Op-Ed

For Rick Scott, a second start, a second chance

FIRST TIME: Gov. Rick Scott is sworn in for his first term of office in January of 2011. He will take the oath for his second term on Tuesday.
FIRST TIME: Gov. Rick Scott is sworn in for his first term of office in January of 2011. He will take the oath for his second term on Tuesday. Tampa Bay Times

When Rick Scott was elected governor four years ago, he promised to change the way state government operated. He appealed to the tea party with his message of shaking up the establishment. Once he became governor his first test was putting together a top-notch team to run his agencies.

To put it in perspective, the governor as the state’s chief executive officer has sole authority over 23 executive branch agencies and departments and shares authority with the Cabinet over another six.

Scott, unfamiliar with the usual cast of characters in Florida political circles, surrounded himself with advisers who were also outsiders. They chose not to keep experienced agency heads that served under his predecessors even though they shared the same party affiliation and ideology. They opted instead for new faces that had no prior loyalties.

That didn’t work out too well. Many agencies had chronic problems. There was a lot of turnover. In less than four years, Scott had been through four chiefs of staff, four secretaries of the Department of Corrections, four education commissioners, three Department of Children and Families secretaries, and at least two secretaries or agency heads at nearly every other department.

As he starts his second term, the outsider has become the establishment, has learned a few lessons and has the opportunity to restructure his team.

Some of his secretaries are moving on to other opportunities. After years heading up an agency, they have become a valuable commodity. Their political stock is at its highest and this is the perfect time to cash in.

Others choose to leave with the satisfaction of having accomplished their goals or after burnout in their current position. Still others are forced to leave as they serve at the pleasure of the governor.

Let’s take a look at the governor’s substitutions.

Two of his longest-serving secretaries at two of his biggest departments announced they were leaving at the end of the term. At the Department of Environmental Protection, Herschel Vinyard’s announced departure is giving Scott the chance to appease those unhappy with the many controversies that came out of DEP.

Scott chose Jon Steverson, executive director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District. Steverson, unlike his predecessor, is a political insider with extensive experience in state government. He also has a much more balanced view of the environment and expertise in water resource issues. I had hoped for a true environmental advocate, but I’m cautiously optimistic with this pick.

Secretary Ananth Prasad’s resignation from the Department of Transportation was somewhat of a surprise. Prasad, an engineer, had worked for FDOT for many years prior to being named secretary and had the expertise to run the highly technical department that manages multimillion-dollar projects. Prasad has not announced his future plans but will, no doubt, land well, probably with a company doing business with FDOT.

Scott chose Jim Boxold, Prasad’s chief of staff, to replace Prasad. While Boxold has a pretty impressive political résumé, he has no expertise in transportation projects. He served 10 years as the director of Cabinet affairs for the Florida commissioner of agriculture and as deputy director of Cabinet affairs for Gov. Jeb Bush. While well connected and familiar with the inner workings of government, is he really the best choice to head a massive technical agency with a multibillion-dollar budget?

Scott has asked interim secretaries at the Department of Children and Families and the Department of Juvenile Justice to remian. With encouragement from legislators, judges and advocacy groups, Scott has asked Michael Carroll to stay on at DCF and Christy Daly to stay on at DJJ.

The Department of Corrections has been a major challenge for Scott. Michael Crews, Scott’s third DOC secretary, recently left an agency plagued by inmate deaths, allegations of corruption and a culture of abuse. Scott chose Julie Jones, the former head of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Prior to that Jones served as director of law enforcement at another agency.

At first I was surprised, but I’m now intrigued. Having worked with her, I find her to be a very capable, serious, no-nonsense, task-oriented leader. She may be a great choice to bring fundamental change to the DOC. Scott seems to have a better handle on what and whom he needs on his team as he starts his second term. Thank goodness.

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