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Nancy Smith

Looks Like Guillory Out, Antonacci In at SFWMD: Water Experience Be Damned

September 3, 2015 - 11:30pm

Though Gov. Rick Scott's office would not confirm it, South Florida Water Management District chief executive Blake Guillory will be out of the job next week, replaced with the governor's former general counsel, Peter Antonacci.

Daniel DeLisi, the district's $135,000-a-year chief of staff, tendered his resignation or was fired this week. DeLisi, remember, a former SFWMD board member, was hired over 53 other candidates in March 2013, five days after he resigned his board seat.

How do I know this? From a whole bunch of unnamed sources, sadly. By Thursday afternoon it had become the worst kept secret in Tallahassee.

Other than Guillory himself, who swore up and down Thursday morning that my phone call was the first he'd heard of his impending dismissal, not a soul would go on the record for this story. Every one of the people I talked to said they feared retribution from the governor's office.

Details nevertheless are consistent to a fault; the story is circulating among the highest level of players in the capital. And as rumors go, consider this the take-it-to-the-bank variety. 

Apparently Guillory, 54, is being axed because he failed to sell the governor's tax-cut message to SFWMD board members in July. Members believed in the need for the district's $754 million budget plan. 

This is the agency, remember, that collects taxes from 16 counties, guards against South Florida flooding and leads Everglades restoration. It is the largest, busiest and most intricately employed of all five water management districts in Florida. Its budget has been under pressure since 2011, when the district cut nearly 400 employees. And what members did in July is decide they couldn't afford to cut property taxes by 8 percent.

Guillory apparently was supposed to script the July meeting and the vote by preparing board members -- all of them, Scott appointees -- to go the governor's tax-cut way. Only, he didn't do that. Or if he did, it didn't work.

After the vote a Scott office spokesman, sounding a little like Tom Hagen in "The Godfather," told the media, "The governor is very disappointed." 

No horse head under the covers for Guillory. But he can expect a pink slip or an invitation to step away of his own volition after a meeting scheduled for Tuesday. 

Now what?

Well, when something like this happens, you like to hope you're going to get an upgrade. But GrayRobinson's Peter Antonacci -- great lawyer maybe, zero water management creds -- is no upgrade.

Though Antonacci has less water management experience than Guillory had coming in, they do have something in common: Both are accomplished hired guns.

In 2013 Guillory was the executive director of the smaller Southwest Florida Water Management District. His claim to fame there was slashing staff. Even before he started at SFWMD, Guillory had sent two of his deputy executive directors and the agency's longtime attorney packing, and then demoted a third deputy director. He went on to dump another 150 employees. 

When Melissa Meeker abruptly resigned as chief exec of the SFWMD, Guillory let the governor know he was available, and voila.

In case you haven't noticed, under Scott, water management district directors have been chosen not on their ability as water managers, but on their willingness to slash and burn budgets and staffs and then sweep the resultant problems under the rug. This, of course, is besides agreeing to take directon from the governor and the Department of Environmenal Protection rather than their boards. It's the bond that Guillory and Antonacci share.

Antonacci can claim a very accomplished legal career in the state capital. He served a number of governors starting with Bob Graham. In 2012, Scott appointed him general counsel to the governor, making him Scott’s primary adviser on the appointment of trial and appellate court judges as well as judicial nominating commissioners throughout the state. It's a position he held until earlier this year.   

It was Antonacci in the background pulling the strings for the Scott administration, gutting the St. Johns River Water Management District of senior staff, effecting a purge that left the simultaneous and unexplained departures of four executives from the agency that protects Central Florida's wetlands, rivers and aquifer. If you include the executive director, it was five senior St. Johns River WMD people -- all made gone. 

Those are Antonacci's water management credentials.

Without a doubt, the moves weakened the St. Johns region's environmental safeguards, but strengthening them was never his mission.

One more problem with Antonacci: His significant other is Anne Longman, of Lewis, Longman & Walker PA. Longman's firm represents the Seminole Tribe of Florida and does environmental and water law work for SFWMD. It will be interesting to hear how he gets around what looks like conflicts of interest the size of a small canyon.

I did try to get this story -- any part of it -- on the record. Here's how my phone calls went: 1) Guillory denied knowing a thing about his tanking job, even though he's been talking around about Antonacci wanting it for the last two weeks; 2) neither Antonacci nor Longman returned my calls, even after I left a detailed message why I was calling; 3) the governor's office first sent me back to the water management district, which didn't call me back; then Communications Director Jackie Schutz emailed me this statement: "We have no announcements on this board and we will definitely keep you posted when we do."

In fairness to everyone involved, a word of explanation:

Water management districts are not state agencies and until 2010 enjoyed autonomy with their governing boards and the Department of Environmental Protection overseeing them. Then along came the Charlie Crist/U.S. Sugar deal, when the SFWMD board members of the day were throwing around land purchase money, proposing expenditures in never-been-heard-of-before amounts. The Legislature and governor panicked. My point is, the state's overreach we see today is a direct outgrowth of that one broken "deal."

But let me make myself clear.  Florida's water management districts -- particularly SFWMD, biggest and most complex -- need to be run by real water managers, managers who know how to hire and inspire and keep good staff, who won't "economize away" the brightest and best. It grieves me to see how many outstanding, knowledgeable staff have left SFWMD particularly in the last year.  

Meanwhile, those problems getting swept under the rug don't go away. The health and safety of millions of Floridians -- let alone the successful completion of Everglades restoration -- are all at issue. 

 

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith

 

 

 

  

 

Comments

Old thread but I worked at SFWMD for a year. Awful awful place.

Nancy--an earlier version of this article included the following as the 3rd paragraph of the piece: "Meanwhile, capital insiders tell me former SFWMD executive director Melissa Meeker has been promoting Antonacci to the governor as the perfect replacement for Guillory. And yes, Antonacci wants the $165,000-a-year job. Very much." Why did you delete this paragraph? You were so willing to report much of this "news" without anyone who would go on record, so it is curious that you deleted this one paragraph. Please explain.

When will the good and bad news be made public?

God help the agency staff that try to enforce rules and protect the public. Governor Scott is a vindictive egomaniac who crushes any opposition with excessive force. Guillory was a hatch man for Scott, but when he didn't deliver on every single unreasonable position that Scott demanded, then it is off with his head as well. Antonacci was once a decent human being and good lawyer, but somewhere along the line he sold his soul to the devil, and he will be an enforcer for Scott with no concern for the employees, the public, or the environment. But apparently, this is the type of governance Florida wants, because they elected Voldemort twice. When Floridians have no well water, when Floridians have such polluted rivers and lakes that our wildlife dies and we have no recreational water, when the polluters have packed up all their money and left the state and/or the country, we will wonder why we let Scott and his thugs loot our state. But then, actually now, the damage will have been done. What a shame, on all of us who let this happen.

They need to read the Palm Beach Post. http://www.mypalmbeachpost.com/news/news/opinion/editorial-erikas-approach-sharpens-katrinas-lesson/nnSnM/ "Americans have spent the past decade looking back at what went wrong in Katrina. No doubt, the evacuation order was called too late, the supplies and preparation were inadequate, and the neighborhoods were built in inappropriate places. But the true reason for the disaster was the failure of the region’s water control system. Our public officials have a massive responsibility to ensure history does not repeat itself here."

Terrible morale, no doubt among SFWMD staff. But many still carry the torch to do right by the taxpayers if Florida. Every dark day is eventually replaced by the sun. Those are the days everyone remaining, who really has the best interest of South Florida at heart, are waiting for.

SFWMD is an agency that is wasting tax payer money. Canals are filthy and neglected. Ever since Daniel De Lisi (The chief of staff) resigned from his chair as a board member and became a chief staff, immediately started hiring his own people to have a better control of the taxes in Collier County. I just was wondering how he got away performing his position as a chief staff and owning his engineering company become a conflict of interest. There is not a necessity of a chief engineer at BCB (Naples Service Center) because there are not project to administrate. The engineer at this center is just a expensive painting (works of arts) on the wall and the Director of the center is the curator under the protection of Dan de Lisi. The building where they work from, was bought with millions of tax payer money and serve no purpose since all the daily work is performed from SFWMD at West Palm Beach. Staff at this location do nothing just sitting around looking at each other. Is time the someone start questioning about the work that they do at this center, no to mention that money that they are making, At the Operation/Maintenance facility, if you ever drive around this complex (North of Pine Ridge) on Jane Lane. Most of equipments (vehicles, truck, boats) are sitting on the parking lot because the District is hiring outside contractor to do canal's maintenance. Bosses at this place drive District vehicles treating them like if they are their private vehicles. Why the tax payer should pay for vehicles that they use to do their personal staff. Please take a look at them next time you come close to one of them and see it that they have erase the BCB logo and place their own personal license plate. As an engineering I am founding that the process of Right of Way permitting is taking so long to issue a permit. Applications is now sent to West palm Beach ROW Department and the new Section Leader of this department is a nasty, unprofessional, man that was fired from another municipal agency, because of unprofessional behavior. Why the best staff are quitting the District?. Who is responsible for hiring these kind of people?. Those who hires people with no manner should be fires. This agency is there to serve the public, work with the public, they are public servants. They should not be behaving like a king. Please, can anybody tell them that tax payers are paying their salaries?. The public demand respect and permit to be issue accordingly. Upper manager should be aware who are they hiring. They should get fired from they post. Remember staff at SFWMD, we are the public, you are serving us. Hope that they make changes to this department in particular. The best staff left ROW department, unfortunately we have to deal with this new section leader who is an arrogant, unprofessional. He must be fired. Hope to hear next time that the Governor has clean the house thru the new Executive.

I concur with your statement, Carlos. It is factual and change is imperative in order for things to improve. The Statuatory deadlines under Chapter 373 FAC for the Right of Way Department are overwhelming too long and should be aligned with the Regulatory deadlines for permit issuance. The remaining staff in the Right of Way Department are severely lacking work ethic, as the new ROW Director is incompetent and unprofessional. He is not a leader. The staff who jumped ship in the last year are the ones who kept the ship running full speed and had professional demeanor, responded to inquiries, issued permits in a timely manner, and never complained (unlike current staff). This Department needs to clean house and do so STAT! The first ones to go need to be the ROW Director and Beverley Miller. The whole Department should be outsourced, just as the SFWMD tends to do with their canal maintenance. I guarantee things would be better, the sooner the new ED realizes this, the better off the taxpayers in these 16 counties will be. It's ludacris to pay someone over $60k/yr. to issue permits (everything is automated) and that doesn't include the 35% of their salary in benefits + pension they receive, whom complain and are slow, when it can be done for half the price and be efficient. The Sunshine Law is a beautiful thing. Do your research. Look up the number of lawsuits by staff in the Right of Way Department in the last year and see for yourself how royally certain staff members were rewarded. By reading the public records, it is evident the Human Resources Department is a sham and covered up things. Good luck to you, Carlos, I am now on day 82 and still waiting for my permit! Who can I voice my concerns to and be heard so change can be made at this agency?

I commend all the people that work at SFWMD with exception of a few like Jeff Kivitch who goes where the wind blows. You guys do amazing work. It's time for you to have boss's that answer to you and the citizens and not to Rick Scott who is busy destroying us all by deregulating with his cronies so we can be a cement jungle who has to pay premium prices for water because there won't be any. His biggest joy will be when his friends can build houses in the Everglades. Tell us what you need.

The employee moral is at a all time low ! We are working with 1/2 of the manpower and have to do more work ! They have taken hours every payday away from us for vacation time and sick time !

we the employees of sfwmd are all dedicated professionals especially o/m dept supposevly said by upper management we were the backbone of the district but they meaning the gov board and RICK SCOTT have turned the state of fl around and we haven,t got any raises nor cost of living increases for the past 7 YEARS they continue to slash our benefits including our frs retirement and they still wonder why the moral is so low through out the district they gave upper mgnt so they call it promotions some as high as 39,000 but didn't consider it a raise what Rick Scott and colporate Guillroy Blake have destroyed everyone life and family that work for the district .the time has come to get representation on levels higher up than Tallahassee .we all need to stick together for our families and a great future at the district without Gillroy and Scott

Rick Scott has no clue the work that the District does. God help So. fla if there is a hurricane. Employees are leaving and not being replaced. Remaining Employees are picking up the slack. DEP is clueless. Rick need to get over the proposed U.S. sugar deal from a few years ago. Just like current EXO staff has to do as he says so did EXO staff from 2011...they had no choice but to follow Charlie's orders. In fact it came down to One board members vote...Ms. Meeker. she sold out the citizens, the staff and the District as a whole.

Very sad indeed. As a former employee, I can tell you the number of great staff that have left because of the politics interfering with the work and environment is a tragedy, and Florida suffers. if you folks take a look at the amount of tax dollars that are given to the district, pitiful few for the work - it is truly appalling......but there is an agenda here of course, and it isn't to protect the environment. until citizens get educated on the goings on, the true goings on, you are going to see more and more of this. And in the next emergency for Florida's water- You are going to see exactly what the consequences are. May God help and bless those employees that are left to do their jobs and rise above this............This governor has no clue.......................why would that surprise anyone?

Scott is determined to eliminate or effectively eliminate the SFWMD. Every employee should be planning your exit strategy! Save yourselves the ship is sinking and Scott has punched holes in all the lifeboats.

the solution lies in our hands its not leaving the district al of us have dedicated most of our lives to working here over 30 yr plus the strategy is to unite and get unionized so that we can have a voice for the employees of water mngt and not fall into politicians hands continuing to bleed our families future and continue to be at status quo in the mercy of there hands lets unite numbers is strength lets show MR SCOTTWHAT WERE ALL ABOUT PLEASE SPRED THE WORD GOD BLESS US ALL WE CAN DO THIS

yep-- so very sad

DOENT JUST GIVE UP AND SIT BACK AND DO NOTHING YOU KNOW EXACTLY WHAT WE GOT TO DO YOUR VOTE COUNTS

What a loss.

What a loss. So sad.

A loss? No one I know at the district would consider the loss of Blake a true loss. But there is the devil you know and he one you don't. Screw Scott.

Antonacci, just "another lawyer in the woodpile" suckling off the "government mammary"...WHEN WILL WE EVER LEARN ?!?!? Show me a lawyer who ACTUALLY does "lawyer business", and I'll show you a relatively honest man with no shady ambitions or stealthy alliances.. NO LAWYERS IN GOVERNMENT POSITIONS, EXCEPT (MAYBE) WHEN PERFORMING PRO BONO ASSIGNMENTS ! ! !

Nancy; The obvious WMD Staff changes are strictly the result of their refusal to face, or publish the most basic "Fact"---Fl. Water use today [2015] is significantly lower [>10 %] than even 1975, 35 years ago. With so many of their "projects", that were and still are predicated on a significant " increasing Water Use {Water Crisis] due to population increase, that has not materialized, it is time to realistically reduce the whole WMD function and Staff. "Time To Smell the Roses" from Conservation. Their recent WMD's RWSP's [e.g; CFWI's], that show an ever increasing future [Projected] Water Use is not supported by the actual historical record, which even you do not seem to appreciate. Having "Defrauded the Public" with self serving "Projections" it sure is time to face reality, even if many lower level people lose their jobs. The point is that the WMD's, surely supported by Environmentalist & Media, have created an emotionally based atmosphere that is not supported by the actual Florida Water Use history and it is time to face the facts. That certainly includes you !

I DOENT KNOW WHAT PLANET YOUR LIVING IN OR HOW LONG YOU BEEN FOOLED BY CORPRATE B/S BUT AS LONG AS I REMEBER OUR MISSION IS TO PROTECT QUALITY OF OUR DRINKING WATER PROTECT THE LIVES OF OUR TAX PAYING CITIZENS DURING RAIN EVENTS AND MAJOR STORMS AND ONE OF THE greatest WONDERS OF THE WORLD FL EVERGLADES I HOPE TO GOD WE NEVER GET ANOTHER MAJOR HURICANE BUT IF WE DO I AM SURE THESE ENVIRONMENTALIST AND MYSELF WILL BE OUT THERE TRYING TO KEEP YOU AND YOUR FAMILY DRY AND SAFE IN AN EMOTIONALY SAFE ATMOSPHERE

Where in the world did you get your information? Certainly not from the public record. Yes, conservation measures have resulted in a slowing of the projected uses but they have not produced a reduction in overall use. Caps have been placed on specific sources, but growth in demands has been provided by alternate sources. The use of reclaimed water for irrigation, golf courses being the major users, has taken some of the strain on the existing sources but the demand is still there. I challenge your "facts" as I have spent 30+ years as a water resource scientist in south Florida.

Yes, yes, by all means viciously attack WMD staff for following the statutory law that GOP politicians have written --> "Population projections used for determining public water supply needs must be based upon the best available data. In determining the best available data, the district shall consider the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research (BEBR) medium population projections and population projection data and analysis submitted by a local government pursuant to the public workshop described in subsection (1) if the data and analysis support the local government’s comprehensive plan. Any adjustment of or deviation from the BEBR projections must be fully described, and the original BEBR data must be presented along with the adjusted data." (and there are additional population permitting requirements/restrictions in Chapter 373, FS). . . . . . . and what don't you understand about "Regional Water Supply Plans (your "RWSP") whose 20 year projections have to be revisited and updated every 5 years to reconsider those projections, and that a key means of attempting to address future projection issues is to decrease projected future demands through INCREASED CONSERVATION (i.e. thereby decreasing per capita water use and, hopefully, overall water supply demands), a strategy which many local governments adopt and implement to avoid expensive future water development projects . . . . so, why can't you understand staff simply complying with state law and promoting increased conservation to decrease water use . . . . . . . PATHETIC . . .

Way to go Nancy. Another stellar article. The District has solid Directorial leadership in place now and should not be threatened by the political winds from the north. The storm season we should remain viligent for is relative to weather, not politics.

Impeach Scott for Florida's sake.

Comments are now closed.

nancy smith
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