Florida CFO Jeff Atwater resigning for 'expanded' CFO role at FAU
Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater announced Friday he’s resigning from his Cabinet position to return to Palm Beach County and take a job as the CFO of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.
Atwater, who is from North Palm Beach, will be the university’s vice president of strategic initiatives and CFO — where he’ll “lead strategic initiatives and economic development opportunities for FAU as well as manage the university’s finances and budget.”
FAU’s previous CFO, Dorothy Russell, retired on Jan. 31.
Atwater was elected Florida’s CFO in 2010 and won re-election in 2014. He cannot seek a third term but still had about 23 months left in office.
Atwater’s office said there is no designated date yet for when he will officially resign, but he plans to leave after the 2017 legislative session ends — sometime after May 5.
“I am honored to join FAU in such a significant capacity,” Atwater said in a statement from his state office. “While I would have preferred to embrace this opportunity at a later date, the timing of crucial university initiatives warranted an accelerated transition.”
Atwater added in a statement from FAU: “I cannot think of a better place to begin the next phase of my career.”
FAU President John Kelly said Atwater was his top choice “for this expanded CFO role,” and he applauded Atwater’s work in the statewide office.
“When I approached Jeff about joining us here, it was immediately obvious he cares passionately about FAU,” Kelly said in a statement. “There is no better person to help guide this university’s finances and corporate relationships as we continue with unbridled ambition to make FAU America’s fastest improving university.”
Atwater sought — and failed — to become president of FAU three years ago, but he’s been trying to get back there ever since.
Atwater’s links to the school include having had three children attend the university, and he represented the school’s three campuses when he served in the Legislature from 2000 to 2010. Atwater was Florida Senate president in his final two years.
Gov. Rick Scott’s office said the governor was made aware of Atwater’s departure before the announcement was made just after noon Friday. But Scott’s office did not immediately have details about who might eventually replace Atwater.
“The role of the CFO is incredibly important to our state, and I will begin the process to appoint someone to serve Florida families,” Scott said in a statement, which also praised Atwater for being “laser-focused on keeping the cost of living low for all Floridians.”
Atwater’s salary as Florida CFO is $128,972 a year. It’s not immediately clear what his new salary at FAU will be.
His resignation gives Scott the unusual opportunity to appoint Atwater’s replacement, essentially giving the governor control over two of the four votes on the state Cabinet — his own and the CFO’s.
Though the CFO is elected by voters statewide, Florida law grants the governor broad authority to appoint anyone as a replacement in the job without seeking approval from the voters or the Legislature.
A replacement just has to meet the requirements spelled out in the state Constitution: The CFO must be 30 years old and a resident of the state for seven years.
The Cabinet includes the CFO, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
The CFO has oversight of several statewide agencies, including the Office of Insurance Regulation and Office of Financial Regulation, whose leaders must be approved by the governor, CFO and at least one other Cabinet member.
Atwater, a former banker and a graduate of the University of Florida, spent much of his legislative career focused on insurance and banking issues, and was not known for his work on education issues.
In 2014, Atwater said he was recruited to apply for the presidency of FAU by a firm conducting the search. He applied the same day applications were due and received high marks from the presidential search committee, which led to an interview among a handful of other semifinalists. But when it came down to the top three, Atwater’s name was not on the list.
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