Romano: Who needs references when you have friend in the Governor’s Mansion?

Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks while flanked by employees while visiting a Tampa company last year. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks while flanked by employees while visiting a Tampa company last year. [CHRIS URSO | Times]
Published January 25
Updated January 25

When it came time to appoint members to the state’s Board of Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services, Gov. Rick Scott chose two funeral home presidents and a cemetery president.

Makes sense, right?

When you’re talking about a board that will carry out state policy and regulations, you want someone who understands the needs and complexities of a particular field.

That’s probably why he appointed a pharmacist to the Board of Pharmacy, a media company executive to the Film and Entertainment Council, a staffing agency owner to the Commission on Human Relations and an executive with a sports and entertainment agency to the Boxing Commission.

Expertise matters.

Experience helps.

So why is the Board of Education dominated by lawyers?

And what makes a community relations executive for a retirement community the right choice for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission?

The education board and the wildlife commission are two of the most high-profile, powerful and important bodies in the state, and yet they are mostly populated by head-scratching appointees.

As initially pointed out by Tampa Bay Times reporter Craig Pittman this week, Scott’s most recent choices for the wildlife commission might as well have been named Larry, Curly and Moe.

That’s not a reflection of their intellect, but it is an indictment of their qualifications. Leading conservationists don’t know them. And their resumes don’t shout out any obvious expertise.

Gary Lester is a former minister who now works in community relations for the Villages. Gary Nicklaus is a former pro golfer who now designs golf courses. Sonya Rood’s application came closest to plausibility by mentioning she was involved in the operation of a family-owned hunting plantation.

Usually when Scott makes an appointment, his communications staff issues a press release with biographical information that reinforces an appointee’s bona fides.

The press releases for Nicklaus and Rood said … nothing.

No background, no work history, no explanation. It was almost as if the PR experts realized a blank slate looked better than the truth.

This is not terribly different from the Board of Education.

Do you know how many lawyers are among the seven appointees on the board?

Four.

Do you know how many public school teachers or principals are currently appointed?

Zero.

The board used to have a former teacher, who was also an executive with Teach for America, but she was the only one of three appointees who was not retained when their terms were up in December.

Instead, she was replaced by an AT&T executive.

So what, exactly, is Scott looking for when he seeks caretakers for the state’s wildlife or the education of our youngsters? Well, it appears to help if you’re a campaign contributor to Scott or the Republican Party of Florida. That detail seems to come up occasionally in background searches. It also bodes well if you’ve previously worked in the governor’s office in some capacity.

Scott famously ran for office on the premise that he would bring a business-minded approach to government. Is this really how a CEO would make hiring decisions?

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