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Newly Installed Florida Prison Chief Sacked

by David M. Reutter

After campaigning on a theme of reeling in wasteful spending, Rick Scott wasted no time as governor in tapping Edwin Buss as Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC). At the time, Buss was Indiana’s Commissioner of Corrections. Along with his experience in reducing recidivism, lowering sentences, and cutting costs, Buss brought with him more than a dozen staffers.

The initial moves by Buss to streamline FDOC’s operations and to make it more effective in preparing prisoners to be productive upon release were a big hit with Scott. FDOC staff lost positions when Buss cut the number of regional offices in half to create northern and southern regions. He also pushed for the implementation of re-entry programs.

Trouble began brewing with a legislative budget provision that required FDOC to privatize 29 prisons in its southern region. The Florida Police Benevolence Association, the guard’s union, quickly filed suit to declare the provision illegal.

Despite being a nationally recognized expert on prison privatization, not a single lawmaker consulted with Buss on that plan before it was passed. He was asked to sign off on a “business case” created by Senate and House staff, who also worked in Scott’s office, while Buss was out of town.

Nonetheless, J.D. Alexander, the senate budget committee chairman who inserted the provision into FDOC’s budget appropriation, faulted Buss for creating the flimsy business case. Buss’ fortunes fell even farther when he supported the guards’ union lawsuit and questioned the wisdom of the privatization plan.

In August, Scott fired Buss. The sacking came over “differences in philosophy and management styles arose, which made the separation in the best interests of the state.” There were also several high profile decisions that Scott felt should have been run by him first. [See: PLN, Feb. 2012, p.1].

To fill the vacancy, Kenneth S. Tucker, a 28-year veteran of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, was appointed FDOC Secretary on August 24, 2011. Buss remained on FDOC’s payroll until September 2011 to assist in the transition. That left Buss’ staff in a lurch.

It was not long before Daniel Ronay, the FDOC’s Chief of Staff, was pushed to leave. “I came to Florida committed to being a member of Governor Scott’s administration and assisting in leading the Florida Department of Corrections toward efficiency and success,” stated Ronay’s October 6, 2011 resignation letter. “Circumstances are such that I am unable to continue in that role.”

Resigning from a $120,000 job he took only six months before was not Ronay’s choice. “I was told I was too loyal to Ed [Buss],” he said. “And I submitted my resignation after being told to ... Florida just wasn’t a good fit, I guess.” Ronay stayed on the FDOC payroll until November 1 to use his earned leave time.

Buss was replaced as FDOC Secretary by Kenneth S. Tucker, who previously served as the deputy commissioner for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Sources: Miami Herald, Tampa Tribune, Orlando Sentinel, St. Petersburg Times

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