Former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey enjoyed the kind of reputation that made him seem infallible even as he navigated the politicized world of leading a state agency.
He served as commissioner for eight years under three Republican governors, avoiding high-profile missteps and embarrassments that plagued other state agency heads. He planned to retire on his own terms in the spring.
But Bailey was abruptly forced out of his job in December by Gov. Rick Scott.
Scott indicated to the media that Bailey resigned voluntarily, prompting the former leader of the state’s top law enforcement agency to temporarily break his code of silence.
Bailey’s account of his falling-out with the governor has had multiple ripple effects.
They include calls for state and federal investigations, questions about how the governor’s former chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth and other top aides operated behind the scenes and requests from the Cabinet for a full vetting of Bailey’s ouster.
Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam will discuss their concerns with Scott on Thursday at a Cabinet meeting in Tampa, part of an annual trip to kick off the Florida State Fair.
If their recent comments are any indication, expect fewer smiles this year and tough questions for Scott and his staff about why Bailey was forced out without the Cabinet’s knowledge and input as required in state law. The statute says that FDLE’s leader serves at the pleasure of both the governor and Cabinet and should be appointed by the governor with the approval of three Cabinet members.
“Gerry Bailey is a fine man, he’s served our state very well and the way that he was treated at the end of his distinguished career was shabby,” Putnam said last week. “It is important that we have a better understanding of some of the things that Commissioner Bailey and others have indicated in the press and separate those things which are more deserving of additional review.”
Scott accused Bailey of making attacks only after his successor was unanimously confirmed at the Jan. 13 Cabinet meeting. The governor’s staff also posted lengthy rebuttals online to Bailey’s various allegations.
“Gerry Bailey was given the opportunity to step down; he did,” Scott said. “He was given that opportunity, 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.”
Bailey declined to speak to the Times-Union about his tenure at FDLE, forced resignation and allegations regarding the Scott administration. His only comments on the issue remain the ones last month to the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee bureau.
BUILDUP OF TENSIONS
He said tensions with Scott increased over the years, highlighted by a series of disagreements Bailey described as pressure to politicize the FDLE. He accused Scott of improperly requesting help in shaping his re-election campaign’s law enforcement platform and needlessly inserting a Democratic lawmaker’s name into daily reports about the activist group Dream Defenders’ 31-day Capitol sit-in in 2013 to draw attention to the state’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense laws.
Scott’s office, Bailey said, also insisted FDLE officers chauffeur members of the governor’s campaign staff even though their official duty is only to cart around the governor and his family; the state was reimbursed after the fact.
Bailey told the Times/Herald he felt pressured to hire people handpicked by Scott and also claimed he was directed to delete solicitation emails he received on his state account from Scott’s campaign after he complained.
Hollingsworth, who served as Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton’s chief of staff before moving to Tallahassee to work in the Scott administration, was the focus of a particularly detailed account about Bailey’s deteriorating relationship with the governor’s staff.
While Scott and then Department of Corrections Secretary Michael Crews were dealing with a prison escape that drew national attention, Bailey said Hollingsworth pressured him to name interim Orange County Clerk of Courts Colleen Reilly as the target of an FDLE investigation into forged court documents that factored heavily into the escapees’ plan. Bailey said he told Hollingsworth that Reilly was not to blame and refused to implicate her.
“The most shocking thing was being ordered to target another individual without any justification,” Bailey told the Times/Herald. “I don’t know why this woman was in the cross hairs.”
Hollingsworth did not return repeated phone calls to his cellphone asking for a response to Bailey’s allegations. He has declined all media requests since stepping down as Scott’s right-hand man in November.
However, Hollingsworth’s reputation as a dogged advocate for his employer is well known in Jacksonville political circles where he served as Peyton’s top aide for seven years. He went to work for Scott in 2012 during a period of turmoil highlighted by the controversial exit of chief of staff Steve MacNamara, who was accused of using his position to help friends get state contracts and meddling with state agencies’ hiring.
“Adam is very loyal to who he works for and will give 100 percent to protect the person he works for and to do what he thinks is best for the person he works for,” said Duval County Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland, who interacted with Hollingsworth while serving on the Jacksonville City Council.
Hollingsworth’s tenure in the Peyton administration was not without controversy. He took the blame for providing sandbags to U.S. Rep Corrine Brown and then state Rep. Denise Lee when their homes were flooded by Tropical Storm Fay in 2008. Neighbors complained the elected officials received preferential treatment.
To quell the negative publicity, Hollingsworth admitted to failing to follow proper procedures and personally reimbursed the city for the materials provided to Lee.
So far, Bailey’s allegations have amounted to nothing more than media fodder.
Tallahassee State Attorney Willie Meggs said he has received no information he deemed worthy of an investigation, even after reviewing a citizen’s request to look into possible Sunshine Law violations involving Scott, the Cabinet and their aides.
The Legislature’s top Democrats have said that ethics inquiries and even a federal investigation could be warranted, but nothing has been confirmed.
This week’s Cabinet meeting will likely focus less on Bailey’s accusations and more on philosophical discussions about the role of Cabinet members in hiring and firing the few agency heads where state law outlines joint oversight. Most state department leaders work solely at the governor’s discretion.
Putnam has proposed clarifying the requirements for agency heads, requiring candidate interviews, establishing an appointment-selection committee and setting a process to review each agency through quarterly performance standards.
Scott, in modifying Putnam’s suggestions, included suggestions that agency leaders annually provide the Cabinet with their legislative budget requests and undergo annual performance reviews and that the governor and Cabinet members can call for a director’s removal “for any reason.”
Scott is also calling for the Cabinet to begin the process of possibly removing at least three agency heads: Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty, Office of Financial Regulation Commissioner Drew Breakspear and Department of Revenue executive director Marshall Stranburg.
Putnam and Atwater reiterated this past week they are not in favor of discussing leadership changes until the hiring process is revamped.
Original article here.