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Scott, Cabinet Start Looking For Environmental Chief

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – A new year brings a lot of new tasks for politicians in Florida’s capital to discuss.

Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet will hold a conference call next week to determine how to replace departing Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Jon Steverson.

Scott, who named Ryan Matthews as interim secretary Tuesday, called for the special meeting as the Cabinet — Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Attorney General Pam Bondi — will not hold a regular meeting again until after Steverson’s last day, Feb. 3.

“I know our office has received questions on his successor, and the process for that appointment, and I’m sure your offices have also,” Scott said.

Unlike most agency heads who answer only to the governor, Steverson’s position falls under Scott and the Cabinet.

Steverson announced his resignation Friday, which was too late for the matter to be placed on Tuesday’s Cabinet agenda. Cabinet rules require a seven-day notice for items in which the four officials may direct any action.

During the conference call, the Cabinet will be asked to vote on Matthews as interim secretary and the process for appointing a new secretary.

Matthews is currently the agency’s director of the Office of Water Policy. He joined the department in 2015 after working as an associate legislative affairs director for the Florida League of Cities.

Steverson has been in the $150,000-a-year job since December 2014.

He had previously served as former Gov. Charlie Crist’s environmental policy coordinator and director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District.

Under Steverson, the department has faced criticism from environmentalists on a number of issues, from a sinkhole at the Mosaic Fertilizer phosphate plant near Mulberry to his exploration of using state parks for hunting, cattle grazing and timber production as a way to generate additional revenue. The agency is also being challenged over state water-quality standards that were approved last year and involve new and revised limits on chemicals in waterways.

Steverson, who gave no reason for his pending departure in a letter to Scott, is going to work for Foley & Lardner, one of the outside law firms used by the state in a legal battle with Georgia over water rights involving the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system.

The state has spent $41 million this fiscal year on the case, which Florida filed at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Asked if Floridians should be concerned about the spending on the river fight or Steverson joining Foley & Lardner, Scott said he is “appreciative” of those who work for the state. “But when they have opportunities, they ought to go pursue them,” Scott said.

Steverson’s resignation came three days before Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Jim Boxold announced he also is leaving his $141,001-a-year job on Feb. 3.

Boxold is joining Capital City Consulting’s Tallahassee-based group of lobbyists.

Scott has named Rachel Cone, the Department of Transportation’s assistant secretary for finance and administration, to serve as interim secretary starting Feb. 4.

“It’s hard to be an agency head, sometimes the media is not very nice to them,” Scott replied when then asked if other agency heads may too be leaving for the private sector. “So I think if they’re working hard and they have these opportunities, I’m glad for them.”

The News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner contributed to this report.

(©2017 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.)

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