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Florida prisons chief Ken Tucker officially steps aside

TALLAHASSEE — Corrections Secretary Ken Tucker is officially stepping aside as head of the agency, the latest in a series of changes for the state's prison system.

"Unfortunately, I've reached that point in my career where, because of retirement, that I have to leave the agency," Tucker said in a video farewell published on YouTube. The video was posted Wednesday, though it is dated Tuesday in the title.

Tucker was expected to leave the agency no later than March, when his time in the state's Deferred Retirement Option Program is up. He has openly looked for other jobs, including seeking to join a North Florida effort to crack down on drug trafficking and the office of the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Florida.

Ann Howard, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections, said Tucker would be with the agency through the end of the year but is currently using annual leave.

Tucker is the second prisons chief to leave under first-term Gov. Rick Scott, who appointed Tucker to the job after former Corrections Secretary Ed Buss left in August 2011. Tucker had been commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Tucker inherited an agency that has been forced to slice positions and found itself in the middle of a long-running battle between the Legislature and unions over whether to privatize prisons in South Florida and health-care services across the state.

"As you are all aware, it has been a difficult year," Tucker said in his video message. It had been viewed more than 100 times by around noon Thursday.

Tucker conceded the agency was "still struggling," and said his one regret was that he wasn't staying longer.

"I wish I could have stretched the numbers from being the sixth secretary in seven years, and hopefully whoever replaces me will be someone with a longer tenure in this position that can lead you to be the agency that I think all of you and I know that you can be," Tucker said.