More than 300 apply to lead state veterans’ agency

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It’s a certainty these days: An opening for a top job in Florida state government always attracts the widest variety of job candidates. 

More than 300 applications now have been turned in for the open position of head of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs, records show. The deadline was last Friday. 

Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet – Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam – will make the final pick.

The last high-profile vacancy, for state Insurance Commissioner, also brought out a variety of interested parties, from pharmaceutical executives and business consultants to a bail bondsman and an engineer. David Altmaier, a former deputy commissioner, eventually was promoted.

Some names for the veterans’ post are expected: Glenn Sutphin, who is interim Executive Director of the department, applied for the permanent position. 

Others, perhaps even most, are the equivalent of ‘Hail Mary’ passes. Take Tameka Collins-Smith, a programs director for Leon County who submitted two applications for the job. 

Collins-Smith said she has no state government or military experience but does oversee re-entry programs for local veterans. “I thought I would be a good fit,” she said. 

Zane Morgan of Boynton Beach has 30 years’ experience in the medical device business and is a veteran. He served in the Army stateside from 1969-71, he said. 

“I’m very logical, very disciplined, and I would go in and see how to do the job better,” he said. “I’m kind of an efficiency expert.”

Imran Ali, a naturalized citizen originally from Pakistan, said he “came to this country with 10 dollars in my pocket.”

Ali, a past entrepreneur and now business-technology executive in Wellington, “was able to become successful because of the sacrifices that (veterans) have made,” he said. 

“I can’t serve (in the armed forces) but at least I could serve those who did,” Ali added.    

Current and former state officials also have applied, including:

 Kristi Bronson, records bureau chief for the Division of Elections under Secretary of State Ken Detzner.  

 Frank Farmer, the former Surgeon General and Secretary of Health under Gov. Scott in 2011-12 who’s a Vietnam combat veteran.

 Kelly Fitton, senior attorney for Atwater’s Department of Financial Services. 

The governor and cabinet next meet Aug. 2. 

The department’s last head, Mike Prendergast, stepped down to run for Citrus County Sheriff as a Republican. He was Scott‘s first chief of staff.

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.