Florida

Gov. Rick Scott shakes up FDLE, forces longtime commissioner to resign

Gov. Rick Scott’s transition to a new term suddenly turned rocky Tuesday when he forced the resignation of the longtime leader of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Gerald Bailey, commissioner for nearly a decade, was replaced on an interim basis without explanation by Rick Swearingen, director of the Capitol Police.

Bailey’s resignation followed a mid-morning visit to FDLE headquarters by Scott’s general counsel, Pete Antonacci, who did not respond to a request for comment.

The governor’s office issued a terse news release that led with Swearingen’s interim appointment. The release thanked Bailey for his service “and for all he has done to keep our state safe,” calling him a “terrific leader.”

Within hours, Bailey’s official biography had been scrubbed from FDLE’s website and replaced with: “Commissioner’s biography is currently being updated.”

Bailey’s associates in law enforcement were blindsided by the news, as was at least one Cabinet member, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

“I appreciate Commissioner Bailey’s service to the state of Florida, and I look forward to meeting the governor’s interim selection,” Putnam said. “This position is vitally important to the safety of all Floridians and I will weigh my decision very carefully.”

Bailey, a respected professional with a 35-year career in law enforcement, had been FDLE commissioner since 2006 when Jeb Bush was governor. He started as a state trooper in North Carolina and had held a variety of posts at FDLE since 1987, from special agent to inspector general to chief of its crime laboratories.

Scott’s chief of staff, Melissa Sellers, declined to elaborate on why Bailey was forced out, and calls to FDLE were not returned.

Upheaval at FDLE is rare and the agency strives to be above politics, which is not always easy because of its mission.

Early in Scott’s term, FDLE investigated the destruction of emails in the governor’s team. FDLE agents also questioned former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll about ties to a veterans’ charity before she was forced to resign in March 2013.

By law, the hiring of the FDLE commissioner is a joint decision by the governor and the three Cabinet members.

FDLE has about 1,700 full-time employees and an annual budget of $300 million. The agency tracks sex offenders, investigates public corruption, maintains a DNA database and provides round-the-clock security to the governor and his family.

At Bailey’s last public appearance at a Dec. 9 Cabinet meeting, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater expressed concern about how long it takes for FDLE’s crime lab to complete DNA investigations. Bailey said one reason is that FDLE pays its crime analysts less money than county sheriffs and people are leaving after they complete a mandatory three-year employment period.

“We’re having tremendous turnover problems,” Bailey told the Cabinet.

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

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