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Capital Report

New agency heads make the rounds

By Tom Flanigan

Tallahassee, FL – There are lots of new faces around the Florida Capitol these days. There is a new governor and cabinet. There are the dozens of newly-elected lawmakers who will be considering hundreds of bills over the next couple of months. As Tom Flanigan reports, there are also a slew of new state agency heads who are tasked with trying to carry out the wishes of the lawmakers as well as the governor who appointed them.

In the packed fourth-floor auditorium of Florida's sprawling Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles headquarters in Tallahassee, a solemn ceremony is underway.

" and so, the honor guard commander passes the Florida Highway Patrol colors to the outgoing Colonel John Czernis, signifying the members' appreciation of his leadership and guidance. Colonel John Czernis then passes the Florida Highway Patrol colors to the Executive Director Julie Jones, signifying the relinquishment of his command and gratitude for the opportunity to lead troopers. The executive director then passes the Florida Highway Patrol Colors to the incoming colonel, Colonel David Brierton, entrusting him with the responsibility and care of the Florida Highway Patrol."

After the ceremonial passing of the colors, which is a large flag bearing the Highway Patrol's official seal, David Brierton gives his first address as the patrol's director.

"It's now my responsibility to provide the leadership and vision for the agency. This will be accomplished by creating modern efficiencies, improving our service delivery and improving our effectiveness. We must remain focused on our core mission of public safety and meeting the demands of the public."

But even the Florida Highway Patrol's top trooper has to answer to a boss. In Colonel Brierton's case, that boss is Julie L. Jones, the executive director of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, the Highway Patrol's parent agency.

"Today we officially acknowledge the promotion of David H. Brierton to be the eleventh colonel of the Highway Patrol. He joins an elite group of law enforcement professionals because he has proven leadership skills, character and high ethical standards."

Much of the same was said by former Governor Charlie Crist about Jones when Crist chose her to head Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles in September of 2009. Today, Jones is one of just a handful of state government agency heads to survive the ascendancy of Governor Rick Scott. The vast bulk of agencies have new leaders. To name just a few of Scott's appointees, there's David Wilkins at Department of Children and Families. Edwin Buss took over at Corrections. Bryan Koon leads Emergency Management. Wansley Waters is at Juvenile Justice. Jack Miles is the new head of Management Services. And Kurt Browning, who was Secretary of State under Crist and left the job before the end of Crist's governorship, was re-tapped by Scott to again occupy the office. Nearly every new administration cleans house to some degree when it comes to state agency leadership and Scott is no exception. Curtis Richardson is a former member of the Florida House. During the eight years he served there, many agency heads came and went in Tallahassee. But Richardson thinks those jobs are crucial, despite the uncertainty of their tenure.

"We can pass all the laws in the world, but you've got to have competent, understanding, compassionate, caring agency heads that are able to carry out the rules based on the laws that the legislature passes."

In contrast to some earlier administrations, though, today's state agency heads may find themselves in a bit of an awkward position. They owe their job to the governor, but are tasked with following the wishes of a legislature that is already opposing the governor on some key issues. Richardson says, when in doubt, they should follow the will of the people as expressed by lawmakers.

"And I hope that the governor is putting agency heads in place who understand that and will be willing to carry out the mandates of the legislature based on that type of understanding."