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Gov. Rick Scott appoints St. Joe executive to lead Florida growth management agency

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott has appointed an executive of one of Florida's largest land development companies to oversee the state department charged with managing growth.

Billy Buzzett, vice president of the St. Joe Co., will take over the Department of Community Affairs, the state's land planning and community development agency that Scott is eager to overhaul.

Scott's office issued a news release about the appointment Wednesday night.

Scott also announced that former Secretary of State Kurt Browning will return to the job he retired from eight months ago and that Michelle Rhee — the controversial former chancellor of Washington, D.C., public schools — will continue in her role as an "informal education adviser" to Scott.

Environmentalists see the appointment of Buzzett as another sign that Scott — in his quest to create jobs and spur Florida's economy — will allow developers to run rampant over the state's natural resources. On Monday, Scott appointed a shipbuilding executive as his top environmental regulator.

Buzzett led the master planning of more than 100,000 acres and entitled more than 30,000 residential units during his eight years at St. Joe. The North Florida real estate company gave the maximum $25,000 contribution to Scott's inauguration.

"I can't think of anyone who would be less appropriate for that job," said Linda Young, director of the Clean Water Network of Florida, who has sparred with Buzzett and St. Joe for years. "To put it mildly, it's troubling to know that he's in charge of steering the growth and development of the state. He has been at the heart and soul of some of the most destructive developments that the Florida Panhandle has seen."

Brian Burgess, Scott's spokesman, dismissed those criticisms as antidevelopment.

"They have an agenda. Our agenda is trying to get Florida back to work and we think we can do it responsibly," Burgess said.

Buzzett, 52, supported Scott during the governor's campaign and was a member of Scott's transition team charged with finding ways to reform the state's regulatory system.

The regulatory transition team recommended creating a "department of growth leadership" by combining three existing agencies: DCA, Department of Transportation and Department of Environmental Protection.

Headed by former St. Joe Co. executive Chris Corr, the regulatory team also recommended that local governments be stopped from enforcing restrictive regulations protecting wetlands and that permitting decisions weigh "job creation and economic development" as important as having clean water and air.

Buzzett is a fifth-generation Floridian from Apalachicola who has previously worked for the Florida Legislature and as assistant general counsel to then-Gov. Bob Martinez.

Meanwhile, Browning becomes the first "double-dipper" of the Scott administration. Browning will draw two streams of income in his new position: one from a salary and the other from the state pension fund that Scott has vowed to reform.

Salaries were not released for Browning or Buzzett.

Browning, 52, became Pasco County's elections supervisor in 1980 at the age of 22. Then-Gov. Charlie Crist named him secretary of state in 2007, a position he held for 31/2 years.

Rhee launched tough teacher evaluation systems and contracts in Washington that resulted in hundreds of teachers being fired. She is a polarizing figure loathed by many teachers groups but loved by many of those who want to more aggressively and quickly boot poor teachers.

She installed programs in Washington in which teachers were observed multiple times a year by principals or trained master teachers who came to their classrooms unannounced. She also created a system in which teachers determined to be ineffective could be fired outright, while those rated "minimally effective" received a one-year period to improve.

She resigned from her job in the fall after the mayor who had supported her was defeated in an election. In December, Rhee founded StudentsFirst, a public education reform group.

Rhee served as a member of Scott's transition team for education.

Times staff writer Luis Perez contributed to this report. Michael C. Bender can be reached at mbender@sptimes.com.

Gov. Rick Scott appoints St. Joe executive to lead Florida growth management agency 01/05/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 5, 2011 11:37pm]
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