Thursday, September 20, 2018
Politics

How did a $110,000 state job go to someone like this guy?

TALLAHASSEE — Before Gov. Rick Scott named Taylor Teepell to be the finance director of the New Republican super PAC, the governor gave him a $110,000 job in Florida government for which he had no experience.

For 14 months, the Louisiana native served in a top position in the Department of Economic Opportunity — as head of growth management oversight in Florida. When he left in May, he'd been given a raise — to $116,561 — nearly three times the average state worker salary.

Teepell, 34, had spent a decade working as a Republican political operative and was campaign manager for former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's campaign for president. He had worked in the executive offices of Jindal and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and for their campaigns in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Teepell was also close with Scott's former campaign manager, Melissa Sellers Stone, but he had no experience in development or land planning — which he would oversee as the director of the Division of Community Development.

After Jindal's five-month campaign ended in November 2015, Teepell needed a job. He moved to Tallahassee, rented a townhouse from former Scott legislative affairs director Jon Costello and applied to head the division charged with fostering "economic development and planning in the state's rural and urban communities."

Teepell filled out the standard application for the job on Feb. 9, 2016 — but left most of it blank. He did, however, refer to a two-page resume that listed 10 years' working in political jobs and one year as marketing director at a Colorado printing company.

According to Teepell's Linked­In page, he was "responsible for state level review of land use and planning issues of Florida communities, including, but not limited to, comprehensive plans and amendments, future land use maps, DRI's and other land use issues."

Teepell referred questions about his employment to Stone, who is both the executive director of the New Republican super PAC and Scott's Let's Get to Work political action committee. Scott is widely expected to announce his campaign for U.S. Senate next year.

Scott spokesman John Tupps defended Teepell's hiring, emphasizing the three years he spent on Jindal's executive staff and the one year on Barbour's.

"Taylor had years of government experience serving in senior roles for two governors including deputy chief of staff and deputy legislative affairs director under Gov. Bobby Jindal, and energy and environment policy adviser" to Barbour, Tupps said.

The idea that Scott would name someone with no planning experience to head the department in charge of serving as the state watchdog over local government regulation of developers was "very surprising" but not out of character for the governor, said Ryan Smart, president of 1000 Friends of Florida, the non-profit growth management advocacy group.

One of the first jobs Scott did when he was elected in 2011 was to dismantle the Department of Community Affairs. The agency oversaw how local governments review large and small land use changes that could alter a region for decades to come.

Although Florida's economy soared under governors Lawton Chiles and Jeb Bush in an era of robust state planning oversight, "growth management became a bogeyman during the recession," Smart said. By eliminating the rigorous review, "DEO has become a rubber stamp for development proposals."

During a January meeting of the Senate Community Affairs Committee, DEO Secretary Cissy Proctor announced that since the state's growth management program was downsized in 2011, the state has objected to far fewer comprehensive plans than in the past.

"Our goal is not to object or comment if we can work through those issues," Proctor said.

When Teepell got the job, he was elevated over Julie Dennis, who was then named "executive staff director" and served as his top deputy. In contrast to Teepell, Dennis had a decade of community planning experience and a master's degree in urban and regional planning.

Dennis was named to lead the division in February when Teepell was given a new title, director of executive projects and a more than $6,500 raise. His LinkedIn page says the role was to "create and implement effective solutions to complex issues impacting the economic vitality of Floridians."

The New Republican super PAC was founded by Republican strategist Alex Castellanos, who will serve as the political action committee's senior adviser. Stone is the executive director; Teepell is finance director; and Volusia County developer Mori Hosseini serves as the treasurer. Scott announced the PAC at an invitation-only dinner with Washington, D.C., reporters in May.

Contact Mary Ellen Klas at [email protected] Follow @MaryEllenKlas.

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