DEP Deputy Secretary Jeff Littlejohn resigns

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Florida Department of Environmental Protection Deputy Secretary Jeff Littlejohn offered his resignation on Friday after three years of running the agency’s regulatory arm.

Littlejohn, frequently the target of environmental activists, is the son of veteran lobbyist Chuck Littlejohn of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

As reported by Craig Pittman of the Tampa Bay Times, Littlejohn’s resignation letter said he was glad to be able to reduce “unnecessary regulatory burdens” by eliminating or restructuring rules “without lowering environmental standards.”

With a staff of 1,250, he said the DEP had “significantly reduced the time it takes to make a permit decision,” to 28 days in 2014, down from 79 days in 2010.

Littlejohn is stepping down from his $125,000 a year position to seek a job in the private sector; he would he not give any specifics.

After spending more than 10 years as a consulting engineer, obtaining state and federal permits for clients, Littlejohn joined the DEP in March 2011, hired by Secretary Herschel Vinyard Jr.

In a statement, Vinyard praised Littlejohn’s time at DEP, saying he “yielded tremendous performance gains for DEP and Florida’s natural resources.”

A year after his hiring, Littlejohn ordered Connie Bersok, the agency’s leading wetlands expert, to approve a permit that she claimed violates state law. When Bersok refused, she was suspended and put under DEP investigation.

In the subsequent legal challenge to the permit, the judge acknowledged Bersok as the only person giving credible testimony, blasting both the DEP and Littlejohn for altering the permit process to one “developed by the department and Highlands Ranch, without opportunity for public participation or input.”

Chris Byrd, one of the four DEP attorneys let go last year who prosecuted rule violators, blamed Littlejohn for the situation, Pittman writes.

Although he was responsible for regulatory programs, “Littlejohn doesn’t like enforcement,” Byrd said. “He doesn’t want the department to do any high-profile enforcement cases.”

Clifford D. “Cliff” Wilson III will be Littlejohn’s replacement, Vinyard said on Friday. Wilson also worked an engineering company — as project manager at Preble-Rish Inc. — prior to taking a job at the DEP when Gov. Rick Scott took office.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.