TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott's lieutenant governor is the first African-American to hold that job in Florida, but records show Scott has hired fewer black, Hispanic and Asian workers than his predecessor or fellow statewide elected officials.
Among the top three levels of Scott's staff, which have 280 workers, 18.5 percent identified themselves as minority. That compares to 21.5 percent when Charlie Crist was governor.
In three Cabinet agencies, the percentage of minority workers varies between 19.5 percent and 33 percent.
Scott said his administration does "everything it can" to represent the diversity of Florida, where 41 percent of the state's 18.8 million people identify themselves as Hispanic, Latino, black or Asian. Two of his agency heads, Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson and Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Ken Lawson, are African-American.
But when hiring, Scott said resume and philosophy trump race.
"I'm not going to appoint people that don't believe what I believe in," Scott said.
State Sen. Tony Hill, a member of the legislative black caucus, bristled at Scott's position.
"There is not a talent deficit in the minority communities, there is an opportunity deficit," said Hill, D-Jacksonville. "If diversity is not a priority at the top of his office, it's not going to happen."
Rep. Darryl Rouson, former president of the St. Petersburg NAACP, said Scott has been slow to hire minorities, but said more should apply for jobs.
"I wish as a people, a black people, that we were more tolerant of different views within our community," said Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, who noted that most blacks are Democratic voters. "If there was celebration of different viewpoints, maybe more of us would be in these positions."
Both Hill and Rouson praised Scott for selecting Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll and hiring Robinson and Lawson.
The Times/Herald reviewed Scott's hires after an e-mail surfaced showing former Gov. Jeb Bush was upset that Scott, a fellow Republican, fired three African-American women who had worked for multiple governors.
"I don't quite understand this decision," Bush wrote.
In another e-mail, he added: "All three are African-Americans, non-political and good workers."
Records indicate the three were replaced by white workers.
Mavis Knight held the No. 2 position in Crist's appointments office. After serving four governors, she now works for the Public Service Commission Nominating Council.
Freda King, who worked in external affairs for Bush and Crist, found a job at the Department of Children and Families, but lost it when Scott trimmed the size of state government. Marsha King, a secretary, now works for Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
The women were let go as part of the change in administration, said Scott spokesman Brian Burgess. Scott retained more than 150 workers from Crist's administration, but fired dozens.
Scott has since hired at least 63 men and women in his office.
About 13 percent of the new hires, including Carroll, identify themselves as minority, according to a Times/Herald analysis of Department of Management Services records. Among all workers in Scott's office, 19 percent identify as minority.
The governor's office is required by state law to set diversity goals.
Scott missed nine of the 18 goals for top staff positions, according to a June 30 survey. Crist missed eight of the 18 goals his last full year in office.
Minorities account for about 30 percent of Scott's first 374 appointments, according to statistics provided by his office.
Scott said he has tried to expand the pool of minority applicants. Asked for details, a Scott spokesman said Carroll makes phone calls to leaders in the minority community in search of potential hires.
Scott is not the first governor criticized by the black caucus.
Black lawmakers staged a sit-in of Bush's office before he ended minority preferences in state contracting and university admission. Crist was criticized for not hiring more minorities for his top-level staff.
"We can all acknowledge there is room for improvement," said Burgess, Scott's spokesman. "I'm sure the St. Petersburg Times editorial board would agree about their own diversity."
The Times editorial board currently has seven members, five white men and two white women. Former editorial board member Bill Maxwell, who is a Times correspondent and weekly oped columnist, is black.
At other agencies run by statewide officers, the Department of Financial Services led by Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater is 33 percent minority; the Department of Legal Affairs led by Attorney General Pam Bondi is 28 percent minority; and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services led by Putnam is 19.5 percent minority.
Putnam said that percentage was "not acceptable."
"We're going to throw a much broader net in terms of recruitment and searching for that talent," Putnam said. "We've got a lot of room to improve."
Times/Herald reporter Katie Sanders contributed to this report. Michael C. Bender can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.