Florida governor embroiled in scandal at start of second term

By Bill Cotterell TAMPA, Fla. (Reuters) - Republican Governor Rick Scott, off to a rocky start in his second term in office, faced an extraordinary meeting on Thursday with Florida's Cabinet in which he admitted botching the ouster of the state’s top police administrator. Since his narrow victory over former Governor Charlie Crist in November, Scott has run into a series of controversies. In the past month, Scott was rebuked by the state Republican Party, which rejected his choice to lead the party and instead elected state Representative Blaise Ingoglia in an unheard-of snub for a newly re-elected governor. Last week, former state prisons director Michael Crews, who had been ousted by Scott, accused the governor of neglecting staff shortages and crumbling facilities in the Department of Corrections. Scott, a wealthy former hospital executive with no prior political experience, previously experienced fairly placid relations with the three independently elected Cabinet officers, all fellow Republicans. But his decision to oust Gerald Bailey, the head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), has dogged him since his Jan. 6 inauguration. Bailey said he had been led to believe that the three Cabinet members, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, concurred in his ouster, but all three said afterward they were told that Bailey had wanted to retire. The FDLE is overseen by the governor and Cabinet together, not by Scott alone. In the furor over Bailey’s firing, Scott and the Cabinet agreed on Thursday to better manage executive performance review. "While I wanted to bring in new leadership at FDLE as we transitioned to a second term in office, it is clear, in hindsight, that I could have handled it better," Scott said at the start of the Cabinet’s annual opening-day visit to the Florida State Fair in Tampa. After his firing, Bailey said he had spurned attempts by the Scott campaign last year to misuse FDLE employees in the governor’s re-election. Scott’s office declined comment on that allegation. This week, a consortium of news media organizations and a Florida lawyer filed suit in state Circuit Court, claiming Scott violated the state's "Government in the Sunshine" public transparency law by working through aides to get rid of Bailey. (Editing by David Adams and Will Dunham)