After insisting for weeks that former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey had resigned, Gov. Rick Scott said Tuesday he forced the longtime law enforcement chief out of office.
The admission comes after continued questions surrounding the departure of Bailey, who was appointed to the post by former Gov. Jeb Bush and had served three governors. He had been with the state for 27 years.
Bailey was informed by Pete Antonacci, Scott’s former top lawyer, on the morning of Dec. 16 there was going to be a change at the top of FDLE. He was told to be out that evening, an unusually quick timeline for the resignation of any top state official that had not been accused of wrongdoing.
The move sent ripples through Florida’s law enforcement community, as lobbyists and state staff expressed both surprise at Bailey’s departure and the swiftness with which the longtime FDLE chief was removed.
When asked about Bailey, Scott has repeatedly said he did a “great job” but would not elaborate on his decision.
“He resigned,” Scott told reporters after Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting. “Commissioner Bailey did a great job.”
During that meeting, Scott and the three-member Cabinet voted to appoint Rick Swearingen as the new FDLE commissioner. After the meeting, Attorney General Pam Bondi, a member of the Cabinet, also dodged questions about whether Bailey was forced out.
“I think the world of Commissioner Bailey,” said Bondi, who repeated the same answer when pressed on the issue.
Shortly after that meeting, the Tampa Bay Times/ Miami Herald Capitol Bureau reported that Bailey said Scott’s explanation “is a lie,” and that he was forced out of office.
“I did not voluntarily do anything,” Bailey told the Times/Herald. “If he said I resigned voluntarily, that is a lie. If he said that, he’s being totally untruthful.”
In a statement sent six hours after the meeting, Jackie Schutz, Scott’s communication director, said Scott asked Bailey to leave office.
“Like in business, Governor Scott thinks it’s important to frequently get new people into government positions of leadership,” she wrote.
The decision to get rid of Bailey was done without informing top members of the legislative law enforcement committees.
“I would have liked a heads-up on that,” state Sen. Greg Evers, the Baker Republican who leads the Senate’s Criminal Justice committee, said after a meeting last week.