State to quickly look for new financial regulator

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A quick “nationwide search” will be conducted to try to find a replacement for Florida’s top financial regulator.

Gov. Rick Scott and the state Cabinet --- Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Attorney General Pam Bondi --- agreed Friday to start taking applications Monday to replace Office of Financial Regulation Commissioner Drew Breakspear, who announced his resignation last week amid pressure from Patronis.

Applications will be accepted through June 22, with Scott and the Cabinet potentially naming a replacement on June 27.

“We’ll known before the 27th if we didn’t have enough applicants,” Scott said during a conference call Friday “At that time, we can make a decision if we need to do something on a temporary basis.”

Putnam said it would be ideal to avoid an interim replacement.

“We’re going to know pretty quickly if that is adequate time or not,” Putnam said of the brief time to apply.

No names were put forward on Friday.

Patronis, who spoke little during the brief call, had said earlier he had a temporary replacement in mind when he publicly informed Breakspear of his desire to change the agency’s leadership on May 3.

Breakspear’s office reports to the Financial Services Commission, which is comprised of Scott and the Cabinet.

Whoever replaces Breakspear faces the possibility of being out of the job in early 2019 as Scott and Bondi are both term-limited from their current offices, as is Putnam, who is running for governor.

Patronis, who was appointed by Scott to the statewide office in 2017, is running in the November election to try to keep his seat.

Former state Sen. Jeremy Ring, a Broward County Democrat who is challenging Patronis for the Cabinet post, called Wednesday for an investigation into Breakspear’s “forced” resignation.

"Paying the bills of the state should not be partisan,” Ring said in a prepared statement. “The Cabinet --- and the CFO in particular --- have a responsibility to look out for the best interests of all Floridians, not just their rich friends.”

In announcing his push to remove Breakspear, Patronis had pointed to a “lack of cooperation, responsiveness, and communication” from Breakspear’s office.

Patronis office last week expanded on the complaints, outlining a number of issues to support Breakspear’s potential removal, from alleged poor decision-making and a failure to follow emerging trends and technology to “a lack of responsiveness to our office and others.”

Breakspear initially fought back, disputing that the agency has shown an unwillingness to follow “emerging trends and technology” and saying that the agency “consistently meets with members of the public, businesses, and (Department of Financial Services) staff to address their questions and help them understand the agency’s role as regulator of Florida’s financial services industry.”

But on May 31, Breakspear submitted his resignation from the $135,158-a-year job, saying he would leave the post at the end of June “to ensure a smooth transition for the agency.” Breakspear has run the agency since the end of 2012.