By BRUCE RITCHIE
The Florida Cabinet will conduct a nationwide search for the Department of Environmental Protection secretary following the Senate’s refusal to confirm appointments during the 2015 legislative session.
Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet on Tuesday voted to reappoin DEP Secretary Jon Steverson and Rick Swearingen as director of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Both require Cabinet support.
“If you have ideas bring them,” Scott told Cabinet members. “We’ll do this search and then come back at the June 23 Cabinet meeting with the goal that we will have qualified candidates and we’ll make a decision to permanently fill these two roles.”
Scott reappointed Steverson and Swearingen along with another 14 agency chiefs who are not Cabinet appointees and also were not confirmed by the Senate.
The Cabinet on Tuesday also approved the first aquaculture leases in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.
Regarding the confirmations, Senate President Andy Gardiner issued a statement on Monday saying that the confirmation process should “be more than a simple rubber stamp.”
“Towards the end of session, I heard from many senators who were not satisfied with some of the answers provided or still had some outstanding questions for several agency heads,” Gardiner said.
On Tuesday, the Cabinet set a May 31 deadline for applications for the DEP and FDLE posts. The search will follow Cabinet governance guidelines adopted earlier this year after the controversial ouster of FDLE Director Gerald Bailey.
Any resumes will be shared among Cabinet members with the goal of filling the positions at the June 23 meeting, Scott said.
Asked through a DEP spokeswoman whether he plans to apply for the permanent position, Steverson didn’t answer directly but said he will respect the process laid out by the Cabinet.
“My focus has not changed, which is to protect Florida’s natural treasures and serve the people of this great state,” Steverson said.
Scott said it would be up to individual Cabinet members to decide whether they want interview applicants individually.
Also Tuesday, the Cabinet approved without comment 10-year leases for floating oyster cultivation in two five-acre parcels in Escambia Bay and East Bay near Pensacola.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has determined the leases will not harm sea grass or other sensitive habitats.
Pensacola Bay Oyster Co. LLC, which won the leases, also must get a permit from the U. S. Coast Guard, which reviews the request for factors related to navigation and boater safety, state agriculture officials said.
“This marks the first one in Pensacola Bay — the beginning of the potential new industry in Northwest Florida making the most of our fantastic natural resources,” Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said.
“It’s new, it’s innovative,” Attorney General Pam Bondi said. “It’s a great way to use waters that aren’t navigable.”
(Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained from bruceBritchie@gmail.com.)