Facing a lawsuit over allegations that they violated Florida’s open-meeting laws, Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet on Tuesday began advancing a plan to formalize the public process for the hiring and firing of agency heads under their joint control.
The controversy began with the forced resignation in December of Gerald Bailey, the former head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The FDLE is a “Cabinet” agency, meaning it is jointly controlled by the governor and three Cabinet members: the attorney general, chief financial officer and agriculture commissioner.
Bailey has said he was told to resign or be fired by Scott’s former general counsel. Cabinet members said they were told Bailey had decided to resign.
The lawsuit, filed by news outlets, including GateHouse Media, which owns the Herald-Tribune, allege Scott and Cabinet members violated Florida’s Sunshine Laws by using communications among their Cabinet aides to orchestrate Bailey’s removal outside of a public meeting.
Scott and Cabinet members have said they did nothing wrong but have jointly agreed to reform the way they hire, evaluate and remove the directors of about a dozen Cabinet agencies and boards.
“We did not violate the Sunshine laws and we look forward to more transparency in the process,” Attorney General Pam Bondi said after Tuesday’s discussion.
It will likely take several future Cabinet meetings to fully work out the process for evaluating Cabinet agency heads. But Scott and the Cabinet did agree Tuesday to begin with three agencies — the Office of Insurance Regulation, the Office of Financial Regulation and the Department of Revenue.
After the Bailey controversy, Scott has said he also wants to replace Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty, Office of Financial Regulation Commissioner Drew Breakspear and DOR executive director Marshall Stranburg.
The next step in the process will involve Scott and the Cabinet members deciding on the performances standards for each of those agencies — which could then be used to evaluate their performances and the hiring and firing of future agency heads.
“I think we have a good process. What’s important to me is that we have a predictable, transparent process to review what our expectations of our agencies are and then review the management,” Scott said. “That’s what we’re doing.”
But Tuesday’s debate also made it clear that the process for potentially removing current Cabinet agency heads will be at a slower pace than originally contemplated by Scott — who called for leadership changes following his re-election in November. It is also apparent that Cabinet members will be taking a more vocal role in the debate over agency heads.
For instance, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater said he is satisfied with McCarty’s performance as the state’s top insurance regulator. “I think Kevin is doing a good job. I do,” Atwater said.
As to how he will evaluate Cabinet heads, Atwater said he will use a similar standard that he employed as former banking executive. “My only way of looking at it is: I evaluate is this person doing the job that I’ve laid out for them and are they doing it exceptionally well?” he said.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said he was pleased that the governor and Cabinet members were able to reach a unified position on the initial reforms.
“We’ve now begun a much deeper review of the Cabinet agencies themselves and their performance,” Putnam said.
As for the open meeting controversy, Putnam noted that Scott and the Cabinet members also agreed to undergo a training session on the state laws.
“I believe that is the remedy,” Putnam said. “You’re going to see both the Cabinet and Cabinet aides participate in an in-depth Sunshine Law training.”
Original article here.