Editorials

Where's the watchdog? Gov. Rick Scott plays politics by firing FDLE chief

Gerald Bailey's departure from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement initially was a case of "he said, he said." Bailey, who headed the state's agency for eight years, left the position in December. Gov. Rick Scott said that FDLE's commissioner resigned. Bailey begged to differ, and he did so bluntly: He said that he was forced out and that the governor flat-out lied. It's telling -- and disturbing -- that while Bailey stood by his comments, Scott stepped back from his own.

After keeping up the charade for a month -- and in the face of continued questioning from the media -- Scott's office released a statement last week that affirmed Bailey's version of events: "Like in business, Gov. Scott thinks it's good to frequently get new people into government positions of leadership."

The statement puts a nice little spin on what appears be the real reason FDLE's leader was sacked: He wouldn't play ball. He wouldn't play politics. He wouldn't play around with his responsibility to act in Floridians' best interests.

FDLE's mission ran counter to Scott and his administration's needs. Bailey lost his job over it, and Floridians run the risk of losing the independence of a statewide law-enforcement agency committed to investigating crime no matter where the trail leads.

Its website makes the mission clear: "To promote public safety and strengthen domestic security by providing services in partnership with local, state, and federal criminal justice agencies to prevent, investigate, and solve crimes while protecting Florida's citizens and visitors."

And its code of ethics mandates that it "serve the interests of justice impartially, equitably, consistently and with discretion." Nowhere can one find among the agency's responsibilities:

A mandate that FDLE's chief take part in a pre-election conference call to discuss "the governor's platform for the next four years." The request came from Scott's chief of staff. Bailey said that it would be wrong for him to engage in partisan politics. Emails, according to a Herald/Times story, show that he, rightly, refused.

The obligation to make a campaign donation. Bailey complained that he was receiving solicitations to give money to Scott's re-election on his state computer. Pete Antonacci, the governor's chief counsel, told Bailey, "Just delete it." Antonacci seems to have missed the memo: In Florida, it's illegal to destroy public records.

Cashing a $90,000 check from the Republican Party, on Scott's behalf, to cover the costs of transporting Scott campaign workers in state vehicles to ensure that no state cars were used for campaign purposes. Bailey refused the money, saying FDLE had no legal authority to do so and that it was inappropriate to accept money from a political party.

Chauffeuring campaign staffers to and fro. The campaign minions asked; FDLE said "Nope!"

There's something else that, sadly, is missing: An agency, an official, anyone, who has the power and the backbone to do anything about the egregious political intrusion into FDLE's duties. The state's top law-enforcement officer, Attorney General Pam Bondi, as a Cabinet member, has sat idle, accepting the Scott administration's ethical lapses; the Legislature, which ought to hold hearings into the matter, likely won't; and Gov. Scott, whose administration clearly loathes transparency, banishing insiders who show even a hint of integrity, gets a pass, again. What a shame.

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