Governor Rick Scott's administration has released its version of the events leading up to the departure of the former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner. The move comes as high-level Republicans call for an investigation into the firing of former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey.
When the state’s transportation chief stepped down—no one blinked. When Governor Rick Scott named new heads of the Department’s of Corrections and Juvenile Justice--it was over and done with. But when Gerald Bailey resigned as head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement—the question was, “why?” And by the time Bailey’s successor, Rick Swearingen was confirmed—the question of “why” became, “what happened?”
Bailey was FDLE Chief through three governors, and as Attorney General Pam Bondi noted shortly after his removal, he was widely respected:
“I think he’s an amazing man. It’s interesting because I almost talked about him today," Bondi said shortly after she and the rest of the four-member cabinet voted to hire Swearingen earlier in the month.
Governor Rick Scott’s office released a two-page, 10-question and answer sheet detailing its take on Bailey’s resignation. It says it told Bailey on December 16th that it wanted him out—and notified the staff of Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Jeff Atwater of the change. All three initially said they believed Bailey resigned voluntarily. Bailey has said he was forced out.
Bailey also made several accusations against the Governor’s office. He has said Scott’s staff tried to get him to falsely target the former Orange County Clerk of Court in an investigation into the escape of prisoners. Scott’s office denies that. Bailey also says the Governor’s office tried to get him to quash a federal money laundering investigation into a potential Scott appointee. The governor’s office says that’s not true, but Bailey’s claims led Democratic lawmakers to call for an investigation.
Sound- To take a man who has given his life as a real public servant…smacks of shenanigans we know nothing about," said Senate Democratic Leader, Arthenia Joyner.
Her house counterpart, House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford, agreed, saying there needed to be a, "Review [of] what occurred, ask some questions, and really have a discussion where a lot of us who are extremely concerned, have some answers.”
They’re call for an investigation has now been echoed by organizations like Progress Florida, and the state ethics group—Integrity Florida. Now, two of Scott’s fellow cabinet members—Agriculture Commissioner Putnam and Atwater—are also saying it’s time to get a pair of outside eyes to look into the matter.
“I think it’s important that the processes that are already built in work and there should be some follow up to those allegations," Putnam said.
Atwater-- fresh off a rejection from Scott to convene a search for a new FDLE chief—is going a step further. The CFO says he’s not interested in even considering the Governor’s recommendations for changes at other state agencies—until the current questions regarding Bailey are resolved.
“No more talk about talent until we have a process the public can trust. That’s how it’s going to be.”
Meanwhile, Governor Rick Scott has continued to travel the state and unveil his legislative priorities—but at every stop, he’s faced questions about what’s now being called FDLE-Gate, or the easier to use, “Bailey-Gate” and those questions don’t seem to be letting up anytime soon.