Editorial: Insider dealing exposed at the secretive DEP

Torreya State Park clearing

It would be one thing to write off the latest mismanagement of the state park system as just another half-baked idea from the Department of Environmental Protection. But the DEP’s decision to cancel a no-bid contract and the sudden resignation of the state lands director reflect deeper problems that have plagued this agency under Gov. Rick Scott, from the wrong priorities and an obsession with secrecy to a warped notion of why the parks exist.

For the second time in two years, as the Tampa Bay Times’ Craig Pittman and Steve Bousquet reported this week, the boss of the lands division has quit in the midst of an embarrassing lapse of judgment. Division director Kelley Boree quit after the Times had been asking the DEP for the past month about a $500,000, sole-source contract awarded to a company founded by another DEP employee (who no longer works at the agency) and her husband. As the Times awaited answers, the DEP canceled the contract, and Boree’s resignation came the next day. What a coincidence.

The contract with Forestech called for the company to survey timber in the park system and to evaluate what could be harvested and sold. The idea stemmed from Secretary Jon Steverson’s wrongheaded idea to make the parks pay for themselves by opening them up to cattle grazing, timber harvesting and other unsuitable moneymaking schemes.

Steverson used the company several years ago when he ran the Northwest Florida Water Management District. According to Boree, Steverson is the one who wanted an outside firm to review the timber stock rather than use state employees as had been done previously. While Boree and the DEP said that Steverson was not involved in drawing up the contract, two legal reviews of the matter gave it a clean legal bill of health but questioned “communications around the agreement,” a DEP spokeswoman said. The DEP would not elaborate or disclose whether Boree’s resignation was related.

It’s almost as if the public needs a monitoring commission to get anything from DEP. While the agency canceled the contract and announced it would be sent out for bid, it still won’t explain why it voided the contract or why another senior executive left the agency overnight. Nor has the DEP explained why it sought a private company to examine the timber stock when the state — in the past — went the cheaper route by using its staff foresters for such an assignment […]