1. Florida Politics

Governor's chief of staff lied about college degree in previous job

Published Dec. 7, 2013

TALLAHASSEE — Adam Hollingsworth, the chief of staff and closest adviser to Gov. Rick Scott, admitted Friday that he lied about earning a college degree on his resume with a former employer.

Hollingsworth, who worked for CSX Corp. from 1995-2000 and again from 2002-04, told the Times/Herald that he regrets inflating his resume with the transportation company by claiming he had received a bachelor's degree in 1990, but he denied it contributed to his departure a decade ago.

"For many years, I publicly stated that I was a graduate of the University of Alabama, however, I did not complete my degree until 2009,'' Hollingsworth said in a written statement given to the Times/Herald. "I am not proud of this and I deeply apologize for this misrepresentation. I have learned from this failure in judgment and know that, over the last several years, my life and character have and will continue to grow from this."

Hollingsworth, who is expected to have a pivotal role in the governor's re-election campaign, told Scott about the issue on Friday after being asked about it by the Times/Herald. The governor said he was confident his chief of staff had taken the proper corrective action.

"I have every confidence in Adam as my chief of staff, and my friend,'' Scott said in a statement late Friday. "I know him to be a man of tremendous integrity and character. I know he regrets this and has learned from it."

Hollingsworth, 45, wouldn't comment on speculation that he will become the governor's campaign manager in the coming months. Recent clashes between Hollingsworth and the governor's political pollster, Tony Fabrizio, as well as other several members of the Scott's 2010 campaign staff, have prompted Fabrizio to take a less active role in the governor's political activities.

The revelation now puts Hollingsworth, who has made ethics a hallmark of his term, in an awkward position. He has served as Scott's chief of staff since July 2012, following the resignation of Steve MacNamara.

Hollingsworth has been instrumental in accelerating the resignation of officials whose public relations troubles threatened to become a drag on the governor's image. Among those who left under pressure were Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, Education Secretary Tony Bennett and Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins.

Hollingsworth has also been a stickler for propriety among senior staff in the governor's office, prohibiting them, for example, from being seen in public socializing with Tallahassee lobbyists.

"The guiding principle is, if a mistake is made, admit it, fix it and move on," Hollingsworth said in a 2012 interview with the Times/Herald, adding that "it is less about political science than the rightness of the approach."

Hollingsworth, a native of Jacksonville, first attended the University of Alabama in 1986 majoring in communication and information sciences. He dropped out to work for U.S. Rep. Charles Bennett, a Jacksonville Democrat.

Hollingsworth then spent several years in the public sector, working for U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown and former Jacksonville Mayor Ed Austin. In 1995, he took a private sector job at CSX's government relations office.

In 2004, Hollingsworth left CSX to go to work as a consultant but a month later he took a job with then-Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton, a Republican.

A CSX press release from March 1998 stated that Hollingsworth "graduated from the University of Alabama in 1990 with a degree in Communications." In 2002, Hollingsworth was named vice president of communications, and the press release stated he was a "Prime F. Osborn Scholar" at the University of Alabama and had graduated with a degree in communications.

On his application with the city of Jacksonville in 2004, and on a previous application in 1994, Hollingsworth answered truthfully that he attended the University of Alabama but had not received a college degree.

Hollingsworth denied allegations that his misrepresentations to CSX prompted his dismissal or that they fired him.

"That's not true,'' he said. He was making $165,000 when he left CSX in 2004 and went to work for Peyton at a salary of $150,000. As the governor's top staffer, he makes an annual salary of $150,999.

CSX did not respond to requests for comment.

Hollingsworth's name has recently surfaced in political blogs as someone being considered by the governor to become his running mate next year and fill the vacancy created when Carroll resigned in March.

Scott has refused to comment on the chatter, while Hollingsworth laughed at such speculation. "I'm not going to be the lieutenant governor,'' he said.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MaryEllenKlas and @MaryEllenKlas. Staff writers Marc Caputo and Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.