Is 29-year-old interim emergency management director up to task?

Governor's choice to replace director drawing criticism

Wes Maul
Wes Maul

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov. Rick Scott put the state emergency operations center on full alert for potential hurricane Nate.

For the first time in more than four decades, the primary agency charged with preparing for and responding to a major emergency is without a permanent director. The choice of an interim director is drawing some criticism.

Emergency Management Director Bryan Koon left his state job on Oct. 1.

Scott named Koon's chief of staff, Wes Maul, 29, to be interim director. Maul spent three years as Scott's travel aid and the last 17 months at emergency management.

The lack of experience brought criticism from Florida Democrats, who called the appointee inexperienced and unprepared.

"Appointing a political crony to head, arguably, one of the most important departments in the state is frankly reckless," Florida Democratic Party spokesman Johanna Cervone said.

"We're still in the middle of hurricane season," Scott said. "We've got another month, almost two months left in hurricane season."

In Pensacola on Thursday, Scott was urging people to prepare for Nate. Historical records show Florida has had more than 40 tropical storms and hurricanes hit the state during the months of October and November since 1900. No area of the state has been immune.

Koon called Maul highly qualified, saying he has learned a lot in the year and a half they worked together.

Based on what he saw from Maul during Irma, Scott also said he made the right choice.

"He was instrumental in helping us open almost 600 shelters. So he is very resourceful, and I have complete confidence in him," Scott said.

Nate's track has shifted west, but that could change, and there are still more than 50 days left in the hurricane season that could test whether Maul was the right choice.

In addition to more than 40 named storms in October and November, at least a dozen more threatened the Sunshine State, but later changed course.