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Fried Weighs Action Over Environmental Appointment

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said Tuesday she might have to consider legal action over Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decision to unilaterally appoint a new Department of Environmental Protection secretary.

But first, she wants to give the governor another chance to put the issue before the state Cabinet. Fried said DeSantis appeared unaware that her request to discuss his appointment of Shawn Hamilton as the Department of Environmental Protection secretary wasn’t on the agenda for a Cabinet meeting Tuesday. The governor’s office sets the agenda.

“Let's see if he does it,” Fried said after Tuesday’s meeting. “Certainly, we are in the interim going to be looking at other options, including, like I said, challenges to any actions that may be taken during this period of time.”

Fried objected to the appointment during Tuesday’s meeting before a presentation by Department of Revenue Executive Director Jim Zingale. DeSantis said to Fried, “so, you don’t approve.”

When Fried said there was no agenda item to vote on, DeSantis advanced the meeting to Zingale. The governor’s office acknowledged at a Cabinet aides’ meeting last week that Fried’s request was received and the issue wasn’t on the agenda.

The next Cabinet meeting is scheduled for Oct. 26. DeSantis on Sept. 1 appointed Hamilton without seeking approval from the Cabinet, as had been the practice in the past. DeSantis suggested in June that the position is an “executive appointment,” and he intended to simply seek approval from the Legislature, as is done with many other agency heads.

Fried, a Democrat running to try to unseat the Republican governor in 2022, disputes that DeSantis had the legal authority to make the appointment without Cabinet approval.

Part of state law about the creation of the Department of Environmental Protection says: “The head of the Department of Environmental Protection shall be a secretary, who shall be appointed by the Governor, with the concurrence of three members of the Cabinet. The secretary shall be confirmed by the Florida Senate. The secretary shall serve at the pleasure of the Governor.”

But the governor’s office has based its stance on part of the state Constitution dealing with executive departments. That part of the Constitution says: “When provided by law, confirmation by the Senate or the approval of three members of the Cabinet shall be required for appointment to or removal from any designated statutory office.”

News Service of Florida