FDLE controversy: Detailed timeline shows who said what when

Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks to the media during a pre-legislative news conference last month in Tallahassee. [AP photo]
Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks to the media during a pre-legislative news conference last month in Tallahassee. [AP photo]
Published Dec. 16, 2015

TALLAHASSEE — Between conflicting accounts, FAQs and changing stories, it's hard to keep track of the unfolding narrative regarding Gerald Bailey's ouster from the top job at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Fear not, we've got you covered. Here's a detailed recounting of who said what and when. (Editor's note: Click on green highlights to see documents and gray highlights to hear audio.)

Dec. 16: Bailey forced out, Swearingen appointed

Bailey is forced to resign as FDLE commissioner when Pete Antonacci, then Gov. Rick Scott's general counsel, visits him in his office.

"Effective at close of business Tuesday, December 16, 2014, I will no longer serve as Executive Director of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement," he writes in a three-sentence letter to the governor. "FDLE is a stellar agency, staffed with some of the finest professionals in Florida government. It was an honor to serve with them."

That same day, Scott appoints Rick Swearingen, director of the Capitol police, as interim commissioner, with no public comment on Bailey's departure.

"I appreciate Commissioner Bailey's service to the state of Florida and I look forward to meeting the governor's interim selection," Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam tells the Times/Herald. "This position is vitally important to the safety of all Floridians and I will weigh my decision very carefully."

Jan. 13: Cabinet members deflect questions

Gov. Rick Scott and the three Cabinet members spend just four minutes of two hours together in unanimously appointing Swearingen. Afterward, they rebuff reporters' questions.

Scott, pressed three times, repeats: "He resigned. I picked Commissioner Swearingen, approved today by the Cabinet. He's going to do a great job."

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater: "If he (Bailey) had anything else to add, I would assume he would have added that. But just that he was stepping down, he appreciated his opportunity to serve."

Attorney General Pam Bondi repeats the same phrase five times: "I think the world of Commissioner Bailey."

Agriculture Commissioner Putnam: "I continue to recognize him and praise him for his service, and also recognize that changes come in any second term."

Later that day, Jan. 13: Bailey calls Scott a liar

In response to Scott saying Bailey resigned voluntarily, Bailey says the governor is lying.

"I did not voluntarily do anything," Bailey tells the Times/Herald, which published his comments at 12:30 p.m. "If he said I resigned voluntarily, that is a lie. If he said that, he's being totally untruthful."

At 5 p.m., Scott's office issues a statement: "Gerald Bailey served honorably and we appreciate his 27 years of service to Florida. Like in business, Gov. Scott thinks it's important to frequently get new people into government positions of leadership."

Jan. 14: Putnam calls out Scott

Putnam is the first Cabinet member to publicly criticize Bailey's ouster. In an interview with the Times/Herald, he says he was surprised to hear Bailey had been forced out and did not resign voluntarily: "One would certainly expect that someone who had served as long and as well as Jerry Bailey would have been given more consideration. The manner in which it was handled was not known to me and not at all how it should have been handled."

He also says his staff had been told the governor's office was interested in shaking up leadership at state agencies.

"We were given a heads-up on a staff level that there was an interest in making changes going into the second term, including at FDLE," Putnam tells the Times/Herald. "Period. That's all that was conveyed to me."

Jan. 15: Atwater, Bondi join critics

At 5:26 p.m., Atwater spokeswoman Ashley Carr issues a statement via email: "Our office is disappointed by the manner in which Commissioner Bailey's separation was handled and the haste in which it occurred, but we expect that Cabinet appointments will be handled better in the future.''

At 7:18 p.m., the Times/Herald reports an emailed statement from Bondi spokeswoman Jenn Meale: "Attorney General Bondi is dissatisfied with the manner in which this matter was handled."

These statements on behalf of the attorney general and CFO represent a complete turnaround from the opinions they expressed immediately after the Cabinet meeting.

Jan. 17: Bailey accuses Scott

Bailey comes forward with a series of claims that Scott and his staff had tried to politicize the FDLE. From the Times/Herald's reporting: "Ousted Florida Department of Law Enforcement commissioner Gerald Bailey claims he resisted repeated efforts by Gov. Rick Scott and his top advisers to falsely name someone a target in a criminal case, hire political allies for state jobs and intercede in an outside investigation of a prospective Scott appointee." Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz says: "That seems like a petty attack."

Jan. 20: Atwater demands a redo, Scott fires back

In a letter to Gov. Scott that night, Atwater calls for the appointment of Bailey's successor to be redone in a "transparent public process." He also says there is a need to re-evaluate future Cabinet appointments.

He writes: "As the ongoing conversation regarding Commissioner Bailey has evolved over the past week, I have become increasingly concerned about not only the manner of his departure, but also what this might portend for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and future Cabinet appointments. Perhaps in retrospect, upon being notified of Mr. Bailey's resignation, I should have reached out to him personally. I cannot speak for the other members of the Cabinet, but to the extent that the manner in which my office reacted to the notification of his resignation contributed to the current situation, I am prepared to accept my share of the responsibility."

Scott replies minutes later saying he will oppose removing Swearingen from the top FDLE job: "As you know, I believe that government needs to be more like business and frequently change leadership to bring in new ideas and fresh energy. There are no lifetime appointments in executive government – just as there are no guaranteed lifetime jobs in the private sector outside of government."

Scott also says he intends to replace the top leadership at the Office of Insurance Regulation, Office of Financial Regulation and the Department of Revenue.

Jan. 21: Putnam and Bondi weigh in

Putnam and Bondi weigh in, calling for greater transparency but not echoing the CFO's demand that Swearingen's hiring be reconsidered. Putnam also calls for substantive changes to how the Cabinet hires agency heads, including requiring interviews and performance standards.

Putnam tells the Times/Herald the possibility of replacing Swearingen could be too damaging to FDLE: "I'm not sure that this proposed cure matches the disease that we're concerned with. ... We should be very cognizant about how we are managing and how we are empowering the leadership of that agency, and their work on a day-to-day basis, based on concerns, frustrations, anger about the way the previous leader was treated."

Bondi emphasizes the need for clarity and openness in appointment proceedings: "The recent process behind the appointment of a new FDLE Commissioner has raised serious questions, and those questions should be answered to ensure transparency, and the public's right to know."

Jan. 22: Atwater and Putnam call for follow-up, Scott sneaks away

After a meeting of the Enterprise Florida Board of Directors, Atwater and Putnam separately tell reporters that Bailey's removal from office and allegations of Scott interfering with FDLE should be looked into.

Atwater: "They're very serious and they should be looked into."

Putnam: "There should be some follow-up to those allegations and whether they were incidents of illegal activity versus sloppy campaign-official type interactions that occurred."

Scott sneaks out the back door, despite his staff telling reporters the governor would be available to answer questions.

Jan. 22: Scott's office answers few questions through FAQ

Scott's press office releases a two-page document of "Frequently Asked Questions" related to Bailey's ouster and his subsequent allegations against the governor's office.

The release grows longer in the following days, but the first round addresses 10 basic questions that reporters have asked. Moving forward, "refer to the FAQ" would become the default reply from Scott's press shop in response to most FDLE questions.

A full breakdown of the FAQ is on our Buzz blog.

Jan. 23: 2 news conferences with few answers

After public events in Miramar and Winter Park, Scott is confronted by reporters asking questions about FDLE.

In Miramar, he says, "It's disappointing what's happened. The facts are this: I believe we should continue to look at all our management teams, all of our agencies, always look to see if we can bring in people with fresh ideas, new energy. Gerald Bailey stepped down last month in December, waited until a new commissioner was approved by all the cabinets, then he started his nasty attacks. It's not fair to the individuals at FDLE who are doing a great job."

In Winter Park that afternoon, he says, "Here are the facts: Jerry Bailey was eligible for retirement. My belief is, in all your agencies in government, you ought to be looking for new talent all the time, looking for new ideas. He agreed to step down. Then a new commissioner was approved by all the Cabinet. Then after that, he decided to make attacks. It's unfair to the individuals that work at FDLE. They do a great job. It's also unfair to the new commissioner, Rick Swearingen, who also does a great job."

And then he refers to the FAQ.

Jan. 28: Scott proposes Cabinet reform

Scott's office makes a proposal for reviewing Cabinet-appointed agency heads.

It introduces the idea of an annual review process and allows for any agency head to be removed "for any reason by an appropriate vote."

It continues: "Prior to the end of each fiscal year, the performance and tenure of each executive director, director or commissioner appointed and serving under the direction and supervision of the governor and Cabinet shall be reviewed."

Jan. 28: AP legislative meeting

With reporters and editors from around the state gathered to hear from elected officials, Bailey is a hot topic, and each member of the Cabinet responds to questions.

Bondi: "We all knew there were going to be changes made in the upcoming months, but did I know that Jerry Bailey was going to be told he was fired and have his things packed up, his entire life as a career law enforcement officer in a cardboard box, and be told to be out of the office before the end of the day? Absolutely not. Nor do I believe the governor knew it."

Putnam: "At best, you would say that there was a great miscommunication, but we were misled as to the timing and the process of how that would be handled. ... Jerry Bailey's a fine man. He served our state very well, and the way he was treated at the end of his distinguished career was shabby."

Atwater: "I was not aware of any discontent. There was none between myself and the commissioner. I was not aware of any others. I was not aware of any other friction that existed. To that extent, I have to accept my share of responsibility."

Scott: "Jerry Bailey was given the opportunity to step down. He did. He was given that opportunity , and then he waited until after Rick Swearingen was confirmed by the entire Cabinet and made his attacks. The attacks against me are absolutely untrue, and they're ridiculous."

Feb. 2: Scott contradicts Bondi, Bailey

Scott releases a new FAQ at 10 a.m. contradicting Bailey and Bondi.

Per Scott's office: "Q. Did Gov. Scott instruct anyone on his staff to remove Gerald Bailey immediately? A. No. Gerald Bailey was asked to work out his transition with his successor."

Bailey tells the Times/Herald the statement is "absolutely untrue."

"The governor or his staff are being totally disingenuous," he says, adding, "I did, willingly and on my own initiative, meet with my successor the next day."

The second FAQ item from the governor says: "Q: Does Governor Scott agree that his staff decided to force Gerald Bailey to resign immediately without the Governor's direct knowledge? No."

Reporting by Times/Herald staff writers Steve Bousquet, Michael Van Sickler, Mary Ellen Klas, Marc Caputo, Rebecca Savransky and Josh Solomon.