News from Tallahassee for 1/25/15

Inquiry Sought After Former Commissioner Accuses Gov. Rick Scott of Meddling posted on 1/23/15

by lizette alvarez | ny times

FL Gov Rick ScottMIAMI — As Gov. Rick Scott faced mounting questions about the ouster of the top state law enforcement chief and allegations of improper political meddling, two influential fellow Republicans called for an inquiry on Thursday into the potentially damaging accusations.

The two men, Jeff Atwater, the chief financial officer, and Adam Putnam, the agriculture commissioner — members of Florida’s independently elected three-person cabinet — said the allegations made by Gerald Bailey, the state’s longtime commissioner of the Department of Law Enforcement, were serious enough to warrant an investigation by a third party.

“There should be some follow-up to those allegations and whether they were incidents of illegal activity versus sloppy, campaign-official-type interactions that occurred,” Mr. Putnam told reporters after an event.

In a recent interview with The Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times capital bureau, Mr. Bailey, who is widely respected, said Governor Scott had lied when telling the Florida cabinet that Mr. Bailey had willingly resigned from his job as commissioner in December. The three cabinet members — who, along with the governor, oversee the law enforcement post — said they had not known until after the vote to hire a new commissioner that Mr. Bailey had been ousted.

Mr. Bailey said he had been forced out of the job after he refused to acquiesce to repeated requests by Governor Scott and his staff to violate policy, take political sides and, in one case, target a county clerk for something she had not done and then falsify a news release.

So far, Governor Scott has avoided most questions about the matter, but on Thursday his office released responses to some of the allegations. “Gerald Bailey did the right thing by stepping down,” he said on Wednesday. “What I’ve done, as I’ve done in this job and I did in the private sector, is keep finding new people, find new energy, new ideas. I’m going to continue to do that.”

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Upon further review, Scott's response to FDLE questions raises more questions posted on 1/23/15

by michael van sickler | times/herald tallahassee bureau

So Gov. Rick Scott, or rather his office, has responded to inquiries about his Dec. 16 ouster of Gerald Bailey from his job as Commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the allegations that were subsequently made by Bailey.

But hold on. Upon further review, the two-page “FDLE FAQs” that Scott released on Thursday, falls far short of filling in the blanks.

The release, which is organized in a Q & A format, lists 10 questions followed by bullet points.

Let’s take a closer look at each one.

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Attorney General Pam Bondi joins Cabinet scrutiny of Gov. Rick Scott's actions in FDLE firing posted on 1/22/15

by Steve Bousquet, Marc Caputo and Mary Ellen Klas | Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE — Florida Cabinet members are turning up the heat on Gov. Rick Scott over the botched removal of a top state police official, with Attorney General Pam Bondi raising "serious questions" about Scott's conduct.

Bondi on Wednesday became the last of the three elected Republican Cabinet members to distance herself from the ouster last month of Gerald Bailey as commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Bailey alleges that Scott and his aides meddled in law enforcement business and used strong-arm tactics to pressure him to resign.

Taking indirect aim at Scott on his preference for secrecy over transparency, Bondi said that she and the public have a right to know the truth and that she would insist that the Bailey matter be discussed "thoroughly and in the sunshine" at the next Cabinet meeting Feb. 5.

"The recent process behind the appointment of a new FDLE commissioner has raised serious questions, and those questions should be answered to ensure transparency and the public's right to know," Bondi said in a statement that held back on explicitly criticizing Scott or anyone in his administration.

The firing has mushroomed into the messiest controversy of Scott's governorship and tarnished the start of his second term. At the same time, Cabinet members, at least two of whom are expected to run for governor in 2018, are frantically trying to extricate themselves from an issue that they could have avoided.

By law, the head of the FDLE works for the governor and Cabinet. All three Cabinet members have said they did not anticipate Bailey's ouster, but not one of them publicly questioned the decision at last week's Cabinet meeting. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam was the first to fault Scott's actions.

Bondi's extended silence was watched closely by the state's close-knit law enforcement network because, as the state's chief legal officer, her office works with law enforcement officials at all levels.

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Cities Back Away From Negotiated Compromise On Local Pension Reform posted on 1/22/15

by Lynn Hatter | WFSU

Local pension funds for police and firefighters are overdue for an overhaul says the Senate’s Governmental Oversight Committee Chairman.

The plan approved Wednesday was a negotiated compromise between unions and cities. But cities have withdrawn their support due to concerns it doesn’t leave many options for collective bargaining. The committee chairman says the comments from the cities reaffirm his belief the legislature is bailing them out.

“So congratulations, you asked for a bailout and you have a piece of legislation that’s giving you a bailout," Committee Chairman Jeremy Ring (D-Margate) told Florida League of Cities lobbyists. "You want more, I know, but this is your bailout and you got it.”

The bill reverses a law passed in 1999 that cities have blamed for throwing local pensions into disarray. The proposal would substantially change how pensions are funded and could affect 350 municipal plans across the state. A similar measure failed last year because it was tied to a state pension reform plan.

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High-level Miami FDLE agent files whistleblower complaint posted on 1/21/15

by DAVID OVALLE | Miami Herald

A high-level Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent has filed a whistleblower complaint, saying he was unfairly investigated after telling supervisors about rampant dysfunction at the Miami field office.

Robert Breeden, the assistant special agent in charge in Miami, alleged he was forced to retire after reporting “gross misconduct” by Addy Villanueva, the former top agent in the field office.

In internal documents, Breeden said that he made the disclosures to FDLE’s commissioner back in July 2013. Among the allegations: Villanueva’s misuse of a state vehicle, inappropriately buying a printer for her home and “disengagement” at the office because of her dating life.

He claimed that when Villanueva – who was recently removed from the position as special agent in charge in Miami – learned of his disclosures, she orchestrated a campaign that led to a bogus internal investigation of him and his forced retirement.

The whistleblower complaint, filed with Florida’s Commission on Human Relations, comes at a sensitive time for the state’s police force.

Last month, Gov. Rick Scott ousted former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey, who has in turn has gone public to the Times/Herald with stinging allegations that the governor’s office inappropriately meddled in the agency’s affairs, including asking him to falsely name a clerk of court as the target of a criminal probe.

The public turmoil also comes as Miami’s field office is being tasked with greater responsibility: taking over the investigations of police shootings involving officers from Miami and Miami-Dade.

“From top to bottom, they’re in a huge disarray right now,” said Florida’s Police Benevolent Association President John Rivera, whose union represents FDLE. “Anytime you have that much distraction, it has to affect your ability to do an investigation.”

Breeden, a FDLE employee since 1995, was the No. 2 in the Miami field office. Last summer, he was suspended with pay after his agency investigated claims of Breeden‘s “belittling and demeaning treatment” of employees.

» Read more

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