Gerald Bailey couldn’t let go of an anachronistic notion that the FDLE ought to be kept apart from politics.
It cost him his job.
Bailey, who headed up the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for eight years, was bounced after tangling with Rick Scott’s political operatives during the governor’s reelection campaign. Unhappily for Bailey, Melissa Sellers, the 32-year-old woman in charge of that very reelection operation, became the governor’s new, all-powerful chief of staff.
Wonder what thoughts were rumbling around the commissioner’s head as he considered the woman behind his ouster. Sellers, after all, was not yet born when Bailey first pinned on a badge. She was only 4 when he joined the FDLE.
Bailey was tossed on Dec. 16. The governor (and our apparently oblivious cabinet members) didn’t offer up an explanation until Tuesday. Scott insisted, “He resigned.”
Not according to the former commissioner. “I did not voluntarily do anything,” Bailey told Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee bureau. “If he said I resigned voluntarily, that is a lie. If he said that, he’s being totally untruthful.”
Bousquet recalled conflicts last year between Bailey, 67, and former members of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s communications team, who Scott had hired for his reelection effort. (Folks around Tallahassee had dubbed them, without much affection, “the Louisiana mafia.”) Sellers had attempted to recruit Bailey to appear in one of the campaign’s dog-and-pony shows last summer. He refused. The campaign wanted FDLE agents to chauffeur campaign staffer Megan Collins, another Louisiana import, around the state. Nope. Then he complained about receiving unseemly solicitations for campaign contributions from Scott’s gang.
Bailey just couldn’t rid himself of that old-fashioned, good government ethic.
I suppose there might have been other reasons why Scott and Sellers fired the obdurately apolitical FDLE commissioner. Questions have been raised about FDLE’s investigations into reports of inmate abuse in Florida state prisons and into a secret cemetery at the old Dozier School for Boys — not that the governor has shown much interest in either issue.
But if he had other reasons, Scott’s not saying.
Not saying, by the way, was a tactic that Sellers perfected back when she was Gov. Jindal’s misnomer of a communications director. Florida political reporters will recognize the “solid woman in high heels,” described in a 2008 Esquire profile of Jindal, as “quick on the draw with both her smile and her middle finger” who had been “derided by reporters for blocking access to her boss — literally — having performed a sort of perfectly executed moving pick that put the kibosh on any chance for spontaneous questions.”
Gambit, the New Orleans weekly, reported that same year: “Sellers has become Public Enemy No. 1 to many reporters” by routinely stonewalling requests for information. Gambit wrote that news operations “have privately griped about being removed from the administration’s press release lists after they ran less-than-flattering Jindal stories.”
Gambit quoted a newspaper capital bureau chief who described how Sellers and company “play hardball and can be punitive.”
I know of an old-fashioned cop in Florida who can attest to that.