Good For You, Governor: Forge On, Don't Look Back
Around the State
The buzz around Tallahassee at the end of the week was Saturday's impending "lunch" between Gov. Rick Scott and Steve MacNamara -- at which time one or the other of them would decide the fate of the embattled chief of staff.
As it happened, the meal was an anticlimax. The future had been decided before either picked up a napkin.
MacNamara was out, Jacksonville native Adam Hollingsworth was in. Just like that.
Well, good for you, Governor. Who cares whether the resignation was your idea or Mac's. Ultimately, I think you will see this as a lucky escape.
To match MacNamara's letter (see attachment below), the governor showed his chief of staff considerable friendship. This is an excerpt from the note Scott wrote:
“I’m grateful for Steve’s invaluable assistance in helping advance my agenda to strengthen education, create jobs, and lower the cost of living for Floridians. Over the past 10 months, thanks to his expertise and guidance, we added $1 billion for education, we passed a job creation and economic development package, we passed accident fraud reform, and thanks to him, we implemented many positive changes to the way the state of Florida does business. ... Ann and I look forward to continue building our friendship with Steve and his wife, Liberty.”
Parting company with Mac, painful as it apparently is for Scott on a personal level, is so the right thing to do. Last Monday the media's ethics allegations against his chief of staff amounted to a dust-up in a downtown saloon; by the weekend, they were akin to the main event at Madison Square Garden.
Yes, MacNamara did advance the governor's agenda over the last nine months. But he has also damaged his boss's reputation.
Despite early low-approval ratings and a slow-to-come-around GOP leadership, Scott established himself in office as a square-dealer, a man of his word, a governor who works hard to put the interests of the people ahead of his own.
Though Scott gives MacNamara credit for firing up his office's engine on transparency, it was MacNamara's background of buddy promotion, deal-making and misuse of staff -- some of it of alarmingly recent vintage -- that was starting to sully and distract the governor and, frankly, evoke a truly clarion call for transparency.
When I met with MacNamara in his office early last week, he was under attack for a whole fireworks display of incidents: helping to steer a no-bid consulting contract worth $360,000 to a friend; "among other practices, walling off the governor from others, playing agency heads against each other, hiring loyalists at six-figure salaries, forcing out his rivals and helping out his buddies"; and humiliating Scott in front of the Cuban community, issuing a letter under his signature saying the bill the governor had just signed cracking down on firms that do business in Cuba and Syria was unenforceable, unconstitutional, and an infringement on foreign trade.
During that interview, incidentally, MacNamara only once admitted, "I won't say I haven't made some mistakes." For the most part, he brushed off criticism as the overreaction and distortion of a hostile press. "I've been a professor and a lawyer for 30 years and a lobbyist for only five," he said. "Guess which one they use to characterize me."
At that point, the governor had to be shaking his head. No matter how you sliced it, MacNamara's management style and alleged ethical indiscretions were enough to stagger a billygoat.
But it didn't stop there. Outside the cloisters of the governor's office, out here in Let's-Google-It-Land, the rest of the week turned into an archaeological dig. I think half of Tallahassee discovered that burial-ground bonanza of MacNamara background. Out of it, among other stories, came these:
The Travel Scandal. The dismissal of Doug Darling, director of the Department of Economic Opportunity, for obeying Mac's directive to approve only staff travel that had “a direct and measurable benefit to getting Floridians back to work.” Darling nixed Film Commissioner Shari Kerrigan's plans to attend the Sundance Film Festival, Kerrigan went anyway, turned in a bill for $2,713, and other bills in excess of $1,300 for stays in Raleigh, N.C., and Miami Beach. Kerrigan, a lawyer and friend of MacNamara's before her appointment in December, was reimbursed.
The Resume Scandal. In October Mac asked his governor's office staff to help him update his resume so that he could apply for the job of college president at Carroll College in Montana. The intra-office email is all there to confirm. On Thursday the Florida Commission on Ethics received a citizen complaint, stating, "taxpayer resources and personnel (were) being put to work on someone's private job application." An investigation is under way.
The Cement Plant Scandal. This pile of bones comes from deep within the Google burial ground. It serves as a reminder of how far back MacNamara's screwy idea of professional ethics goes. And it would have been the basis of my column for today, had Mac not made his resignation official over the weekend.
It comes from the pages of The Tampa Tribune and covers much of 1999, when MacNamara, as House Speaker John Thrasher's top aide, moonlighted as an attorney for a cement company. Surprise, surprise, that company won the Florida Cabinet's approval to build a cement plant near the Ichetucknee River.
At the time MacNamara said he saw no conflict in acting as Thrasher's chief of staff at the same time that he was working as an attorney for the Suwannee American Cement Co. He said he wasn't a state employee and that he worked for Thrasher as an independent contractor. At the time he worked for the cement company, he said, he was between contracts with Thrasher; he considered himself "a free agent."
But state records show he continued to be paid and to work for Thrasher during at least part of the time he worked for the cement company.
He also acknowledged in an interview that he continued executing duties as Thrasher's chief of staff the rest of the time he worked for Suwannee, adding that in that period he worked without state pay.
The bottom line is, MacNamara signed a new five-month contract on July 8, 1999, while working for Suwannee, agreeing to return in January as Thrasher's chief of staff for $127,500.
For the 11 months covered by the two contracts, MacNamara earned $ 255,000. That's $137,760 more than the governor's annual salary at the time.
"I don't see a problem with this," MacNamara said of his acting as Thrasher's "authorized agent" during the time he was without a state contract and working for the cement plant.
Of course he didn't. We had him all wrong back then, apparently we've got him wrong now
On so many occasions, armed with powerful friends and a gift of gab, Mac somehow came skating through.
Not this time. Which is why I hope Rick Scott -- a governor who, unlike the last one, really likes his job and wants to keep it -- quickly loses his remorse for MacNamara's departure.
Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews, or (727) 850-0859.