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Private security staff escorts Rick Scott throughout inauguration

TALLAHASSEE — Rick Scott is bringing change to the capital in more ways than one.

Florida's new governor was the star of the most security-conscious inauguration in recent memory, with elaborate Washington-style flourishes that amplified Scott's unfamiliarity with the small informal capital city he now calls home.

For two days, Scott was trailed by a cadre of dark-suited men who resembled law enforcement agents, but were not. They wore red lapel buttons and silver ear pieces, checking visitors in search of proper credentials at a dozen events.

Scott's inaugural operation said they were an "advance team" skilled at presidential campaign logistics, hired to make sure events ran smoothly and on time, and that guests found their seats. The team augmented taxpayer-funded security governors get from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The privately-funded inaugural was planned with precision. Color-coded charter buses took guests to hotels or events, paid for with some of the $3-million raised from business interests.

Two law enforcement agents each were assigned to Senate President Mike Haridopolos and House Speaker Dean Cannon, as directed by the governor's inaugural staff.

Even as Scott promises total openness as governor, reporters had limited access to events in state buildings, something not seen at previous inaugurals.

Scott's his first official event after being sworn in Tuesday was an invitation-only "Let's Get to Work" leadership luncheon with a couple of dozen lawmakers.

The last flight of stairs reaching the Capitol's 22nd floor was covered in temporary red carpeting for the event, a single traveling "pool'' reporter was allowed to cover the luncheon, providing details for all news organizations, while other reporters were escorted out even though there were empty tables.

In a couple of instances, reporters were told to leave events after they had entered, a situation that would have been inconceivable in the just-ended administration of Charlie Crist.

"It was all because of space limitations," said Erin Isaac, spokeswoman for the inaugural committee. She said press logistics were explained in a detailed media coverage plan released three weeks ago, and no media representatives objected.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush never had such security, even though his father, a former president, was at both of his inaugurals.

Overseeing the advance team was Spencer Geissinger, chairman and CEO of Strategic Events Group, an event production company. He worked in the George W. Bush White House overseeing logistical preparations of presidential events, including the 2004 G-8 Summit in Sea Island, Georgia, and did advance work for Scott's campaign.

As he moved between events, Scott rode in an SUV at the front of a six-vehicle motorcade along Tallahassee's narrow streets, escorted by Florida Highway Patrol cars, stopping rush hour traffic at one point. Scott even rode the motorcade from a children's museum to the civic center — about three blocks — on a bright, sunny afternoon.

High above Scott, two helicopters patrolled the skies over the small capital both days. One was from the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the other from the Leon County Sheriff's Office. FDLE spokeswoman Heather Smith said the air support was for "general awareness. They are monitoring the events, facilities and traffic."

Smith said the cost of the helicopters and other taxpayer-funded security measures won't be available for a few weeks. She said security for Crist's 2007 inauguration cost $90,000, but that was downsized after a backlash over its proposed grandeur.

Monday night, as Scott left a candle-light dinner, he ignored a shouted question about the need for such tight restrictions.

Scott managed to attend 12 public inaugural events over two days without pausing once to answer reporters' questions, even as he signed an executive order renewing the Office of Open Government created by his predecessor, Crist.

As an outsider with no previous political experience, Scott turned to experts for guidance, but they were experts at large-scale presidential events.

Keeping track of it all was Lanny Wiles, Scott's logistics adviser, an affable veteran of numerous presidential campaigns whose wife Susie was Scott's campaign manager.

"A lot of them did presidential advance, and that's really hard to do," Lanny Wiles said of the advance team. "It's hard for them to ratchet down. The demands are so much bigger at the White House."

Times/Herald staff writers Michael Bender and Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Private security staff escorts Rick Scott throughout inauguration 01/04/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 5, 2011 10:42am]
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