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Lacking any hires and facing criticism, Gov.-elect Rick Scott asks Crist team to stay on longer

TALLAHASSEE — Lacking a single hire to staff Florida's government, incoming Gov. Rick Scott on Friday asked most of Gov. Charlie Crist's administration to rescind their resignations and stay on board for up to three months.

The about-face leaves in place agency heads and mid-level staffers from an administration Scott repeatedly criticized from the campaign trail as unresponsive to private business and ill-equipped to foster job growth. Scott's transition team initially asked for hundreds of resignations, more than Crist did when he succeeded former Gov. Jeb Bush.

And it's the first public indication from Scott's secretive team of a transition clogged under the leadership of Enu Mainigi, his personal attorney and most important hire to date.

The insiders, lobbyists, business owners and former government officials who make up the transition team say time is running out and they fret the slowdown is hurting Scott.

Mainigi, a Washington, D.C.-based corporate defense lawyer, disputes there is any clog and challenges accusations that she is being overly protective of Scott. She writes off the criticism as backbiting inherent in the sport of Tallahassee politics.

"It is a game," Mainigi said. "One of the reasons we've primarily run the transition outside of Tallahassee is because we don't really want to be distracted by the rumors and the buzz."

Friendly and exceedingly bright, Mainigi also inspires fear. Despite discontent among transition committee members and staff, all declined to speak on the record for fear of retribution.

Mainigi, 40, advised Scott on the campaign and was quickly hired to run his transition.

She acknowledges Scott's administration is well behind the pace set by the previous two governors. She has heard complaints that she's the de facto gatekeeper to Scott and that "we don't know what we don't know."

"Maybe that's true," Mainigi said. "Maybe there are things that we don't know. We'll learn them as we need to learn them."

Mainigi acknowledges she's "fascinated" by the rumor mill even 500 miles away in Fort Lauderdale, where she runs the transition from the campaign offices.

During an interview in the state Capitol, she asked for names of people rumored to be in line for administration jobs, only to shoot them down one after the other.

"I've never even met that person," she said when given the name of someone on Scott's 189-member transition team.

Scott's team asked for resignations from the top 10 people in each agency. Resignations are traditional in a transition, but the number exceeded Crist's team, which limited it to the top six.

Mainigi, who was on the hiring committee of her law firm, Williams & Connolly, said she has created a rigorous process that requires finding multiple candidates for each job to be compared to each other.

Those slates of candidates have not come quickly. A New York firm launched a nationwide search but came back with an underwhelming number of people willing to give up their private-sector salaries and move to Florida's remote state capital.

Mainigi said there are "several terrific candidates" for top jobs and hoped to announce a Division of Emergency Management director next week.

As part of the process, she and Mary Anne Carter direct a staff of about 10 workers. Mainigi said she consults the top-level transition advisory committee for "big picture advice."

"They're not there working day to day," Mainigi said of the committee, which includes several of former Gov. Bush's top advisers. "Somebody has got to do all the work."

With the holidays approaching, Scott's team started sending letters Friday evening to Crist's administration letting them know if they would be retained for three months or if their resignations had been accepted.

The final list was not available, but among those being kept on board were Crist's chief of staff, Shane Strum, and the acting director of Crist's top economic development office, Chris Hart. Resignations accepted included Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp's chief of staff, Alex Ferro.

Nearly all of the state agency heads were asked to stay. Resignations were accepted from Tom Pelham, head of the Department of Community Affairs; Frank Peterman, head of the Department of Juvenile Justice; Leo DiBenigno, the Florida Lottery secretary; and Linda South, the Department of Management Affairs chief.

Mainigi's takeover of Scott's operation started at the end of the Republican primary, when she insisted on not releasing a deposition Scott gave in a civil lawsuit against a company he founded. The decision drove down his polls numbers, but not enough to cost Scott the race.

Soon after the primary, Mainigi clashed with other members of the campaign. The internal struggle contributed to a halt of Scott's frenetic pace of TV ads.

The transition team is a streamlined version of the campaign staff and continues to remain tight-lipped, saying little that doesn't align with Scott's "Let's Get to Work" slogan.

Even Scott's supporters worry he'll be hurt by the slow pace.

"We're dealing with an individual who has very little government experience, state government experience or relationships with people throughout state government," said Dominic Calabro, head of Florida TaxWatch, a business-backed nonprofit. "You can consider this good and bad."

Mainigi said Floridians care about Scott's agenda, not the date his administration is put into place. "Four months from now, five months from now, no one is going to remember, she said. "No one is going to care.

Michael C. Bender can be reached at mbender@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Lacking any hires and facing criticism, Gov.-elect Rick Scott asks Crist team to stay on longer 12/17/10 [Last modified: Friday, December 17, 2010 9:52pm]
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