tampabay.com

Next House speaker begins housecleaning

By ALEX LEARY
Published October 13, 2006


TALLAHASSEE - A month before he assumes power as speaker of the Florida House, Miami Republican Marco Rubio is distributing pink slips to some longtime House staffers.

As many as 10 House staff members, some with decades of experience, have been notified they may not have a job when Rubio takes over in November.

Some of the decisions were made at the start of the week, giving way to a term around Tallahassee: "Black Monday."

The full list of names could not be ascertained Thursday, but Rubio's spokesman, Jose Fuentes, confirmed staffers were being notified.

The employees were brought into a room and informed by Bob Ward, chief of staff to current Speaker Allan Bense.

Fuentes was quick to add that the staff members were just being put on notice of the possibility of losing their jobs and that it could change in a month.

"They weren't told with 100 percent certainty that there's not going to be a role for them in the next administration," Fuentes said.

If terminated, they would get 60 days' leave, allowing each up to three months to find a new job while still being paid.

"Every two years the Florida House goes through an entire makeover as determined by the incoming speaker. This is part of that process," said Bense's spokesman, Towson Fraser.

He said Rubio has been more accommodating than some other speakers. In 1994, Speaker Peter Rudy Wallace, D-St. Petersburg, fired 17 employees around Christmas as part of a plan to make the House more businesslike. Some of the employees referred to it as a bloodbath.

The personnel changes are only part of Rubio's designs for the House.

He has already spent nearly $400,000 for renovations to move some offices and create new ones, part of his plan to "decentralize" the power of his office.

Among the changes: Rubio has moved the clerk and sergeant-at-arms on the fourth floor of the Capitol to the fifth floor, space once occupied by the House rules and calendar council.

The council is moving to the 12th floor. He also wants to bring budget and policy committees together, saying they would work better in closer quarters.

Times staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. Alex Leary can be reached at aleary@sptimes.com.