DOC Chief Ed Buss Resigns by Paul Flemming

Posted: August 29, 2011 in News and politics

Department of Corrections Secretary Ed Buss, heralded as a coup for Florida when Gov. Rick Scott lured him away from Indiana, resigned Wednesday after six months on the job in what was characterized as a difference in philosophy.

Gov. Rick Scott announced an interim secretary, Ken Tucker, who had been deputy commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, would take over the state’s biggest agency with more than 28,000 employees and more than 100,000 inmates behind bars.

Buss’s departure comes amid huge change at the department, under legislative direction to undertake the nation’s largest prison-privatization effort in 18 South Florida counties and a Scott charge to privatize health care for the huge system. Both efforts have hit snags in recent weeks.

Matt Puckett, executive director of the Florida Police Benevolent Association that represents corrections officers, said he was shocked and saddened by Buss’ resignation. The PBA has opposed Scott and legislative policies ā€” it’s sued to challenge the prison privatization and joined a lawsuit to block mandatory retirement contributions of public employees ā€” but had a good relationship with Buss.

“Ed Buss had the right vision for the department,” Puckett said. “People should be allowed to make a mistake.”

In recent weeks Buss and the department have had a run of bad press.

Two weeks ago, emails revealed the prison privatization effort would cost an additional $25 million in state-worker separation costs that lawmakers had not accounted for when they passed the plan in the spring.

Last week, bids for providing health services to prison inmates were withdrawn. The St. Petersburg Times reported the contractor hired by Buss raised conflict-of-interest issues with Scott’s staff, and her contract was ended early. Scott’s staff nixed a separate Buss-approved contract with a cable-television show to film in a Santa Rosa County private prison, the Palm Beach Post reported.

Puckett said the privatization efforts are a challenge. Language in the state budget calls for a privatization plan to be presented to lawmakers by Dec. 1 and the private company in place by Jan. 1. The privatization of prisons with more than 3,800 state employees is projected to save $11 million a year.

“The first thing they do is hand him these privatization deals,” Puckett said of the proposals his group opposes. “Talk about setting a guy up for failure.”

A statement from the governor’s office Wednesday said “differences in philosophy and management styles arose which made the separation in the best interests of the state.”

Buss had led Indiana’s prison system before the first-term Scott hired him to run Florida’s huge corrections system. He started work as secretary in mid-February.

In his resignation letter, Buss gave no indication of what led to his departure.

“I will make myself available to you and my replacement to make sure that there is a smooth transition,” Buss wrote. “I greatly appreciate the opportunity you gave me to serve.”

Buss was a highlighted hire of Scott’s transition to a new administration when he was lured away from Indiana where he had built a national reputation for cost control and corrections reform.

“Congratulations on bringing him to Tallahassee,” said Michael Thompson, director of the Council of State Governments Justice Center, at the time. “Florida won the Buss sweepstakes.”

Now the department will be led by Tucker who has been FDLE’s deputy commissioner since 2006. He’s been in law enforcement for 34 years and, before that, was in the military for three years.

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