By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
An investigation by The Tampa Bay Times/ Miami Herald shows campaign politics might be at the center of an abrupt high-level resignation at one of the state’s agencies.
Gerald Bailey, the state’s Florida Department of Law Enforcement commissioner for many years, left his post about a month ago. The governor has continued to insist he simply retired. Bailey has been telling the press he was forced out.
Even though reporters have asked Gov. Rick Scott to explain what happened, he and his administration have not said why the longtime FDLE chief was asked to leave his job.
The Times/Herald conducted some interviews and poked around public records. Reporters found, “in the months before Bailey’s resignation, tensions escalated over what Bailey and others at FDLE viewed as improper interference in agency operations by Scott’s office and his re-election campaign team, headed by campaign manager Melissa Sellers and out-of-state operatives with little experience in working with the FDLE,” the newspapers’ Tallahassee bureau reports.
According to the Times/Herald,
- Scott’s campaign asked Bailey to take part in a June conference call to discuss “the governor’s platform for the next four years.” Bailey considered it wrong for him, as a law enforcement officer, to engage in partisan politics and emails show he refused. On Tuesday, Scott’s chief spokeswoman, Jackie Schutz, said: “Obviously, FDLE did the right thing.
- Bailey complained to Scott’s chief counsel, Pete Antonacci, that he was receiving solicitations to donate money to Scott’s re-election on his state computer. When he complained to Antonacci, Bailey said he was told, “Just delete it.” It’s illegal in Florida to destroy public records. Scott’s office said no state employees received email solicitations unless they gave an email address to the campaign, which Bailey said he didn’t do.
- In March 2014, the Republican Party, on Scott’s behalf, tried to send the FDLE a check for $90,000 to cover the costs of transporting Scott campaign workers in state vehicles to ensure that no state cars were used for campaign purposes. The FDLE refused the money, saying it had no legal authority to accept it and that it was inappropriate to take money from a political party. The check was dated March 4, 2014, and was voided a week later, the Republican Party’s campaign finance database shows. Scott’s office said a new check for $90,151.50 was written to the state general revenue fund in April. “We properly reimbursed the state,” Schutz said. “Everything was paid for properly.”
- FDLE agents in Southwest Florida rejected requests by Scott’s campaign that they transport Meghan Collins, a campaign staffer assigned to first lady Ann Scott. The agency said it is responsible for transporting the governor and first lady, not campaign workers. Collins, now chief spokeswoman for the Department of Education, did not respond to a request for comment.
…Bailey said Antonacci arrived at his office on the morning of Dec. 16 and delivered a three-word ultimatum: “Retire or resign.”
He said he was told by Antonacci to write a brief letter of resignation, pack his belongings and vacate his office by 5 p.m., a little more than a week before Christmas. Bailey said he was later told to be out by 3 p.m. as word of the move reached the press corps.
Bailey’s two-paragraph letter made no mention of the word “resignation.”
This week, the Florida Cabinet met and swore-in the new head of the FDLE, Rick Swearingen, who has been with the agency for about three decades. No questions were asked about Bailey’s departure at the time.
In meetings with the press after the Cabinet conference, both Scott and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said he was good at his job and the situation was nothing more than standard turnover.
You can watch Scott dodge questions about Bailey after the meeting in this link.
According to the Times/Herald, Bailey called Scott a liar following the governor’s insistence that Bailey resigned.
After Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet confirmed Rick Swearingen as the new commissioner of FDLE Tuesday, Scott repeatedly insisted to reporters that former commissioner Gerald Bailey resigned.
Bailey immediately said Scott’s statement was a lie.
“He resigned,” Scott told reporters after a Cabinet meeting. “Commissioner Bailey did a great job.” Pressed for an explanation for Bailey’s removal, the governor said: “I’ll say it again. Commissioner Bailey did a great job.”
“I did not voluntarily do anything,” Bailey told the Times/Herald when told of Scott’s comments. “If he said I resigned voluntarily, that is a lie. If he said that, he’s being totally untruthful.”
A later statement to the press from the governor’s office said: “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,” the Times/Herald reported.
Scott’s new top advisor, Melissa Sellers, has also not been answering questions about what happened.
In one of the more interesting tidbits from the Times/Herald’s reporting on this issue, the newspapers also point to some tension between agency officials and some of the new blood in Scott’s administration.
The Times/Herald reported,
Sellers, Collins and Collins’ husband, Frank, a deputy chief of staff to Scott, are all new to Florida and to state government. All three worked for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal before joining Scott’s administration and at times are known to be referred to by FDLE agents as the “Louisiana Mafia.”
Bailey’s abrupt sacking after a long and unblemished career has dominated talk in the Capitol. For four weeks, sheriffs, law enforcement officials, lobbyists and state legislators have been asking why Bailey lost his job.
Bailey had more than 35 years of law enforcement experience, most of it at FDLE. He began his career as a state trooper in his native North Carolina. He’s a graduate of the FBI National Academy and holds two degrees from Florida State, including a master’s degree in public administration.
He became FDLE commissioner on Dec. 5, 2006, by a unanimous vote of former Gov. Jeb Bush and the Cabinet.
Among the work the statewide law enforcement agency is conducting, the FDLE is investigating ongoing issues with troublesome inmate deaths in the state’s prison system..