Saturday, December 16, 2017
Politics

Gov. Rick Scott's chief of staff Steve MacNamara resigns

TALLAHASSEE ­— Gov. Rick Scott's chief of staff Steve MacNamara resigned Saturday afternoon, ending what has been a tumultuous week of news reports about his steering no-bid contracts to friends and interfering in staffing decisions throughout state government.

After meeting with the governor in his office, MacNamara submitted a two-page resignation letter in which he said the media scrutiny "has begun to interfere with the day-to-day operations of this office.'' He said his departure is six months earlier than either of them had planned.

"Most observers, I believe, would agree that we have accomplished a great deal during my year of service here,'' he wrote.

He said that his efforts at helping Scott fulfill his campaign pledge of openness and transparency in state government helped "Floridians begin to know the real Rick Scott — a man who listens to them, tries to understand their issues and concerns, and works diligently to help solve their problems.''

Scott appointed Jacksonville political consultant Adam Hollingsworth, 43, to be his next chief of staff. Hollingsworth worked on Scott's campaign and was chief of staff to former Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton. The move to bring in Hollingsworth had been discussed since February.

This marks another in a series of high-profile departures for the Scott administration, which is less than two years old. MacNamara replaced Mike Prendergast as chief of staff and Scott has watched as seven of his top department heads have resigned.

MacNamara's resignation will be effective July 1 and he will stay in the office to work on the transition with his successor.

Scott commended MacNamara for helping him with a successful legislative session that included replacing $1 billion cut from education, reforming auto insurance and passing a job-creation and economic-development package. He also commended MacNamara's guidance in open government initiatives, such as putting top staff emails online, as "groundbreaking."

"I'm grateful for Steve's invaluable assistance in helping advance my agenda to strengthen education, create jobs and lower the cost of living for Floridians,'' Scott said in a statement.

MacNamara, 59, was hired by Scott in July for the $189,000 job to help Scott repair his rock-bottom poll numbers and smooth over relationships with the Legislature. He persuaded the governor to meet with newspaper editorial boards, encouraged him to jettison suits and dress more casually and he ended a rule that lobbyists couldn't meet the governor to make their pitch. In nine months, the governor's low poll numbers have risen slightly, unemployment has dropped and Scott succeeded in getting his modest agenda and budget plan through a friendlier Legislature.

The Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald had reported last week that MacNamara's heavy-handed management style and decision to isolate the governor from others frustrated supporters. He controlled access to the governor and maintained his schedule, assumed authority over appointments and dictated news releases and policy memos. He reached into agencies to personally remove people and install others.

Supporters, from tea party officials to former staff members, told the Times/Herald they feared that Scott was squandering his conservative credentials and his outsider brand by engaging in dealmaking with special interests who have connections to MacNamara.

In the Senate, MacNamara steered a $5.5 million contract with Spider Data Systems for a software platform to improve public access to state budgets. The developer of the patented system, Anna Mattson, was a partner of lobbyist Jim Eaton, also a close friend of MacNamara's. He also handed over a project to shift the Senate's computer system from mainframe computers to another longtime acquaintance, Abe Uccello, at a cost of $380,000.

In the governor's office, MacNamara overruled an agency head and allowed the film commissioner, whom he previously had helped get a job in the state Senate, to travel to the Sundance Film Festival. He was also accused of attempting to influence contracting outcomes and a controversial decision to allow barrel-racing to be considered a parimutuel sport.

On Thursday, an ethics complaint filed against MacNamara accused him of using his staff time and state email to apply for a job at a Catholic liberal arts college in Montana, where he had hoped to move after leaving the governor's office. Public-records requests by the Times/Herald made to the governor's office omitted the letter from MacNamara's state email account to the woman heading the presidential search effort for Carroll College in Helena.

MacNamara defended his actions and said that in each of the incidents he had been wrongly accused. He said he did not know at the time that he hired Mattson that she was Eaton's business partner. He said he had known Uccello, but had not spoken to him in four years when he chose him for the job because of his extraordinary skills in spotting efficiencies. He said he overruled the agency head, Doug Darling, because Darling had been unreasonable in restricting travel for the film commissioner.

He said using his state email account for the job search was a mistake but denied that he had his staff update his resume for that purpose. He said the updated resume was for his state personnel file.

"This is upsetting and disappointing,'' MacNamara said late Friday after learning of the ethics complaint. He called the media attention "piling on."

On Saturday, he told the Times/Herald: "It was beginning to consume all of my time. Eventually it takes over and you can't find any time to pursue your mission."

MacNamara was the highest-paid member of the governor's staff. He is also on unpaid leave from Florida State University, where he is a professor of communications.

Scott supporters have been working on finding a replacement for him for some time. They successfully recruited Hollingsworth, whom the governor has tapped before to mend fences with the GOP establishment after he defeated Attorney General Bill McCollum in the 2010 primary. The governor also appointed Hollingsworth to the state's Republican Executive Committee.

Times/Herald staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @MaryEllenKlas.

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