State Politics

New Enterprise Florida CEO quits, cites ‘critical’ differences with governor

Enterprise Florida CEO Chris Hart, left, speaks to State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, after a committee meeting on Feb. 15, 2017. Hart suddenly resigned on Monday.
Enterprise Florida CEO Chris Hart, left, speaks to State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, after a committee meeting on Feb. 15, 2017. Hart suddenly resigned on Monday. Tampa Bay Times

The leader of Gov. Rick Scott’s most cherished agency abruptly resigned Monday, citing a “critical” difference of opinion with the governor over their vision of Enterprise Florida.

Chris Hart’s sudden resignation comes on the eve of the Florida Legislature beginning its annual session. House leaders have vowed to kill the agency and have a bill ready to pass as soon as this week to eliminate the agency — and Hart’s job — entirely.

But in his resignation later, Hart only cited differences of opinion with Scott as the reason he was leaving immediately. Hart started his position in January but had been informally working with the agency and learning how to best move the agency forward during a tumultuous period.

“Unfortunately, during this same time period, I have come to realize that you and I do not share a common vision or understanding for how Enterprise Florida, Inc. can best provide value within your administration,” Hart wrote in the letter dated Monday and first reported by Politico Florida. “This difference of opinion is of such a critical nature that I no longer believe I can be effective in my position. Therefore, since we have been unable to reach consensus and have no formal agreement or contract in place, I tender my resignation from Enterprise Florida, Inc. effective immediately.”

Scott’s office said Hart never raised those points with the governor directly until his resignation letter.

“It is odd that Chris Hart never shared any differences of opinion or vision with the governor until we first read that he had them in his resignation letter,” said Jackie Schutz, communications director for Scott.

It’s a shocking turn of events and drama given the assault Enterprise Florida has been under. For the last month, Hart has been a regular at committee meetings in Tallahassee trying to convince House and Senate leaders to give him a chance to right the battered ship at Enterprise Florida. The agency has struggled to regain its footing after the last leader, Bill Johnson, left amid turmoil. An audit of the agency showed it was top heavy with management, spent too much on office space and travel, and has poor financial procedures that made the agency ripe for fraud, though none had been found.

READ MORE: Chris Hart named Enterprise Florida CEO

In losing Hart, Scott loses a key ally who had experience within his administration and one who also had ties to the Legislature. Hart, 48, had run the state’s job training development agency, CareerSource Florida, under Scott and prior to that he was the interim director of the Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development under former Gov. Charlie Crist from Jan. 2010 to early 2011. A Republican, he was in the Florida Legislature from 1998 to 2002.

Last month during a Senate committee hearing, Hart gave no indications that his days as CEO were numbered. He pleaded with state senators to give him time to help implement transparency measures and get the agency functioning better.

“I think this is worth saving,” Hart said then.

READ MORE: Fact checking Gov. Scott, Enterprise Florida claims on job creation