A St. Petersburg attorney called on State Attorney Willie Meggs to investigate Gov. Rick Scott, members of the Cabinet and their staff for possible violations of Florida’s Sunshine Law. Matthew Weidner, citing newspaper reports, asserts in a letter to Meggs Wednesday that Scott’s General Counsel Pete Antonacci acted outside the statute requiring open meetings in telling ousted Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey to resign without the “concurrence of all three Cabinet members.”
Bailey was forced to resign in December, then Scott and other members of the Cabinet unanimously confirmed his replacement, Rick Swearingen, earlier this month; since then, Scott and members of the Cabinet have come under fire over the details of Bailey’s ouster. After his replacement was named, Bailey told reporters that during a December meeting at his Tallahassee office, Antonacci told him to either retire or resign .
Cabinet members, Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Attorney General Pam Bondi, have voiced concern over Bailey’s ousting and the way the Cabinet makes changes to cabinet level agency heads. Scott’s office refuted the claims in a question and answer release last week, asserting that Cabinet members and staff were told ahead of time about the decision to remove Bailey. “Any conversations between and among the Governor and members of the Cabinet, directly or through conduits, regarding the replacement of the head of the FDLE violate the Government in the Sunshine Law,” Weinder wrote. “When these laws are violated, these citizens and residents are the victims of those violations. Under the facts before us, I respectfully assert you have a duty to initiate an investigation on behalf of the people you took an oath to serve.”
Bondi told reporters atthe Associated Press Legislative Preview at the Florida Capitol Wednesday she was unsure if Scott himself knew about the changes at FDLE, suggesting that staff may have conveyed information about Bailey without Scott’s knowledge.
Bondi said she didn’t know Bailey would be fired and “Nor do I believe the governor knew it. I think the staff knew it. Someone knew it.”
Bondi said the issue needed to be aired in the public, following the Sunshine Law, and would be at the Feb. 5 Cabinet meeting.
First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen said while it is still unclear how Bailey’s ouster went down, Cabinet operations and those delegated to staff are covered by open records laws. “Sunshine follows the delegation,” Petersen said. “If they are being used as a conduit of information from one cabinet member to another that could very well be a violation of law.
“Everything done to avoid violation of the Sunshine is itself a violation of Sunshine,” she added.
In response to continued questions, Scott’s press office added to a statement released last week denying the allegations of staffs’ involvement in Bailey’s firing outside of the Sunshine Law. “It has been a long standing convention for Governor’s staff to provide information to cabinet staff. This was the same process the cabinet staff followed in respect to Gerald Bailey,” Scott’s office wrote. Meggs said he received the letter from Weidner, whom he does not know, on Wednesday, and has placed a call to him to find out what information he has on which to base his complaint. “I’m not going to respond to people who read the newspaper or watch the news and want to complain about it,” Meggs said. “What is your basis to believe and to file a complaint with me that there has been a violation of the Sunshine Law?”