Gov. Rick Scott is losing another top adviser — his prized chief jobs recruiter — and faces new criticism over his forced ouster of a high-ranking law enforcement official.
Surprised business leaders learned Wednesday of the resignation of Enterprise Florida CEO Gray Swoope, who will leave next month for an unannounced job in the private sector.
At the same time, Scott’s handling of the ouster of former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey drew harsh criticism from a fellow Republican.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, an independently elected Cabinet member, said Scott’s office mishandled Bailey’s removal and was deliberately vague about plans to force Bailey out.
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Putnam, a likely candidate for governor in 2018, said Scott’s aides kept his staff in the dark about his true intentions at FDLE.
“We were given a heads-up on a staff level that there was an interest in making changes going into the second term, including at FDLE. Period,” Putnam told the Times/Herald. “That’s all that was conveyed to me.”
Only much later, Putnam said, did he learn that on the morning of Dec. 16, Bailey was ordered to “retire or resign” by Scott’s general counsel, Pete Antonacci, who gave Bailey no reason for the action and, according to Bailey, claimed Scott was acting with the support of all three Cabinet members.
Putnam emphasized that Scott has the right to make personnel changes at the start of his new term, but that he was upset with the shabby way Bailey was treated after nearly three decades at FDLE.
“One would certainly expect that someone who had served as long and as well as Gerry Bailey would have been given more consideration than he was,” Putnam said. “The manner in which it was handled was not known to me and was not at all how it should have been handled.”
The Bailey controversy kept Scott off message another day as it crackled across social media, fueled by critics of Scott who are using it to raise questions about the governor’s honesty.
Scott visited a Tampa adult technical school to tout a proposed increase in education funding. Asked why Bailey had to go, Scott said: “He did the right thing by stepping down.”
“In business, you often make changes because it’s the right thing for that organization,” Scott added. “I think he did the right thing for the organization by stepping down.”
FDLE is an independent agency that investigates state-level crime and corruption whose leader reports to Scott and three elected Cabinet members. It was created as a Cabinet agency to prevent undue political pressure or interference from any single elected official.
Former Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, a Democrat who served on the Cabinet from 2007-11, criticized the current Cabinet members for capitulating to Scott’s insistence on a new FDLE leader when they also oversee the agency.
“In order to terminate the head of a Cabinet agency, you need the governor or one other person or you need three votes,” Sink told the Times/Herald. “The three Cabinet officers are independently elected and they need to start standing up and take responsibility for it. One of them had to agree to it.”
Besides Putnam, the others are Attorney General Pam Bondi, a self-proclaimed supporter of law enforcement, and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who promotes transparency in government.
Sink also questioned the legality of the action and said it should have been discussed at a public meeting.
“It looks like the governor on his own decided he was going to fire Jerry Bailey, but you can’t do it that way,” Sink said. “The Florida way is, we have never politicized law enforcement. Maybe they do that in Louisiana where all those [Scott] staff people come from. Jerry Bailey had incredible respect and he didn’t have a political bone in his body.”
The Times/Herald reported Wednesday that relations between Scott’s office and FDLE deteriorated last year after Bailey and FDLE brass resisted what they saw as political interference in the agency by Scott advisers including former counsel Antonacci and Melissa Sellers, who managed Scott’s re-election campaign and is now his chief of staff.
The departure of Swoope, who serves as secretary of commerce as well as president and CEO of Enterprise Florida, the state economic development arm, was unexpected, but Scott has known about it for weeks. Swoope was personally recruited by Scott from Mississippi four years ago to execute Scott’s jobs agenda as he came into office.
He traveled extensively around the country to attract jobs to the state while his family remained in Mississippi, and joked that his second home was the airport in Atlanta, the connecting hub for many commercial flights from Tallahassee.
Enterprise Florida is a public-private partnership whose mission is Scott’s No. 1 priority: creating jobs.
“Losing Gray is a loss to the state,” said Enterprise Florida’s vice chair-elect, Fort Lauderdale lawyer Alan Becker. “But he put together a tremendous team and a great culture of achievement in job creation.”
Swoope’s salary is $275,000 a year. The Enterprise Florida board, whose members are appointed by Scott, gave him a $120,000 bonus last August.
Swoope has been publicly critical of Florida laws and bureaucratic red tape that he says make it harder to attract new industries to the state.