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Jeb Bush faced bigger staff headaches than those besetting Florida Gov. Charlie Crist

“See these shoes?" Gov. Charlie Crist said, pointing down at his gleaming black loafers.

"I've probably had these shoes resoled five times," he said, making small talk at the outset of an interview as a way of brandishing his fiscal conservatism.

The governor wears frugality like a badge of honor.

Unfortunately for Florida taxpayers, it does not appear to have rubbed off on everybody in state government who works for him.

Take Frank Peterman, for example.

The chief of the Department of Juvenile Justice, a former Democratic legislator from St. Petersburg, is the subject of a review by Crist's chief inspector general, whose tasks include rooting out waste in government.

The review centers on Peterman's travel patterns in the wake of a Times/Herald report that showed the state's juvenile justice chief flew dozens of times between Tallahassee and Tampa, running up $44,000 in travel over 21 months. That includes $1,800 in extra fees because of last-minute flight changes and $2,300 for parking his car in costlier short-term lots, which the state review calls "excessive."

Peterman said he wanted to be closer to the state's urban centers and Interstate 4, since so much juvenile crime is in cities. But it is lost on no one that his wife and children still live in St. Petersburg, where he has continued to serve as paid pastor of a church.

Peterman isn't the only state agency chief seeing his name in headlines these days.

The inspector general is also checking out those appetizing e-mails by Transportation Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos during the recent commuter rail debate that used subject lines like "pancakes" and "French toast."

Maybe it was harmless, and maybe it was a subterfuge. Crist, who promotes transparency in government, called it "odd."

Meanwhile, a third agency head, emergency management chief Ruben Almaguer, resigned under pressure this week, after co-workers complained of misconduct and misspending. An aggrieved Almaguer said he was "misled" and "deceived" by Crist aides.

Crist has put some capable people in state agencies, and it's important to keep the latest news in perspective.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush had major problems with a series of agency chiefs. One faced a grand theft charge. Another was run off after female co-workers complained of sexual harassment.

Former child welfare Secretary Jerry Regier and two top aides resigned after an inspector general's report found unethical contract practices at the Department of Children and Families, but three subsequent investigations found no laws were violated.

The worst of the worst, of course, was Bush's prison boss, Corrections Secretary James Crosby, who's still serving time for accepting kickbacks from a prison vendor.

"Corruption had become a cancer on the department," said Crosby's successor, Jim McDonough, in 2007. "My office was a crime scene, taped off, an indication we had serious problems."

Nobody is saying things like that about any of Charlie Crist's agency heads. These latest developments look like small potatoes in comparison to the Bush era.

But as Crist's time in office winds down over the coming year, and more high-ranking state workers watch their job security vanish, it's a good bet that a few more skeletons will come tumbling out of the bureaucratic closets.

Jeb Bush faced bigger staff headaches than those besetting Florida Gov. Charlie Crist 01/08/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 8, 2010 10:29pm]

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