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Retiring comptroller shows the way to inspire loyalty is to reciprocate it

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By MARTIN DYCKMAN, Times Associate Editor

© St. Petersburg Times
published May 12, 2002


TALLAHASSEE -- Jeb Bush has spent a lot of money on children's services and his fact-finding commission will likely encourage him to spend more. But I doubt that money alone, or any organizational flaw, fully explains why the agency that was supposed to protect kids still couldn't even keep track of them.

For that answer, maybe the governor ought to pass more time with Comptroller Bob Milligan. He needs to do it soon, as Milligan will retire -- again -- in January.

He was a recently retired lieutenant general, whose last command had been of all U.S. Marines in the Pacific, when Tom Slade, the Florida Republican chairman, met him at a party reception at Panama City and recruited him to run for the Cabinet. The next morning, Milligan and his wife had to go to the library to find out what the Cabinet was and what its members did.

"I said, "I think I could do three or four of those positions,' " Milligan said the other day.

I was visiting to discuss his successes in the eight years since, but Milligan quickly steered the conversation away from himself.

"We are blessed, in this department and this state, with some great state employees," he said. "They really do come to work every day to do a job . . . I believe if you give the state employees some good leadership and the support they need to do their jobs, they'll knock your socks off."

Bush would profit by Milligan's example. The governor does not often make state employees feel appreciated. His mantra is privatization. Outside of law enforcement, it would be hard to find any governor's agency employee who feels welcome or secure in the job. The entire Department of Children and Families is scheduled to be privatized by next year. Bush and his legislative allies have messaged unmistakably that state workers are expendable. Fear (as in the school voucher scheme) is the primary motivational factor. Bonuses for some, in lieu of pay raises for all, do not compensate.

This may be what passes for leadership instruction at some business schools and right-wing think tanks, but it's not what they teach at Annapolis, where Milligan graduated, or anywhere else in the U.S. military. From corporal to chief of staff, those who will lead learn that morale matters, that a commander is only as good as the troops, and that the way to inspire their loyalty is to reciprocate it.

In his autobiography, Colin Powell recalls a departing general who, at his farewell parade, commanded his officers to about-face and salute their troops. When I interviewed Milligan, he took it as an opportunity to salute his troops.

* * *

There's a lesson to Florida voters in the French election, but not in the outcome. It has to do with how a extremist like Jean-Marie Le Pen could make it to the finals in the first place. That's the intrinsic peril of a crowded ballot. Had France been using an instant runoff instead, Le Pen would have been left in the dust at the outset because he was hardly anyone's second choice.

Florida could actually elect some extremists this year. The primary runoff is suspended for 2002, a Republican stunt that could hurt everyone if both parties nominate fringe candidates. Meanwhile, minor party activity could make for some odd outcomes in November, where there has never been even a conventional runoff. There are already Libertarian candidates in 66 of the 120 House races. They may not win any, but they could easily be spoilers in some.

To hear the pols here, Florida voters are not smart enough to be trusted with an instant runoff. I doubt, however, that we're any less bright than the people of San Francisco, who recently adopted instant runoffs for their municipal offices, or the voters of some 50 town meetings in Vermont that have called for instant runoffs statewide. Our problem is not dumb voters; it's devious politicians.

CORRECTION: The bigger the boo-boo, the less it seems to be noticed. I left two pending constitutional amendments out of last week's column. Congratulations to Rep. John Carassas, R-Belleair, for being the only person to catch it.

One is SJR 1284, which he and Sen. Jack Latvala sponsored, to require a two-thirds vote for any more bills closing public records or meetings. That's an easy call. Yes, yes, yes!

The other is HJR 833, the sales tax compromise. That's not so easy, as it delegates to a committee what should be the full Legislature's job of repealing sales tax exemptions. Moreover, the committee is unlikely to actually do anything. But as this vote will be a rare opportunity for the voters to express themselves on tax reform, there is hardly any choice but to vote yes.

Neither amendment is on the secretary of state's official list for Nov. 5 because the Senate president and House speaker haven't gotten around to signing them and sending them downstairs.

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