The unanimous vote comes under new transparency rules.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet on Wednesday voted to appoint two agency chiefs that have engendered controversy inside state government and from outside activists in recent months.
During a lengthy public interview, Florida Department of Law Enforcement commissioner Rick Swearingen received praise from Cabinet members, but Florida Department of Environmental Protection secretary John Steverson continued to face criticism for proposals to generate revenue from state parks.
Both received unanimous votes of approval.
Swearingen was appointed by Scott in January after the controversial firing of longtime FDLE chief Gerald Bailey, who was appointed by former governor Jeb Bush and served as the state’s top cop for eight years.
Scott forced out Bailey without notifying other members of the Cabinet, which includes CFO Jeff Atwater, Agriculture Commission Adam Putnam, and Attorney General Pam Bondi, fellow Republicans were roiled by the move. As a result of the Bailey firing, new rules were adopted for appointing cabinet-level position, including a more transparent interview process.
Swearingen and Steverson were the first test cases under those new rules. After a national search—also a requirement put in place after the Bailey firing—Swearingen was the only candidate the Cabinet decided to interview, which made his appointment a foregone conclusion.
Steverson, though, faced initial objections from Bondi, who said she wanted to review resumes from other applicants. Scott put his Cabinet interview on the agenda earlier than anticipated after Bondi dropped her objections.
Environmental groups who oppose Steverson’s appointment blasted the scheduling change, arguing it was a move designed to catch critics off-guard and limit public criticism.
Both Steverson and Swearingen failed to get final Senate approval during last spring’s legislative session, which prompted a second appointment process.
Scott appoints the heads of FDLE and DEP, but those picks must be approved by the Cabinet and confirmed by the Senate. If the upper chamber does not sign off on the appointments during the 2016 session, both will be removed from office.
Steverson has faced criticism from environmental activists for proposals that would expand hunting and allow cattle grazing in state parks, increase the parks’ reliance on outside contractors for park services, and sell state-owned timber to boost revenues.
Steverson has cast the efforts as part of a plan to make state parks more “self-sustaining,” but received some pushback during his interview, including from Putnam.
“Are there places where you would thin [trees]? Of course,” Putnam said. “But I think we sort of start off the conversation on the wrong foot with self-sustaining parks.”
He did say Steverson is the “right person for the job,” and voted for the appointment.
Environmentalists have cast Steverson’s proposals as a cash grab that will hurt state parks.
“I would like to say idle land has value just by being idle,” Steven Martin told Cabinet members during the public comment period. “I’m talking about all of the undeveloped land in Florida.”
Steverson said he wants state environmental trust funds to be more “robust” so the department can better handle issues facing state parks, including land management.
“Nearly a third of this state is already under public ownership, we have to manage what we have,” he said.
The land management issue has also been contentious since passage in November of Amendment 1, a constitutional provisions that requires a cut of real estate taxes to be spent on the environment. Environmentalists hoped that money would purchase additional state conservation land, while Scott, Putnam and many legislative leaders have said the money should be spent to maintain current state lands.
Original article here.