If only we could all hit the Florida Lottery as well as the woman who’s been running it.
Cynthia O’Connell acted as though being Lottery Secretary was a kind of jackpot. Last year, she took nine weeks of vacation from her $141,000 job. She also charged nearly $30,000 in subsidized travel and ran up late fees on her Lottery credit card at department stores, grocery stores, hair salons, car washes and the dentist.
She announced her resignation on Aug. 28, just before the Lottery released her credit card records to the Associated Press. Her tenure will be remembered here chiefly for the scandal exposed by The Palm Beach Post in which retailers were illegally cashing in winning tickets to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars – and Lottery officials basically shrugged.
Was Gov. Rick Scott outraged or disappointed by his appointee’s term in office?
Anything but. “Cynthia has been part of my team since my first year in office and she has done a tremendous job serving Florida families,” Scott said.
Accolades like this are nothing new for Scott. The governor who sees himself as Jobs Creator-in-Chief seems awfully obtuse when it comes to the hiring part of his job. He has a habit of appointing problem employees to top offices and demanding too little of their ethics, so long as they agree with his ideology.
There was his lieutenant governor, Jennifer Carroll, who resigned in 2013 after her ties surfaced with Allied Veterans of the World. The Internet sweepstakes company ran a quasi-gambling operation, and had paid her $6,000 a month for public relations while she was a member of the Florida House.
There was Tony Bennett, the education chief whom Scott brought in from Indiana, where he’d built a reputation for promising to hold struggling schools accountable. Until it emerged that his team had frantically scrambled Indiana’s grading system to prevent a charter school run by a prominent Republican donor from getting a C.
There was Chief of Staff Steve MacNamara, who quit his $189,000-a-year post in 2012 after a week of news reports that he’d steered no-bid contracts to friends and interfered in staff decisions throughout state government.
There was Hunting Deutsch, Scott’s hand-picked jobs czar, who quit in 2012 following reports that, for 20 months after losing his job as a bank executive, he collected a $275-a-week unemployment benefits check. He used some of the time off to travel to Europe, though state law requires recipients to be available for work – a terrible example to set when many people in Florida were in serious financial straits and dependent on unemployment checks to keep food on the table.
In all these cases, as in others too numerous to name here, Scott appeared satisfied with the officials’ job performance — until media reports of their dubious behavior created those familiar “distractions.” As in: “I don’t want to be a distraction from the governor’s great agenda, so I’m stepping down,” said [fill in the name].
In one case, however, Scott did take an active role in ousting a prominent state official. This was Gerald Bailey, Florida Department of Law Enforcement commissioner. Bailey said he was pressured by the Scott administration to politicize the FDLE, such as to help in shaping Scott’s re-election campaign’s law enforcement platform. Bailey refused, and was abruptly forced out of office last December.
In other words, the sure-fire way to lose the governor’s good graces is to show integrity.
This may be why, after almost five years in the governor’s mansion, despite an improving economy, Scott has never received a job approval rating of over 45 percent.
We hope this is the end. But at this rate, the odds appear better than winning a $1 Quick Bucks scratch-off ticket that O’Connell won’t be the last Scott appointee to resign under a cloud.