Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Politics

Gov. Rick Scott's new version of FDLE ouster called 'absolutely untrue' by Gerald Bailey

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott on Monday issued yet another account of Gerald Bailey's ouster from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and Bailey broke a self-imposed silence to call it "absolutely untrue."

The former FDLE commissioner also gave the Times/Herald new details of a Dec. 16 visit from Scott's top lawyer that abruptly ended his 35-year career in law enforcement and set off the ugliest controversy of Scott's tenure, with Cabinet members calling for outside investigations and First Amendment experts exploring possible Sunshine Law violations.

Scott's press office claimed for the first time that on the day he was ousted, Bailey was asked to work out a transition with his successor at FDLE, Rick Swearingen. Bailey said no such request was made and that Scott's office again was not telling the truth.

"When the governor's office gives you until 3 o'clock to resign, you're not working out anything with your successor," Bailey told the Times/Herald.

The Scott claim came in another "FAQ" document in which Scott's press office chooses its own questions and provides its own answers in the FDLE controversy. Scott's office does not respond to specific questions about Bailey's ouster.

The FAQ asked: "Did Gov. Scott instruct anyone on his staff to remove Gerald Bailey immediately?" The answer: "No. Gerald Bailey was asked to work out his transition with his successor."

Bailey said Scott or his staff was "totally disingenuous."

"I did, willingly and on my own initiative, meet with my successor the next day," Bailey said, recalling a two-hour meeting with Swearingen in what had been Bailey's office the day before.

Swearingen was confirmed by Scott and the Cabinet in a perfunctory public vote on Jan. 13, the only time the issue has been discussed at a public meeting.

The FAQ also contradicted Attorney General Pam Bondi's claim that Scott's staff ousted Bailey without the governor's knowledge.

"Q: Does Governor Scott agree that his staff decided to force Gerald Bailey to resign immediately without the Governor's direct knowledge?" The answer: "No."

An unsuspecting Bailey said that Scott's general counsel, Pete Antonacci, arrived at his office on a Tuesday morning and told him: "We've known each other a long time, and this is not my idea. You've got two choices: resign or retire, and do it before 5 o'clock."

Bailey said Antonacci never mentioned a transition and was so insistent on an immediate firing that he denied Bailey's request to give a long-planned commencement address the next day to a graduating class of state troopers in Tallahassee. The state highway safety agency had already announced Bailey would give the speech.

"No," Bailey said Antonacci told him. "You won't be the commissioner tomorrow morning."

Antonacci has repeatedly declined to offer his version of the day's events "on or off the record," as he told the Times/Herald. His last day on the state payroll was Monday, Scott's office said.

Scott communications director Jackie Schutz would not elaborate beyond the FAQ. She had no response to Bailey's latest statements.

Bailey also recalled asking Antonacci for time to finish health insurance paperwork, and that Antonacci told him, "File for Medicare."

After being given until 5 p.m. to resign, Bailey said Antonacci changed the time to 3 p.m. because "the media is on this."

Matt Dixon, a reporter with the Scripps/Tribune Capital Bureau, raised a question about Bailey's abrupt departure on Twitter, then Scott's office rushed a news release announcing Swearingen's interim selection without mentioning Bailey's name or why he was no longer in charge.

Monday marked the second time that Bailey has accused Scott or his office of lying. Bailey said Scott was not telling the truth Jan. 13 when he told reporters that Bailey had resigned.

Scott has repeatedly changed his statements about Bailey's ouster.

On Jan. 13, Scott told reporters Bailey "resigned" and "did a great job."

Later that day, his office said Bailey "served honorably," but that Scott "thinks it's important to frequently get new people into government positions of leadership," the first time Scott acknowledged he wanted Bailey replaced.

Two days later, on Jan. 15, after Bailey described several specific incidents of what he considered political interference with an independent police agency, Scott accused Bailey of "petty attacks." On Jan. 28, Scott said Bailey "was given the opportunity to step down and he did."

The FDLE commissioner reports to Scott and the three elected Cabinet members, who will discuss how to improve appointments of future Cabinet-agency heads at 9 a.m. Thursday at the state fairgrounds in Tampa. The Cabinet meeting is open to the public.

Scott and the Cabinet are a collegial body subject to Florida's Sunshine Law, and all of their decisions must be made in public. But Scott has said that his staff privately told staffs of Cabinet members he wanted "new leadership at FDLE" and that they did not object.

"My staff sat down with the staff of the other Cabinet officers. None of them objected," Scott told WINK-TV in Fort Myers on Friday.

Cabinet members have confirmed being told that in December, but said that they had no idea Scott would fire Bailey with three hours' notice.

A St. Petersburg lawyer who has accused Scott, Cabinet members and their staffs of violating the Sunshine Law through those staff-level talks is now considering filing a lawsuit, possibly with the backing of open government advocates and news organizations.

Attorney Matthew Weidner asked Tallahassee State Attorney Willie Meggs to open an investigation and Meggs declined.

The First Amendment Foundation, a statewide open government advocacy group backed by many Florida newspapers, is researching whether it is a violation of the Sunshine Law for the governor and Cabinet members to use staff members as "conduits" to relay the thoughts and opinions of one board member to another.

Contact Steve Bousquet at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263. Follow @stevebousquet.

Comments
Romano: A Tampa Bay ‘superstar’ caught in the crosshairs of Trump’s border policy

Romano: A Tampa Bay ‘superstar’ caught in the crosshairs of Trump’s border policy

At this moment, she is Tampa Bay’s most influential export. A smart, accomplished and powerful attorney making life-altering decisions on an international stage.But what of tomorrow? And the day after?When the story of President Donald Trump’s border...
Published: 06/19/18
‘Don’t leave me, Mom’: Detainee tells of separation from son

‘Don’t leave me, Mom’: Detainee tells of separation from son

SEATTLE — The call came at mealtime — an anonymous threat demanding $5,000 or her son’s life. So Blanca Orantes-Lopez, her 8-year-old boy and his father packed up and left the Pacific surfing town of Puerto La Libertad in El Salvador and headed for t...
Published: 06/19/18
Trump defiant as border crisis escalates, prepares to lobby House GOP on immigration bills

Trump defiant as border crisis escalates, prepares to lobby House GOP on immigration bills

WASHINGTON - As he prepared to visit Capitol Hill, President Donald Trump on Tuesday continued to insist that Congress produce comprehensive immigration legislation, while anxious Republicans explored a narrower fix to the administration policy of se...
Published: 06/19/18
Trump, GOP to huddle as outrage builds over border policy

Trump, GOP to huddle as outrage builds over border policy

WASHINGTON (AP) — Calls are mounting on Capitol Hill for the Trump administration to end the separation of families at the southern border ahead of a visit from President Donald Trump to discuss legislation.Trump’s meeting late Tuesday afternoon with...
Published: 06/19/18
Another detention center for immigrant children planned for Houston

Another detention center for immigrant children planned for Houston

Another facility intended for detaining undocumented children is reportedly in the works for Houston as the number of children separated from their parents at the border continues to swell.Southwest Key Programs, the same contractor that operates the...
Published: 06/19/18
Muralist working with huge St. Pete ‘canvas’ to create neighborhood eye-grabber

Muralist working with huge St. Pete ‘canvas’ to create neighborhood eye-grabber

ST. PETERSBURG — They appear to rise out of nowhere — two enormous, reclaimed-water tanks with an artist’s white clouds scudding across a blue background.A closer view reveals silhouettes of a lone coyote howling at the sky, mangrove islands, oak, cy...
Published: 06/19/18
FBI agent removed from Russia probe for anti-Trump texts says he’s willing to testify before Congress

FBI agent removed from Russia probe for anti-Trump texts says he’s willing to testify before Congress

The FBI agent who was removed from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election for sending anti-Trump texts intends to testify before the House Judiciary Committee and any other congressional committee that asks, his attorney sai...
Published: 06/17/18
Erosion of immigrant protections began with Trump inaugural

Erosion of immigrant protections began with Trump inaugural

The Trump administration’s move to separate immigrant parents from their children on the U.S.-Mexico border has grabbed attention around the world, drawn scorn from human-rights organizations and overtaken the immigration debate in Congress.It’s also...
Published: 06/17/18

Pasco Political Notebook

Perenich to ‘Walk the District’Stephen Perenich, Democratic candidate for U.S. House of Representatives, Florida District 12, will be "Walking the District" June 25-29. Perenich will be walking 55 miles in five days, starting in Dade City and heading...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/18/18
GOP lawmakers decry family separations as WH defends policy

GOP lawmakers decry family separations as WH defends policy

WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans distanced themselves Thursday from the Trump administration’s aggressive policy of separating children from their parents at the southern border even as the White House cited the Bible in defending its "zero tol...
Published: 06/14/18