More Delays For Gov. Scott's Plan To Review Department Leaders

Mar 10, 2015

CFO Jeff Atwater lobbied to put off finalizing an annual review process until agency heads have a chance to come to the table.
Credit The Florida Channel

The Florida Cabinet squared off again Tuesday on the issue of reviewing and replacing agency leaders.  Much of Governor Rick Scott’s plan was either thrown out or put off to a later date. 

It’s been a rocky few months for Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s administration.  After controversy surrounding the departure of former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Chief Gerald Bailey, his office has stumbled through attempts at developing a process for regularly reviewing cabinet appointees.  At the February Cabinet meeting in Tampa, Scott conceded Bailey’s ouster was mishandled—which, while refreshing for an elected official, was marred somewhat by Scott doubling down on his actions. 

“Before I open up for discussion,” Scott began, “I want to add that searching for new leadership is often important for bringing new energy and fresh ideas.  In fact we have made changes all across state government as part of a transition to a second term.” 

Later at that meeting, Scott tried to push his plans for annual review to a vote, but he faced push back from fellow cabinet members, and parliamentary procedure itself—the idea wasn’t properly noticed as an action item so a formal vote was put off. 

Then last week at the Cabinet aides meeting, Scott’s deputies came with a fully developed rubric for judging the performance of three agency leaders.  But aides for the other three cabinet members raised a number of objections, Robert Tornillo in CFO Jeff Atwater’s office argues it’s too soon to vote on Scott’s performance metrics.

“You’ve got to get to this point first, before you start even looking at performance measures,” Tornillo says.  “I feel like we’re trying to do something before we even have a process in place.”

Wednesday, the Cabinet met to discuss those proposals.  Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam pushed back on a central plank of Scott’s plan: an annual review for every agency appointee where cabinet members can vote to remove them. 

“My experiences—life experiences—has been in the private sector,” Atwater says.  “I had my annual review and I understood where I stood.  I didn’t pick up and relocate the family knowing that there’d be a public vote on whether I stayed or left every year.”

Atwater has continually voiced concerns about attracting talent with an annual vote hanging over their head.  He successfully got language to that effect removed.  But it must be said, striking the point is a largely symbolic change.  Putnam points out the Cabinet can still bring department leadership to a vote at any time.

“If it were removed from consideration I would not be concerned that we lost oversight,” Putnam says.  “I would not be concerned that we could not remove someone who was failing to perform and I would not be concerned that we could not reward someone who was an outstanding leader.

Atwater also expressed concern about the Governor’s performance metrics.  He says the Cabinet should begin a dialogue with agency officials before determining how they’ll be judged. 

“What they see as their highest priorities, sticking with their mission, value to tax-payer, this what we think you should be measuring us,” Atwater rattled off.  “I take the time between the next two meetings to put my best thoughts—like you have—on paper.  We may want to say by the next meeting after that, which may be early April, mid, whichever one that is, we would hope to come to a conclusion.”

In the end, Gov. Scott tabled metrics until a later date.  The current plan calls for appointees to speak with the Cabinet two meetings from now with the goal of developing a rubric by the following meeting.  This pushes the issue into the summer, and could keep the controversy surrounding Bailey’s ouster alive. 

But speaking after Wednesday’s meeting the Governor struck an optimistic tone.

“I think we had a good conversation today about a process, and I think we’ll continue to work through…  We’re starting with three agencies, and we’ll continue to work through those agencies, and I think we’re going to have a great process,” Scott says.

Those first three agencies are the Office of Insurance Regulation, the Office of Financial Regulation, and the Department of Revenue.