Thursday, December 14, 2017
News Roundup

DEP's part-time $83-an-hour employee helped oversee layoffs and agency shakeup

To hear him tell it, Brandon business executive Randall F. "Randy" Greene never wanted the job he has with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection that pays $83 an hour.

"I've never worked for any public entity before," said Greene, 63, a Palatka native with a Wharton School MBA.

Greene didn't even apply for the newly created post of chief operating officer, a job that put him in the driver's seat during a recent agency shakeup involving the layoffs of 58 veteran employees.

After Gov. Rick Scott was elected, Greene said, he applied for an unpaid position on the Southwest Florida Water Management District's governing board, which oversees water use permitting in a 16-county area.

In his application, he cited no prior experience with government or environmental regulation. He didn't mention his stint with a chemical company or his work coaching CEOs. Instead his application touted his background as a subdivision developer from 1977 to 2000 and as a utility company president from 1977 to 1984.

But when Greene sat for an interview with DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard in mid 2011, Vinyard offered to name him the COO.

Why the head of the DEP decided to hire the former developer for an agency position that did not previously exist is a mystery.

When a Times reporter tried to ask Vinyard about Greene's employment during a public meeting in Tallahassee, Vinyard said he did not trust the newspaper to tell his side, turned and walked away without answering the question.

In response to further interview requests, a week later Vinyard's staff emailed a three-paragraph statement from Vinyard that called Greene "an incredible asset to DEP," and declared, "Our environment and Florida's taxpayers benefit from Randy's service to our state." However, the statement did not say why Vinyard hired him.

According to Greene, Vinyard needed his part-time help because "it's a large agency with a lot of operational issues. He has a lot on his plate. My charge was to look at all the operations of the agency and see what could be improved."

The DEP, which is supposed to protect Florida's natural resources, manage state parks and enforce environmental laws, has an annual budget of $1.4 billion and employs more than 3,000 people.

Greene said Vinyard gave him no contract or written directions, just told him to make DEP more efficient. He started in September 2011. In a five-page memo to Vinyard listing what he has done during the past year, Greene included these accomplishments:

• Initiated a reorganization of the Tampa district office, including hiring a new director and assistant director.

• Consulted on the reorganization of the DEP's Division of Water Resources Management in Tallahassee, including interviewing candidates for the new deputy DEP director to head it up.

• Interviewed candidates for at least eight more upper management jobs at the agency, including director and assistant director of the agency overseeing all state lands.

• Negotiated the state's takeover of the Silver Springs amusement park so it can be converted into a true state park.

• Recommended opening up Wakulla Springs to recreational divers, a controversial move that springs advocates warned could endanger the state-owned property. After a contentious public hearing, state park officials decided against it.

Greene's memo says he helped lead the reorganization of the two agency sections that saw 58 layoffs, some of them veterans of 20 years or more. However, Greene said, "I didn't make the decision on which program administrators to retain." But he said he "might have" made some recommendations about which ones should get the ax.

As part of the Tampa reorganization, Greene said, he interviewed people whose companies are regulated by the DEP — big utilities, engineering companies and environmental consultants.

"Their perspective was interesting but it didn't make any difference in the decisionmaking," he said.

Greene's memo on his work product did not mention one of his least popular tasks: He wrote a two-page memo for the agency's deputy secretaries explaining the best way to handle layoffs and firings.

Greene's work has apparently satisfied Vinyard. Originally hired for $75 an hour, he got an $8 raise to $83 in July, at a time when state employees hadn't gotten a raise in six years. A review of his time sheets shows he earned about $103,000 in 2012.

But Greene's employment may be illegal, according to Doug Martin, legislative director for the Florida chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

When Vinyard first tried to hire Greene as a full-time employee, Greene said no. His wife had just gone through cancer treatment and he did not want to uproot his 12-year-old daughter to move to Tallahassee, he explained.

So Vinyard changed the offer: instead of a full-time job, he said he would hire Greene under a category known as "Other Personal Services," OPS for short. That way he could work his own hours and commute to Tallahassee every week from Brandon. Greene agreed to that arrangement, although it means he gets no vacation or other benefits, he spends eight hours a week on the road and most of the week he sleeps in a hotel instead of at home.

State law describes OPS employees as being in "a temporary employer/employee relationship used solely for the completion of short-term, temporary, or intermittent tasks," Martin noted. The way Greene has been employed "doesn't sound proper," he said, especially since he's filling a position that wasn't approved by the Legislature's budget bosses.

The way Greene was hired "sounds like an end run around the authority of the Legislature," he said. "Even for Florida government, this is shocking,"

DEP press secretary Patrick Gillespie said the agency is convinced Greene's employment does not violate the law's requirements because he is not considered to be management, doesn't have anyone reporting to him and works part-time. His time sheets show that in some two-week periods he put in fewer than 40 hours, while in others he worked nearly 70.

After more than a year, Greene said he sees plenty more to keep him busy at the DEP. But he has no idea how much longer Vinyard will keep him on the payroll: "I serve at the pleasure of the secretary."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Craig Pittman can be reached at [email protected]

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