In March, Gov. Rick Scott admitted he could have handled “better” his needlessly duplicitous firing of FDLE chief Gerald Bailey. Indeed, if he had, neither he nor his Cabinet members would now have to endure what we presume is the embarrassment of being elected state officials who must be reacquainted with — or, worse, introduced to — Florida’s Sunshine laws.
After all, the governor, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam — and especially Pam Bondi, who as attorney general is Florida’s chief law-enforcement officer — are the top elected officials in the state. And because it’s obvious that they acted mostly as a cabal instead of as responsible leaders, they decided to cut their losses and compromise their way out of a lawsuit accusing them of backroom dealings that violated Sunshine laws.
The lawsuit, filed by several media organizations, including the Miami Herald, stems from Mr. Bailey’s ouster as head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Anyone serving in the post reports directly to the governor and Cabinet, as stipulated by the state Constitution. However, last December, when Gov. Scott decided that it was time for Mr. Bailey to go, he sent a minion, Pete Antonacci, to deliver the ultimatum: Resign or be fired. No explanation was given. OK, strike 1.
Mr. Scott compounded the misstep by telling Cabinet members that Mr. Bailey, a well-respected law-enforcement veteran, simply turned in his badge. Not quite true. Strike 2.
Once is became clear that Mr. Bailey was forced out, some Cabinet members expressed dismay that they were blindsided. However, that did not spur them to hold Mr. Scott accountable at a subsequent public Cabinet meeting. Strike 3.
They were derelict. Little would have been accomplished but for news outlets’ lawsuit — and Mr. Bailey’s impending testimony as to how things went down.
As reported by Steve Bousquet of the Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau, under the compromise:
▪ Mr. Scott and the Cabinet must forward all public records sent to private email accounts to their state email accounts, where they can be accessed by the public.
▪ The Cabinet cannot consider any agenda item unless a written request is made to the governor or the issue has been discussed at a Cabinet meeting.
▪ The governor, Cabinet members and their staffs must take expanded Sunshine Law training, with a declaration that Mr. Scott and the Cabinet are bound by it.
▪ A circuit judge will retain jurisdiction of the agreement in case the governor or Cabinet members violate it — which they shouldn’t.
Unfortunately, Mr. Scott and his administration have had a very tenuous relationship with transparency, and it is to be hoped that this public chastising makes a difference. Otherwise, they will continue to corrupt Florida’s laudable history of conducting Floridians’ business out in the open, where they can see it.
It’s too bad that legislative leaders, just this week, flouted the principle of government in the sunshine. Monday, this being the last week of the special session, lawmakers spent most of the day crying poor because of newly approved healthcare expenditures. But just before midnight, Sen. Tom Lee, and Rep. Richard Corcoran emerged from a closed-door pork-a-thon, in which some lawmakers’ hometown projects received millions, rather than the thousands of dollars initially allocated — with no public debate. Maybe they can sit in on those training sessions.