Gov. Scott distances himself from state scandals

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As Florida slowly recovers from the Great Recession, Gov. Rick Scott has asked voters to judge him on his handling of the state’s economy and his ability to bring jobs to the Sunshine State.

But in an election campaign with Democrat Charlie Crist that has featured caustic political ads and a debate highlighted by a tiff over a fan, there’s been little discussion about Scott’s management of the $70 billion-plus enterprise that is state government, or the steady stream of problems and scandals in the agencies directly under the former CEO’s command.

Since taking office, the agencies that report to Scott have been accused of covering up the suspicious death of prison inmates, mishandling the deaths of children, bungling the launch of the system that aids the unemployed, and skirting the state’s public records law.

Even now the state’s main law enforcement agency is investigating more than 80 cases where prison inmates died of non-natural causes.

Along the way Scott has said very little about the ongoing controversies, stating either some are false, or that the people he puts in top positions were “doing the right thing” to deal with ongoing problems. He never says that he mishandled, or misjudged anyone. Scott’s aides insist he is a taskmaster and keeps tight control over items under his control, even if he doesn’t comment publicly.

Scott’s response has been similar to the way he responded to allegations of Medicare fraud at HCA/Columbia, the massive chain of hospitals that the Republican incumbent once ran. Scott was forced out of his job amid a federal investigation that resulted in a then-record $1.7 billion fine. He has repeatedly said he was unaware of the problems going on underneath him and said he probably should have hired more auditors. Yet he maintained on a recent televised debate that he had taken “responsibility” for what happened.

Crist, during his 2007-11 term as governor, had a reputation of leaving details to key lieutenants and not taking a keen interest in policy issues.

Melissa Sellers, a former top aide to Scott who is now his campaign manager, said Scott shows leadership because he is “not passing the buck and blaming others.” She contrasted it with Crist, who has blamed job losses that occurred while he was governor on the global recession.

Without naming anyone, she also asserted Scott has held people accountable since taking office in January 2011, but hasn’t made some of his tough decisions public.

“The governor leads and manages by setting high expectations for everyone in the administration and holding them accountable to make sure results are achieved,” Sellers said in an email response to questions. “If your question is – is the governor perfect? Or is everything that has ever been done in his administration perfect? Of course not.

“The governor frequently has to make difficult decisions about problems facing the state,” Sellers added. “Often, those decisions involve personnel action, which the governor moves swiftly on without any editorializing in the press. When the governor takes someone to task, he does not tell the press about it.”

When a scandal breaks, Scott is often cryptic on whether he took action or delegated it to staff.

Several agency heads, as well as two of his chiefs of staff, have departed amid bad publicity while Scott has been in office. There have been four permanent education commissioners during his four years although one of them left because he was a holdover from when Crist was governor.

Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll abruptly resigned in March 2013 after state investigators questioned her about work she did with a veterans charity accused of running an illegal gambling operation. Carroll, who worked for the company before she ran with Scott was never accused of any wrongdoing, although documents obtained by The Associated Press show she was questioned about failing to report money she earned from Allied Veterans of the World.

Scott never said that he asked Carroll to resign, although she later publicly said the request came from him.

Steve MacNamara, who served as Scott’s chief of staff for roughly a year, maintained it was Scott who made key decisions. Some administration insiders at the time insisted that some people were forced out due to clashes with MacNamara.

“He was a quick study and liked to meet with his department heads face-to-face,” MacNamara said in an email. “He was good at identifying problems and issues and tasking department heads to go out and do ‘the right thing’. He had plenty of ideas. He ‘loves’ being a manager and solving problems. Notwithstanding what was written in the press at the time, I was more of a ‘traffic cop’ making sure that things got accomplished that he had directed his department heads to accomplish.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.