And that’s where Bondi, the state’s top law enforcement official, sees unnamed Scott staffers lurking in the shadows and orchestrating what Putnam called the “shabby” treatment of a good man.
“Because I know the man and I don’t think he knew about it,” Bondi said of Scott. “I firmly believe it was done at the staff level and we’re going to find out.”
In addition to the upcoming Cabinet discussions about addressing Cabinet appointments offered by Scott, Atwater and Putnam, state attorney Willie Meggs may look into the events leading up to Bailey’s resignation.
Matthew Weidner of St. Petersburg has filed a complaint with Meggs accusing Gov. Rick Scott and Cabinet members and their staffs of violating Florida’s Sunshine Law. Meggs has yet to respond but previously had said each Cabinet member has investigators on their staff and can conduct their own investigation.
Scott’s office said it is “a longstanding convention for the governor’s staff to provide information to Cabinet staff.”
Scott Wednesday dismissed a question about the simmering controversy.
“Gerald Bailey was given an opportunity to step down and he did. Then he waited until after Rick Swearingen was confirmed by the entire Cabinet and made his attacks. The attacks against me are absolutely untrue and they are ridiculous,” said Scott.
“A lot of folks including the governor are trying to kick this barrel down the road – you shouldn’t be able to kick this barrel down the road,” said House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford.
Pafford said if any laws have been broken — the Sun-Sentinel calls the uproar over Bailey’s dismissal a constitutional crisis — then the state needs to deal with it “straight up.”
“We need to understand whether that act was political. There have been things written over a number of years that would suggest that Gerald Bailey was a guy with integrity. Did the integrity somehow cause him to lose his job? Do I think FDLE is OK now? I do but what do we really know until we actually get into it and ask the questions and dig for answers?”