Sunday, December 17, 2017
Politics

Gov. Scott's chief of staff Steve MacNamara faces ethics inquiry

TALLAHASSEE — A state ethics complaint filed this week against Gov. Rick Scott's chief of staff Steve MacNamara alleges he used state employees to help him seek a college president's job in Montana.

The complaint comes at a time when MacNamara has drawn media scrutiny for steering contracts to friends or associates and getting involved in personnel matters. He and Scott are scheduled to meet over the weekend to talk about MacNamara's future.

"We'll see what happens," MacNamara said. "I'm going to do what the governor wants me to do."

The Florida Commission on Ethics received the complaint Thursday from Trent Barrett of Clearwater. He included copies of emails — all from October 2011 — that were sent from MacNamara's state email account to Susan Resnick Pierce, who was heading up a presidential search for Carroll College in Montana.

"Taxpayer resources and personnel being put to work on someone's private job application strikes me as improper and possibly illegal,'' Barrett wrote in his complaint.

MacNamara had been planning to move to Montana later this year after his wife, a doctor, finished her residency in anesthesiology. The couple owns property in northwestern Montana.

MacNamara's wife, Liberty Taylor, has since found a job in Vermont.

In one email, dated Sunday, Oct. 9 at 5:44 p.m., MacNamara wrote, "This is just a quick note regarding the Presidential Search for Carroll College." He said he had just learned of the opening and asked if he might "be a good fit for the position."

He attached his resume but noted that it had not been updated to include his work as chief of staff for Senate President Mike Haridopolos or chief of staff to Gov. Rick Scott. Emails obtained separately by the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald show that the following week, MacNamara asked his staff to help him update the resume.

Laurie O'Brien, program assistant in the executive office of the governor, wrote: "Edited tense and some spacing. Content looks great - puts ours to shame.'' She signed it "Laurie, Emily, and Kim."

MacNamara replied, "Thanks to everyone."

When MacNamara sent his first email to Pierce, he apparently realized he had sent it from his state email account and sent her a second email at 6:11 p.m.: "Better address,'' he wrote in the subject line, and then gave her his personal Google email account.

Last month, when the Times/Herald had asked for all emails from MacNamara during October 2011, the letter to the college search adviser with the attached resume was omitted.

MacNamara said it was likely left out because it was personal, not state business. "There are personal emails exchanged all the time,'' he said. "I didn't do anything illegal."

The Florida Commission on Ethics investigates complaints about state and local officials and recommends penalties if violations are found.

As the governor's chief of staff, MacNamara has promised unprecedented access to the emails from the governor's inner circle of advisers, including himself. Last week, Scott launched a website called Sunburst on which the emails of the governor, lieutenant governor and 11 staff members are posted within seven days.

MacNamara said Friday that he had not seen the ethics complaint and, after a search of his computer, could not find the letter to Pierce, who runs a Boca Raton-based personnel-recruiting company. Carroll College is a Catholic liberal arts college based in Helena, Mont. He said it was a mistake to have sent the letter using his state email account.

"I suppose I was on my iPad and, by mistake, I just sent it,'' he said.

MacNamara defended using state staff to prepare his resume. "If I did have them do it, it was after I had applied and was part of updating my personnel file,'' he said. He emphasized he "didn't apply for the job using the state computer.''

In the past week, the Times/Herald reported that MacNamara intervened to give a $5.5 million no-bid contract to the business partner of a friend and overruled an agency head to approve travel for the state film commissioner. The Associated Press reported that MacNamara gave a $360,000 no-bid contract to another close acquaintance.

Barrett, the Clearwater man who filed the ethics complaint, could not be reached for comment. MacNamara said he "has no idea who he is" but considers the published stories "upsetting and disappointing. This is just piling on."

MacNamara also challenged the Times/Herald's account of his decision to overrule the former secretary of the Department of Economic Development, Doug Darling, and allow the film commissioner, Shari Kerrigan, to attend the Sundance film festival in Utah in January. He said that Kerrigan's trip had been previously approved by the deputy secretary and Darling "unreasonably withheld permission."

Darling was among several agency heads who — at MacNamara's request — had agreed to step down at the end of the legislative session in March. But, after receiving a memo from Darling complaining about Kerrigan, MacNamara ordered Darling to leave by Jan. 26.

MacNamara, who considers Kerrigan's father a friend, also disputed that he acted on her behalf because of his friendship with her family.

"This woman was hired to be film commissioner and film commissioners should be able to go to film festivals," he said. "I don't even know her daughter's name.''

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at [email protected]iamiherald.com.

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