After Irma, Scott replaces head of emergency operations with political operative

Bryan Koon, right, stands by while Gov. Rick Scott speaks during a briefing about Tropical Storm Emily on July 31, 2017, at the Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee.
Bryan Koon, right, stands by while Gov. Rick Scott speaks during a briefing about Tropical Storm Emily on July 31, 2017, at the Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee. kclark@miamiherald.com

Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday announced the abrupt departure of the head of the state Division of Emergency Management, Bryan Koon, and replaced him with Scott’s former campaign aide and Republican Party of Florida operative, Wes Maul, who has just over a year of emergency operations experience.

Koon, 45, the former director of emergency management at Walmart stores who helped shepherd the agency through the most ferocious storm to hit Florida in a decade, came to work for the state in 2011. He told the governor on Sept. 1 he would resign before the end of the hurricane season "to pursue an opportunity in the private sector,'' said McKinley Lewis, Scott spokesman.

The governor asked Koon to stay until Oct. 1 and he agreed, Lewis said. Maul, 29, will be promoted from chief of staff to interim director.

Koon inherited an emergency management agency that had been streamlined and refined by governors since Hurricane Andrew devastated Homestead, South Miami-Dade County and other parts of South Florida in 1992. He was shielded from having to deal with a hurricane until 2016, when Hurricanes Hermine and Matthew raked the state as Category 1 storms.

“Since day one, Bryan has done an excellent job ensuring our state is prepared and able to respond to countless weather events including Hurricanes Hermine, Matthew and Irma,” Scott said in a prepared statement. “I appreciate Bryan’s willingness to stay on as we prepared for, responded to and now recover from Hurricane Irma. I wish Bryan and his family the very best in this next chapter of their lives.”

Unlike previous governors, Scott did not allow his emergency management director to address the media at briefings or answer questions, preferring instead that he be the lone voice warning Floridians to be prepared. At one point, when a reporter asked Koon to respond to questions at the state’s emergency operations center, he said he might have to “get the PIO [public information officer] to tell me if I can answer them or not.”

In his Sept. 1 resignation letter to Scott, Koon indicated he has lined up a new job but was not specific.

“I am eager to begin the next phase of my professional life, in which I will assist other organizations in achieving the same level of readiness that we have reached in Florida, and to support them as they restore their communities after a disaster,’’ he wrote.

Maul, who graduated from the University of Florida School of Law in 2013, worked as a travel aide in the governor’s 2014 reelection campaign, and the state Division of Elections shows he was paid more than $84,000 by the party and the governor’s campaign. According to Maul’s application for work in the governor’s office, he then came to work performing similar duties with the title “special assistant to the governor.”

This is the second time in two years Scott has elevated Maul. In May 2016, Scott named Maul chief of staff reporting to Koon.

“Wes Maul has been a valued member of my team since 2013 and has shown incredible leadership in his service to our state,” Scott said in the statement. “As Chief of Staff at DEM, Wes has worked countless hours helping lead our state through Hurricanes Hermine, Matthew and now Irma. Since earning his law degree at the University of Florida, Wes has devoted his life to serving the families of our state and I am confident in his ability to lead DEM as Interim Director as we continue to recover from Hurricane Irma.”

According to Maul’s application with the state, while he was in law school he worked for three years at Barbri Inc. as a “student rep for a review course,” spent six months doing legal writing and electronic discovery in UF’s Office of General Counsel and worked for three months as a “summer associate” at Mezzanine Fund. He does not have any prior emergency management experience. Maul’s LinkedIn page also shows he worked for one year at Mattress Town of Gainesville before graduating from law school.

Maul’s promotion is one of a series of decisions the governor has made to elevate former campaign staffers. Scott is expected to announce his candidacy for U.S. Senate next year.

Related: ‘He lacked experience, left the application mostly blank but got a $110,000 state job’

In 2013, Scott gave another former Republican campaign operative, Taylor Teepell, a $116,000 job in a state agency in which he had no previous subject matter experience. In May, Scott moved Teepell from director of the Division of Community Development in the Department of Economic Opportunity to become the finance director of the New Republican Super PAC, which Scott controls.

Staff writer Kristen M. Clark contributed to this report.