1. Florida

Negron does clean sweep of high level staff in Senate Appropriations suite

Published Sep. 15, 2016

Fresh off a bitter two-year fight to become Senate president, Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, is shaking up the Senate's professional staff in a way the Legislature hasn't seen since former Senate President Mike Haridopolos six years ago.

The biggest turnover will occur in the Appropriations Committee, where nearly every high level staff director has been moved out.

As part of his rapprochement with his former rival, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, Negron named Latvala head of the Appropriations Committee. But the scenario means that Negron must include people in his inner circle who had been previous rivals, so he has used his hiring power to surround himself with people Negron has brought to the job -- a management tactic often intended to increase staff loyalty.

Latvala, reached Thursday after a visit to Stuart where he met with Negron, said he had no problem with the staff shakeup. "It is the prerogative of the Senate president to do the staffing,'' he said. "I have no problem with it."

Negron spokesperson Katie Betta said the incoming Senate president's previous experience as Appropriations Committee chairman in the House and Senate gave him "an idea of exactly what he was looking for, and he could not be more pleased with the team he has put together for Senate Appropriations in the coming term."

In May, Negron announced he would replace Appropriations Staff Director Cindy Kynoch with Mike Hansen, who was Negron's staff director when he was head of the Appropriations Committee under former Senate President Don Gaetz. Hansen, a legislative veteran and former budget aide to Gov. Jeb Bush, is currently CEO of the Florida Council for Community Mental Health in Tallahassee.

That has been followed by the exodus of other staff directors in the Appropriations suite, Betta confirmed Thursday. Sharon Bradford, deputy staff director, has moved to the Agency for State Technology. Ross McSwain, general counsel for the committee, is moving to become staff director at the Regulated Industries Committee. He is replaced by Joe McVaney, former staff director of the Committee on Governmental Oversight and Accountability.

Jamie Deloach, head of general government appropriations, is leaving to take a senior position at the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. She will be replaced by Gino Betta, who has worked in the Senate for the last six years, including under Deloach. He is the husband of Katie Betta.

Scarlet Pigott, staff director of Health and Human Services Appropriations, has moved to the Florida House. Phil Williams, formerly at the Agency for Health Care Administration, will head the HHS subcommittee.

Phillip Miller, who had previously been head of Tourism, Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations, will move to the Senate Transportation Committee. The committee had been headed by Kurt Eichen, who died this summer from cancer. The TTED subcommittee will be led by Teddi Pitts, who previously has been staff director at the House Economic Affairs Committee.

Tim Sadberry will remain as director of Civil and Criminal Justice Appropriations where he served when Negron was chairman last session. Sadberry will also assume the role of deputy staff director of the full committee. Also staying is Tim Elwell, who will remain as staff director of the Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

Katie Betta, who will remain as spokesperson for a third Senate president, explained that many of the senior people on the Appropriations Committee staff had been "recruited by other state entities."

"One thing the last several Senate presidents have tried to really focus on in terms of the professional staff is cultivating an atmosphere in the Senate where staff feel there is room for professional growth and where hard work and performance are rewarded,'' she said in an email. "For that reason, the Senate is fortunate to have a strong bench of professional staff."

In recent weeks, Negron also has announced that Theresa Klebacha, a long-time staff director in education K-12 and higher education committees, will serve in the policy role vacated by Tony Cortese, who has moved to incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran's staff. Allen Brown, a long-time member of the Senate Appropriations staff, will replace Carol Gormley as the Senate president's chief health care advisor, since Gormley has also shifted to Corcoran's team.

Negron will also bring Cheri Vancura, the deputy clerk of court in Martin County, to Tallahassee to serve as his chief of staff. Reynold Meyer, who as was chief of staff to outgoing Senate President Andy Gardiner, will become the deputy chief of staff to the president, Betta said.

Lisa Vickers, who was originally hired by Gaetz to serve as a senior policy advisor and continued under Gardiner, will remain in that role, Betta said. And George Levesque, the Senate's general counsel who last year unsuccessfully applied for an appellate court judgeship, has also departed to join the GrayRobinson law firm. That firm is contracted by the Senate to handle legal services relating to the environmental Amendment 1.

India Steinbaugh has been hired as the receptionist for the president's office, Betta said. She replaces Alexis Mansolo, who was promoted to a position in Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto's office.