TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – Gov. Rick Scott and the three elected members of the Cabinet formally agreed on Tuesday to settle a lawsuit that contended they bypassed the state’s Sunshine Law.
The settlement ends six months of turmoil over the abrupt ouster of Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey. Taxpayers are already on the hook for more than $200,000 in legal fees stemming from the case, including $55,000 to attorneys who pursued the lawsuit.
St. Petersburg attorney Matthew Weidner, Citizens for Sunshine, and nine news media organizations, including The Associated Press. The suit asserts that Bailey’s dismissal should have been voted on during a public meeting, but instead the firing and the search for his replacement were handled behind the scenes through aides.
The vote to approve the settlement came with no debate or discussion from elected officials. Scott would only say later that it was the “right thing for our state” to end the litigation.
The two sides held closed mediation sessions that resulted in an agreement to end the lawsuit.
The agreement calls for Scott and his Cabinet to change the procedures for handling public records and appointments. Many of those changes have already been put in place.
Under the changes, Scott, Cabinet members and senior staff will be required to promptly forward any public records they receive on private email accounts. All communication regarding any items to be voted on by the Cabinet must be done either in writing or verbally in a public meeting.
Bailey had been commissioner of the FDLE from 2006 until his ouster. He reported to both the Republican governor and the three GOP members of the Cabinet.
Shortly after Scott was re-elected to a second term, the governor’s staff pushed for Bailey’s resignation. But after he stepped down, Bailey made a series of allegations that he had refused questionable and unethical requests from the Scott administration and from the governor’s campaign staff. Scott has denied most of the allegations, including that Bailey was asked to falsely name a county court clerk as the target of an investigation.
The governor and Cabinet appointed Scott’s hand-picked successor to head up FDLE in January. But the Florida Senate refused to confirm the selection of Richard Swearingen, forcing Scott and the Cabinet to undertake another search. Swearingen and more than 60 other candidates applied for the job. Swearingen, however, is expected to retain the job since he was the only candidate picked on Tuesday for a final public interview.