1. Florida Politics

Romano: Rick Scott's handling of FDLE change puts new chief in bad spot

Published Feb. 16, 2015

The cop deserved better. He deserved hallelujahs and huzzahs.

His career was distinguished, and his honor seemed impeccable. His latest promotion should have been greeted with widespread acclaim instead of questions and whispers.

So, yes, new Florida Department of Law Enforcement chief Rick Swearingen has every right to be angry.

He just needs to understand where his anger should be directed.

It is not the fault of news organizations that his ascension to the FDLE throne was so messy. In this case, reporters were mere messengers.

It was the governor and the Cabinet that made his new role an open question. It was the sneaky and underhanded way that his path was cleared that created this stink.

I bring this up because Swearingen has gone on the offensive in recent days. He told Times reporter Steve Bousquet that he wasn't hired to be "the governor's boy.'' And he wrote a letter to the editor disputing a story that he said implied he took inappropriate trips as the head of the governor's security detail.

If I was Swearingen, I would be just as annoyed by what I felt were unfair insinuations. But I would also hope that I could see this in the context of the larger picture.

Because, as a law enforcement pro, he should understand what's happening here.

If you see something suspicious, you are obliged to raise an eyebrow. Probably ask some questions. Maybe even launch an investigation.

That's how it works for cops. And that's how it works for journalists.

Swearingen's hiring raised red flags because of his chummy relationship with Rick Scott, and because of the governor's seemingly unconstitutional decision to get rid of FDLE boss Gerald Bailey without the Cabinet's consent.

Bailey's subsequent suggestion that Scott's office was peeved with him because he had rebuffed attempts to insert politics into FDLE operations only made the entire affair look increasingly shady.

So does that mean Swearingen was involved? Of course not. He said his promotion was a surprise, and there's no reason to doubt him.

In fact, this entire episode may be completely innocent. Maybe Scott had legitimate reasons for replacing Bailey. And maybe Swearingen was better prepared to direct the agency into the future.

The problem is we have no way of knowing any of that.

We have no clue why Scott wanted to force Bailey out because it was never discussed in a public meeting. Two months later, Scott still hasn't given a legitimate reason other than vague statements about management shakeups being beneficial.

So in the absence of discussion and facts, we are left with questions and conjecture. That's natural. It's almost mandatory.

If the governor isn't made to sweat over his circumvention of the Constitution this time, how long do you suppose before he tries sneaking something else past voters?

In the meantime, Swearingen is going to have to get used to having his decisions questioned and his motives examined. Every big issue will be examined in terms of whether it lines up with the governor's best interests.

That may not be fair to Swearingen, but it's the price he has to pay for the unseemly way his predecessor was sacked.

And if Swearingen doesn't like it, he should take it up with his boss.


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