For two decades, Gerald Bailey compiled a sterling reputation with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, including over the past eight years as the force's commissioner. Until last month, that is, when he abruptly and quietly left office. What happened? "He resigned," Gov. Rick Scott told reporters yesterday after confirming Bailey's replacement.
Well, not according to Florida's former top cop. ""If he said I resigned voluntarily, that is a lie," Bailey quickly countered. "If he said that, he's being totally untruthful."
In fact, evidence is mounting that Bailey was forced out over a series of clashes with Scott's political campaign, raising serious questions about interference with what's supposed to be Florida's independent police force.
The dramatic clash between Scott and Bailey played out yesterday after Scott's Cabinet confirmed his replacement, 55-year-old Rick Swearingen, who has headed the Capitol Police since 2013 and formerly organized Scott's protective detail from FDLE.
Afterward, Scott declined to talk about why Bailey left -- a tact he's stuck with since the ex-commissioner's resignation on Dec. 16.
Instead, the governor and all three cabinet members -- Attorney General Pam Bondi, CFO Jeff Atwater and Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam -- read from the same script about Bailey: He's a great guy, he did amazing work and nope, no one had any idea why he left.
Well, Scott's insistence that the veteran had willingly resigned was apparently the final straw for the ex-cop. Bailey quickly pushed back, insisting that he'd been forced to quit by the governor and calling Scott a liar for suggesting otherwise.
Scott himself quickly backtracked. He did want Bailey gone, he admitted, but only because he "thinks it's good to frequently get new people into government positions of leadership."
There's probably more to the story than that, though.
The Tampa Bay Times gets behind the scenes this morning, and its reporting suggests that Bailey ruffled Scott's feathers by refusing to get involved in politics. Among the ex-chief's contentious moves, the Tribune reports, were complaining about getting fundraising emails from Scott, refusing to participate in a campaign conference call, and backing FDLE's refusal to transport Scott's campaign employees.
All those moves, incidentally, are right in line with FDLE's role as an independent agency.
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More troubling, as the Miami Herald points out, is that FDLE answers not to the governor but to the full cabinet, each of whom are independently elected by voters. The whole point of that arrangement is to keep the force separate from party politics.
In this case, though, the cabinet was so in lock-step with Scott that it seems to have happily ousted Bailey for political reasons, then followed the governor's bogus script about the ex-chief voluntarily resigning.
Whatever you think about Bailey, that should trouble any Floridian who wants an independent force like FDLE to impartially tackle law and order on the state level.