DEP chief is mum, and that speaks volumes

Published Feb. 4, 2013

There aren't many jobs that employers are handing out in this economy without anyone asking for them. But Herschel Vinyard is running Florida's Department of Environmental Protection in his own way. Vinyard hired a right-hand man who didn't even apply for the newly created post. And he won't publicly explain the official's job responsibilities, which have included overseeing the layoffs of 58 employees, some of them veterans with decades of experience.

The hiring might not raise such alarm if Vinyard were a transparent public official and a committed protector of Florida's natural resources. But neither is the case, which makes the renegade nature of Randall F. "Randy" Greene's hiring and his portfolio so troubling.

The Brandon businessman said he was offered the job after applying to Gov. Rick Scott's administration for an unpaid position on the governing board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, an agency that oversees water use permits in a 16-county area. In his application, Greene cited no experience with government or environmental regulation, and he didn't mention his time with a chemical company or his work coaching CEOs. Instead, Greene touted his work as a subdivision developer and as president of a utility company. When Greene sat for his interview in mid 2011, Vinyard offered to name him the agency's chief operating officer.

Vinyard won't publicly explain the appointment; he walked away from a Times reporter who asked him about Greene during a public meeting in Tallahassee. But in a five-page memo to his boss, Greene listed a number of accomplishments. Among them: initiating a reorganization of the Tampa district office (where he spoke with companies the DEP regulates) and vetting candidates for senior management jobs. The reorganization of the two agency sections saw 58 layoffs, including some employees with 20 or more years of experience. Greene said he didn't make the decision on which administrators to retain but "might have" recommended whom to ax.

This is another egregious example, even for Scott's administration, of freelance governing on the part of a public agency. And Vinyard's refusal to publicly account for the arrangement speaks to why this side deal shouldn't exist. Farming out decisionmaking authority on the operations side to a contract employee reeks of political gamesmanship and undermines the morale of career employees and the department's reputation. Vinyard still doesn't grasp the concept of public service, and the secretary's poor judgment reflects squarely on the governor.