Gov. Rick Scott is sorely mistaken if he thinks a steady stream of press releases is going to quiet the growing scandal over the forced ouster of former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey.
The firing has raised fundamental questions about the public’s right to know how its government operates, and Scott must now address those questions directly or lose credibility on his promise to run a transparent administration.
His mishandling of the ouster has found its way into the courts, where attorneys representing the news media (The Tampa Tribune included) allege the administration violated the state’s Sunshine Law governing open meetings. The nonprofit First Amendment Foundation, which advocates for open government, is asking for an independent prosecutor to investigate.
It didn’t have to be this way. Scott could have addressed Bailey’s future in the open during meetings with his fellow Cabinet members, as the law dictates. But he chose instead to mislead the public and the Cabinet’s other members — Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater — by making it appear Bailey had chosen to resign.
Scott may have used his aides to clear a path for Bailey’s firing outside of the public’s view, and those aides left no known public record of their discussions with aides for the other Cabinet members, who should have had an equal say in deciding Bailey’s future.
That has raised another question the media’s attorneys want addressed, and that Scott could blunt by agreeing to make the high-level discussions by his aides subject to the open records laws that apply to public officials. Instead, as late as this week, Scott was insisting the conversations the aides have are not something the public has a right to know about.
But that runs contrary to the best interest of the people of Florida. Stealth firings with no publicly stated reason might be acceptable in some corporate board rooms, but it has no place in government.
Bailey was appointed to the top FDLE job in 2005 by Gov. Jeb Bush and was widely respected inside and outside of law enforcement for a distinguished 30-year career. His few comments on the forced resignation indicate it was payback for refusing to go along with requests by the Scott administration that he found to be political or unethical. The most troubling had to do with a request to falsely name an Orange County court clerk as the subject of an investigation to make the prison system look less culpable in the escape of two inmates.
Scott insists that was not the case.
But it’s hard to know what to believe when the first information he provided about Bailey’s departure proved to be a carefully crafted deception to make it appear as a willing resignation. Scott has admitted he could have handled things better.
That’s a start. But that’s not enough by a long shot. If he has nothing else to hide, he should welcome an independent review to clear the air and tell the public what he’s learned from this episode.
It shouldn’t have to take a lawsuit to bring government out into the open where it belongs.
Original article here.