TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CBSMiami/AP) — As questions remain about why Governor Rick Scott shook up the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, a new department leader was voted in on Tuesday.
Scott and the Florida Cabinet voted to appoint Richard Swearingen as the new commissioner for the . Swearingen is a longtime veteran of the agency.
Former Commissioner Gerald Bailey was forced by the Scott administration to resign in December and Swearingen was named interim commissioner the same day.
Scott was asked several times on Tuesday why Bailey was forced to resign. But the governor would not answer, simply saying Bailey had done a “great job.”
It was only hours later that Scott’s office, responding to reports that other state officials said they were unaware Bailey was asked to resign, acknowledged that the long-time commissioner had been forced out.
“Like in business, Governor Scott thinks it’s important to frequently get new people into government positions of leadership,” said spokeswoman Jackie Schutz.
Bailey has been highly regarded in law enforcement and was first appointed to his position in 2006 by Gov. Jeb Bush and the Florida Cabinet. He was kept in the position by Gov. Charlie Crist in 2007 and Scott in 2011.
While the commissioner reports to the governor and Cabinet, the three Cabinet members — Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Attorney General Pam Bondi — said they didn’t know why Bailey resigned.
Atwater and Bondi also said they were unaware of the decision until Bailey had already resigned. Bondi even praised Bailey for “restoring integrity” to the office. Bailey was chosen to lead the department after Commissioner Guy Tunnell resigned days after he compared the Rev. Jesse Jackson to outlaw Jesse James and U.S. Sen. Barack Obama to Osama Bin Laden at an agency meeting.
“My office was told Commissioner Bailey was resigning and was never told anything other than that,” Bondi said in a statement.
The agency, which is involved in a wide array of duties from processing evidence at crime scenes to guarding the governor, has roughly 1,700 employees. Currently the department is handing the investigation into dozens of non-natural deaths at Florida’s prisons.
Swearingen has more than 30 years’ experience at FDLE, most recently serving as the director of Capitol Police. He also oversaw security of the governor and his family.
He began his career at the department as a crime information input technician and received a series of promotions, including special agent supervisor in the Office of Statewide Intelligence.
Swearingen said Tuesday that he was summoned by Scott to the governor’s office in mid-December and told that Bailey had resigned. He said that he talked to Bailey, but he declined to say why his predecessor had left the agency.
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