Cabinet backs Scott's FDLE, DEP leadership changes

By Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida
Image courtesy of The Florida Channel

Rick Scott sworn in for a second term as governor of Florida.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Two of Gov. Rick Scott's second-term appointments -- new leaders at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection -- were confirmed Tuesday by the state Cabinet.

The Cabinet also backed the appointment of longtime state administrator Terry Rhodes as executive director of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, a job she has held for several months.

Jonathan Steverson, who for the past two years ran the Northwest Florida Water Management District, was approved to take over at the Department of Environmental Protection, where former Secretary Herschel Vinyard stepped aside in December.

And Rick Swearingen, the former head of the Capitol Police, now becomes the leader of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Swearingen replaced longtime FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey, who was removed without explanation by Scott in mid-December.

Scott continued to offer little insight into the decision Tuesday, telling reporters after the meeting that Bailey had "resigned."

"Commissioner Bailey did a great job. Commissioner Swearingen, he's going to do a very good job," Scott said before essentially repeating the same statement two more times.

Cabinet members were equally circumspect when asked if they had been advised of the turnover at FDLE.

Bailey "certainly served our state well and presided over a 43-year low in crime," Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said. "I continue to recognize and praise him for his service, and I also recognize that change is common in any second term."

Similar sentiments were echoed by Attorney General Pam Bondi, who said she did not know the reason for Bailey's departure.

Informed of Scott's comments, Bailey told the Tampa Bay Times that "I did not voluntarily do anything."

Scott's spokeswoman Jackie Schutz late Tuesday issued a statement that the governor "thinks it's important to frequently get new people into government positions of leadership."

Swearingen, who has been the director of the Capitol Police since June 2013, has been with the FDLE since 1984. He previously served as assistant special agent in charge and special agent supervisor. The Capitol Police is part of FDLE.

Meanwhile, Scott's choices to lead the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles also have lengthy experience in state government. All three of the appointees will be paid $150,000 in their new positions.

Steverson served in the governor's office under former governors Charlie Crist and Jeb Bush. Steverson also served as special counsel on policy and legislative affairs for the Department of Environmental Protection under Vinyard before taking over as executive director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District.

In April, Rhodes replaced the then-retiring Julie Jones at the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Jones, however, returned to state government last month when she was appointed by Scott as the secretary of the Department of Corrections.

Rhodes spent 30 years as an Agriculture Department administrator, including a brief stint as interim commission in 2001. The department's Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement in Tallahassee is named after her.

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