A months-old dispute over how the Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection must be appointed reignited Tuesday night, just hours after Gov. Ron DeSantis named someone to the job.
By promoting interim DEP Secretary Shawn Hamilton to serve in the role permanently, DeSantis broke state law by skipping a necessary step in the appointment process, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried claimed.
Florida Statutes require any DEP Secretary appointment to be approved by both the Governor’s three-member Cabinet, of which Fried is a member, and the Florida Senate.
As such, DeSantis “lacks the legal authority to unilaterally make this appointment,” said Fried, who on Tuesday also filed financial disclosures necessary for her to run for Florida Governor next year.
It’s an issue over which Fried, the only statewide-elected Democrat, and DeSantis clashed in mid-June.
The statute in question reads: “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.”
But DeSantis pointed to a passage in the Florida Constitution granting him power to sidestep that requirement. It reads: “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.”
His interpretation, he said, is approval can come from either the Cabinet or the Senate, but not necessarily both.
“If you actually look at the Constitution, it says either the Cabinet or the Legislature, the Senate,” he said at the time. “The statute says both, but there’s an argument that it conflicts and that it would be one or the other. My sense would be the Legislature would retain their authority rather than give the Cabinet authority, so that would be a live issue potentially, if we end up with a conflict.”
When the last DEP Secretary, Noah Valenstein, was appointed in 2017 under former Gov. Rick Scott, he received full Cabinet approval.
Fried made clear her objection to Hamilton’s appointment wasn’t personal. She noted she had met with him to discuss Florida’s environmental challenges, “including DEP’s failures at Piney Point,” where 215 million gallons of wastewater leaked into Tampa Bay in April.
“I believe him to be a good man and public servant, and he would break the glass ceiling as the first African-American secretary of this agency,” she wrote. “My quarrel is not with him.”
Fried maintained that her objection lays solely with “the alarming increase in (DeSantis’) disregard” for Florida law and the shared governance role of the Cabinet.
“Instead of submitting an appointment in good faith to the Cabinet for a public interview and vote, you chose in June to defensively inject uncertainty into a matter on which state law is clear — just as you choose now to disobey the law and your executive responsibility,” she wrote. “As I said in June, you’re going to have to deal with me and our fellow Cabinet members, if you want this appointment to be approved.”