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Scott shakes up executive office staff

By Regan McCarthy


Tallahassee, FL – Following low poll numbers Florida's governor is revamping his inner circle. The governor has selected a new chief of staff and will be forced to replace his policy advisor. Many speculate the shake-up means trouble in the governor's office, but Regan McCarthy reports political experts say the changes are par for the course.

Much to do has been made about Florida Governor Ricks Scott's slip in popularity. A Quinnnipiac University poll published last month shows only about 29-percent of Florida's voters approve of governor Rick Scott and a survey released Friday indicates about 40-percent of Florida's voting constituents report the Republican governor's behavior will make them think twice before electing a GOP candidate for president. Some say that's the motivation for the governor's staff shakeup. The governor is replacing his chief of staff and his lead policy advisor has resigned.

Such changes are not unheard of but some suggest such early changes, made within the first 6-months of the governor's term, indicate trouble. Among staffers being jockeyed is Scott's chief of staff Mike Prendergast. Prendergast will take a new position as Director of Veterans' Affairs. He says he doesn't think the move suggests a lack of belief in his abilities.

"I deeply appreciate the confidence of this cabinet and I remain fully committed to this challenging task of serving the people of the great state of Florida."

Senate President Mike Haridopolos' chief of staff, Steve MacNamara, will take over as Scott's new Chief of staff. MacNamara, a distinguished professor at Florida State University, has previously served as chief of staff to the speaker of the House as well as secretary of the department of business and professional regulation. Senate Budget Director Craig Meyer will fill the spot MacNamara leaves as Haridopolos' new chief of staff.

Brian Burgess, Scott's communications director says the timing of the staff changes has nothing to do with the governor's success. Burgess says the start of the governor's seven year job creation plan is an example of the accomplishments he's already realized.

"A vast majority of those points, the steps themselves, and the underlying bullet points, we can check those off. I mean, we got a lot of that plan done. Literally, not just in progress, but done."

And Ron Sachs a former communications director in Governor Lawton Chiles' administration says the change is nothing unusual.

"Its fool hardy to read changes at the top staff level in the administration as a warning sign that something's wrong. Actually, sometimes it's a sign that something's going right. That there's been a wake up call received that we need to do things a little better, smarter, stronger, more strategically and having some top staff changes may give us some fresh ideas, some fresh energy to go forward and do better."

And Burgess says making improvements is exactly what the governor is endeavoring to do.

"He's into measurement he's into metrics he's always challenging his staff and he's always calibrating and recalibrating. This isn't like an inflection point that you're not going to see again. I mean there's always going to be adjustments, there's always going to be things we're doing. There's going to be people that come and people that go."

Sachs says historically changes made in administrations' staffs stem from the way in which the positions were assigned in the first place. Often top campaign staff people are given top governing staff jobs as a kind of thank you for their work. But Sachs says the two jobs require two very different skill sets so that it is typical for a governor to replace staff within the first year or so of their first term. Also, he says the positions tend to include a high burn out rate. He uses his own experience as an example.

"Going back a few administrations when I had the pleasure of working for the late governor Lawton Chiles I came in to be his director of communications in his 22nd month in office. I was the third director of communications that he had in less than two years."

What does all this mean for the governor's remaining staff? Sachs says he doubts they're thinking about it.

"At the executive office of the governor you serve at the pleasure of the governor you serve at the pleasure of the governor and that's the way it ought to be. So there is very little job security there, though its public service of the highest order if you're doing it right. I think that people are so focused on getting the job done who are in those jobs now. They're not worried about job security so much as doing a good job and that's the way it ought to be."

A replacement has not yet been named to fill Marry Anne Carter's position. Carter, Scott's policy advisor, says she had always intended to leave after six months of the governor's term in order to return to her family in Tennessee.