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Politics / Issues

New Leaders Named for Environmental Protection, Elder Affairs

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Northwest Florida Water Management District

Jonathan Steverson, who for the past two years has overseen one of the state's five water-management districts, will head the Florida Department of Environmental Protection as Gov. Rick Scott begins a second term.

Scott also has shaken up things at the Department of Elder Affairs.

Scott appointed Sam Verghese to take over for Charles Corley, who, after running the agency for three years, stepped down as secretary Wednesday.

Verghese had served as Scott's external affairs director since May. Prior to his stint in the governor's office, Verghese, a former staff director in the Florida House of Representatives, was chief of staff at the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

Steverson, who served as former Gov. Charlie Crist's environmental policy coordinator, was named Thursday to replace former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard, who left the post Nov. 26. Steverson has been director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District since 2012.

In his new role, Steverson will work with lawmakers on carrying out a voter-approved constitutional amendment that dedicates fees from real estate transactions to water-resource protection and land-conservation projects. He will begin his new position Dec. 29.

"Jon has dedicated his career to serving Floridians through the protection of our state's water and natural resources, and he is committed to our goal of protecting Florida's natural treasures so future generations and millions of tourists can enjoy our state's beauty," Scott said in a prepared statement.

Steverson's appointment drew praise from Audubon Florida Executive Director Eric Draper, a prominent lobbyist on environmental issues.

"Jon Steverson is a good public servant who can provide solid leadership for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection," Draper said. "He brings intelligence and integrity to an important job."

Others, however, took more of a wait-and-see attitude approach.

"We hope Jon Steverson will honor the state's responsibility to future generations to keep our fragile environment safe," Susan Glickman, Florida director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said in an email. "We must protect our natural resources and not polluters."

Environmentalists were more apprehensive when Scott plucked Vinyard from a job with Jacksonville-based BAE Systems Southeast Shipyards to head the Department of Environmental Protection in January 2011.

Steverson, a Florida State University law-school graduate, comes with experience working with state legislators.

He served in the governor's office under Crist and former Gov. Jeb Bush. Steverson also served as special counsel on policy and legislative affairs for the Department of Environmental Protection under Vinyard before taking over as executive director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District.

The water management district appointment came as Scott signed more than $700 million in spending cuts for the five water management districts. Vinyard defended the cuts as a means to make the districts more efficient.

The appointments of Steverson and Verghese are part of a series of changes in the Scott administration as the governor gets ready for his Jan. 6 inauguration.

On Wednesday, Julie Jones, a former head of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, was named secretary of the Department of Corrections. Scott also reappointed Jesse Panuccio as executive director of the Department of Economic Opportunity.

On Monday, Scott named Mike Carroll as secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families. Carroll, who has worked for the agency for more than two decades, has served as interim secretary since spring.