- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - The abrupt ouster of the leader of Florida’s main law-enforcement agency could lead to a major shake-up in how the state Cabinet and the governor hire top officials.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam on Wednesday called for an overhaul of how the state Cabinet approves agency heads. Putnam also wants to change how the governor and Cabinet oversee several departments.

Florida’s other two Cabinet members, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, also expressed concerns about the appointment process after Gov. Rick Scott forced the resignation of Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey and then asked the Cabinet to name his hand-picked replacement to the job.

All three Republican Cabinet members last week approved Rick Swearingen to replace Bailey, but after the vote said they weren’t aware that Bailey, who had held the position since late 2006, was forced to step down. Bailey later told the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald about political interference and unethical requests from Scott, his staff and his campaign team.

The uproar over Bailey’s ouster has prompted calls for outside investigations and other state elected officials to question what happened. Democratic legislators this week said the state’s ethics panel should consider probing the incident, while outside watchdog group Integrity Florida said it has a sent a letter to a federal prosecutor and the FBI requesting them to look into Bailey’s allegations.

“The recent process behind the appointment of a new FDLE Commissioner has raised serious questions, and those questions should be answered to ensure transparency, and the public’s right to know,” Bondi said in a news release.

She said she wants the matter to be addressed at the next Cabinet meeting Feb. 5.

Many agency heads, including those in charge of the state’s health department and prison system, report only to the governor. But a handful of agencies report to both the governor and the three Cabinet members.

Atwater sent a letter to Scott on Tuesday night saying he wants to do a new search for an FDLE commissioner. Scott replied in his own letter that a new search could be done, but then stated he wants to keep Swearingen in the job to prevent “unnecessary turmoil.” Scott then said he wants to discuss firing three other state officials, including Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty. He said government should “frequently change leadership to bring in new ideas and fresh energy.”

Atwater said Wednesday that in hindsight, the Cabinet should have done a more thorough job of selecting a potential commissioner, especially considering the allegations made by Bailey.

“It’s a serious matter,” Atwater said. “We need a better process and one that is very transparent.”

Putnam for his part said he saw no reason to start a new search for an FDLE Commissioner since the Cabinet just approved hiring Swearingen.

“The cure doesn’t appear to match the disease absent any new revelations about improprieties,” Putnam said.

But Putnam does want the Cabinet to switch to a more formalized process in choosing appointees. Usually the Cabinet lets the governor select someone and the members vote to approve the choice. Putnam wants the Cabinet to go through an established process that includes interviews with qualified candidates.

Scott said in a statement that Putnam’s proposals would “bring some helpful structure” and he said he wanted to discuss the changes at the next Cabinet meeting. But he repeated he also wants to discuss replacing current agency heads.

Follow Gary Fineout on Twitter: https://twitter.com/fineout

Follow Brendan Farrington on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bsfarrington

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