Republican Gov. Rick Scott on Friday appointed a close friend, with little experience in education and a history of questionable personal spending during his time in state government, to fill a vacancy on the State Board of Education.
Tom Grady, a 57-year-old wealthy securities lawyer from Naples and former state lawmaker, is perhaps best known in Florida for his hefty travel spending during his brief tenure in 2012 as interim president of Citizens Property Insurance.
In less than two months overseeing the state-run provider, he spent nearly $10,000 on expensive hotel rooms, airplane trips, a limo ride and a three-night stay in Bermuda. Grady defended the spending, saying he was actually “very frugal.” He lost the permanent job to a Maryland insurance executive, amid questions raised by the Tampa Bay Times about his spending habits. He returned to the private sector.
Grady is not known for education issues — a fact which some education advocates lamented after Scott announced the appointment Friday.
“Just what we needed. Another non-educator to have zero understanding of best education practices and policy,” Opt Out Orlando leader Cindy Hamilton said.
In a statement released Saturday, Scott spokeswoman Jeri Bustamante said, “Governor Scott is confident that Tom Grady will do a good job and serve in the best interest of all Florida students.”
Grady did serve as a director of the Collier County Education Foundation in the 1990s. And last year, Scott appointed Grady to the board of trustees at Florida Gulf Coast University for a term that ends in January.
Trinity Republican John Legg, chairman of the Senate’s Education Pre-K-12 Committee, said he remembers Grady as being a hard-working lawmaker, who did his homework and who tried to be fair when making his decisions. Grady served one term in the House from 2008 to 2010.
“My experiences with him when he was in the Legislature were positive,” Legg said. “He was engaged in education issues — it wasn’t his area of expertise, per se — but he was definitely involved and had a high level of concern and commitment.”
Even before the controversy at Citizens, though, Grady made questionable personal spending decisions for which he sought reimbursement on taxpayers’ dime.
The Times also reported in 2012 that before his time at Citizens, Grady projected a stark contrast in leadership philosophy during his tenure running the Florida Office of Financial Regulation. He was a fiscal conservative who echoed Scott’s cost-cutting mantra, but also racked up hefty travel expenses — including $6,000 on in-state travel and $10,000 on office furniture.
During his single term in the state House, Grady was notable for billing taxpayers for flying on private planes owned by a campaign donor. He also pushed for tax breaks for some of Florida’s richest residents.
The appointment to the State Board of Education is for a term that ends in December 2018. The Florida Senate has to confirm the appointment before it’s official.
Grady would replace John Colon, who resigned when Scott named him to the Manatee County School Board.