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Fired prisons chief Ed Buss still talks; Gov. Rick Scott not happy

TALLAHASSEE

Ed Buss had a lot to say in the short time he ran Florida's prisons, and even though he was fired, he's still talking.

That may help explain why his former boss, Gov. Rick Scott, was so insistent that Buss not testify under oath in a lawsuit against the state over the privatization of dozens of state prisons.

Buss lost his $145,000-a-year job in August after clashing with the governor's office on a couple of contracts.

But he was around long enough to make a series of skeptical statements about a privatization venture that was hatched by the Legislature, discussed only fleetingly in public and imposed on his former agency without ever seeking his expert opinion.

The Florida Police Benevolent Association, or PBA, the union for correctional officers whose jobs are endangered by privatization, wanted to put Buss under oath in its lawsuit seeking to have the outsourcing declared illegal.

Scott and his lawyers sought to silence Buss, saying an important principle was at stake, and it had nothing to do with the former prison chief, who still owns a house in Tallahassee.

"It's a common principle that high-ranking people in government don't testify," Scott told the Times' Katie Sanders on Monday. "And the problem is that if they change that, what's going to happen is you're going to have people that won't want to take these jobs because what's happened is they'll always be in depositions or testifying?"

After a state judge ruled Buss had to answer questions, the governor's office appealed, citing cases in which agency heads were given immunity from testifying.

The state argued that it's a settled legal principle that agency heads should not be required to testify when the information sought is available elsewhere. Scott's attorneys called the PBA's "scorched-earth" approach "intrusive," and said it would do "irreparable harm" to state government.

The 1st District Court of Appeal temporarily stayed the lower court decision, but when that dissolved, Scott's side sought a hearing before the full 15-member DCA.

No, the court said.

So Buss, with Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Glogau at his side, spent 2½ hours Monday being deposed in the Tallahassee offices of the Broad & Cassel firm, which represents the PBA.

PBA executive director Matt Puckett, who was there, called Buss' performance "classy and professional," and recalled that Buss didn't offer an opinion on privatizing prisons in 18 counties.

"In testimony, he seemed not to have an opinion," Puckett said. "It was something he was told to do."

Buss has never hidden his skepticism about privatization. He once said he was glad the union filed suit, and he told the News Service of Florida that "in terms of private prisons, this is as far as Florida should go."

In addition, Buss and a handful of top aides wrote the privatization bid requirements, and decided that the South Florida region would be privatized under one vendor's control. (Bids will be opened next week.)

When the deposition ended and the elevator door opened, Buss saw a reporter and he declined comment.

For once, he had nothing to say.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Fired prisons chief Ed Buss still talks; Gov. Rick Scott not happy 09/26/11 [Last modified: Monday, September 26, 2011 7:10pm]
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