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As Governor Shuffles Agency Heads, FDLE Ouster Causes Stir

Former FDLE Secretary Gerald Bailey during a press conference.
Former FDLE Secretary Gerald Bailey during a press conference.
Former FDLE Secretary Gerald Bailey during a press conference.
Credit WFSU

A former Florida Department of Law Enforcement official is accusing Governor Rick Scott of political payback after he removed Gerald Bailey as head of FDLE. It’s not unusual for a governor to shuffle agency heads at the start of a second term, but in Bailey’s case, the issue is about how and why his departure occurred.

There are new agency heads in place at the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, Corrections, Transportation, Environmental Protection, and Law Enforcement. It’s that last position that’s is generating a lot of controversy, as evidenced by this exchange between reporters and Governor Rick Scott.

Reporter to Scott: "He was forced out of his job. He did not resign voluntarily. Would you agree with that sir?

Scott: I will tell you that Commissioner Bailey did a great job. Commissioner [Rick] Swearingen did a great job. The cabinet approved him today. We’re at a 43-year-low in our crime rate, we’re going to continue to make sure this is a state people want to live in because it’s safe.”  

The governor has refused to directly answer why he chose to let go of FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey. Bailey, one of the most well-respected law enforcement officers in the state who served under three Governors says he was forced out. After a recent meeting of the Florida cabinet, Attorney General Pam Bondi was asked about Bailey’s departure:

Reporter to Bondi: “Apparently, the understanding is he stepped down because he was told he no longer had the confidence/support of members of the cabinet. That includes you. Are you saying that at no time did you communicate with anyone in the Scott administration that you were willing to get rid of commissioner bailey?

Bondi: “I think the world of Commissioner Bailey.”

Reporter: “You’re not answering the question.”

Bondi: “I think the world of commissioner Bailey.”

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater also answered the question similarly, though Atwater did expand some.

“He [Bailey] informed us that he was stepping down, so if there’s something else to that story... We have a very good working relationship, if he had anything else to add I’d think he would have added it, but just that he was stepping down and that he appreciated the opportunity to serve,"  Atwater said.

In statements to the Miami Herald, Tampa Bay Times, Atwater, Bondi and Putnam now say they are disappointed with the way Bailey was treated. In an open letter to Governor Rick Scott posted on facebook, former FDLE Secretary Jim York alleges the governor pressed Bailey to brief his campaign staff on ongoing cases, and to allow the governor’s office to review FDLE press releases.

In a statement, the Governor’s office directly refutes York’s claims. Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz says, “Those claims are not true. It’s not true to say the Governor’s office asked any agency to include misleading or inaccurate information in press releases. We work with all our agencies.”

The dustup over Bailey’s ouster comes as the Governor continues to shuffle the leaders of the state agencies he oversees. The shuffle, not unusual in a governor’s second term, has also stirred rumors of which agency heads could be next. Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty’s name has come up.

Copyright 2020 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.
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