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Scott beefs up his staff with Tallahassee veterans

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott stayed close to home for his latest batch of political appointees, choosing a pair of Tallahassee veterans for two key posts Friday.

Shoring up a staff short on local talent, the man who campaigned as an outsider picked up expertise in the nuances of state government, along with a seasoned investigator familiar with the bureaucratic landscape.

Scott named Doug Darling as a deputy chief of staff and chief Cabinet aide and hired Melinda Miguel to be chief inspector general, a troubleshooting assignment in the 18 agencies under the governor's control.

Darling will earn $125,000 a year as he briefs Scott on the wide range of policy issues that come before the Cabinet, while serving as a staff liaison to Cabinet members — Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, all Republicans.

Apparently Scott could use a little guidance with the powerful Cabinet officials, because his bid to be allowed to veto any rules they propose earned him a quick brushoff.

Darling, 57, most recently was inspector general and chief of staff in the state Department of Environmental Protection, and before that spent two decades in a variety of posts under the chief financial officer and its predecessor, the office of insurance commissioner.

A former lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps, Darling was in charge of the state Division of Accounting and Auditing under CFO Alex Sink in 2008 when she fired him after an internal audit found a lack of internal controls.

The audit followed discovery of a bizarre plot by a man in Miramar to defraud the state of billions of dollars by diverting the money to Lebanon. The scheme was discovered in time and defused by alert bank employees, not state financial experts, but it cost Darling his $111,000-a-year state job.

Miguel, 47, served as chief inspector general under Charlie Crist as both attorney general and governor, and left the governor's office last November to take a similar post at the State Board of Administration, which manages the state pension fund. The governor's office said Friday her salary has not yet been determined.

The chief inspector general's task is a sensitive one, ferreting out fraud, incompetence and waste throughout the bureaucracy. As Crist's inspector general, Miguel corroborated a Times/Herald report of excess travel by then-state Juvenile Justice Secretary Frank Peterman of St. Petersburg that forced him to pay more than $25,000 in restitution to the state.

Scott also hired two more attorneys, both of whom will be deputy legal counsels at salaries of $100,000 a year each.

C.B. Upton was general counsel to the Department of State in Tallahassee, and Jesse Panuccio was an associate at Cooper & Kirk, a Washington litigation firm.

Cooper & Kirk's website notes that its clients have included former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft when he testified before Congress on the use of torture against detainees; former Gov. Jeb Bush, who defended a state law that prohibited convicted felons from voting; Duke University lacrosse players who were accused of rape; and the Pinellas County School Board in a school desegregation case. Other firm clients have included Ford Motor Co., Bank of America, Shell and Chevron Texaco.

Rounding out Scott's latest crop of hires is his deputy communications director, Brian Hughes, who will earn $82,000 a year. Hughes is the fourth press operative in the new administration and served as campaign spokesman for Atwater in his successful campaign to be the state's new chief financial officer.

Times/Herald staff writer Katie Sanders contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Scott beefs up his staff with Tallahassee veterans 01/14/11 [Last modified: Friday, January 14, 2011 10:21pm]
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