CRESTVIEW – Gov. Rick Scott didn’t completely rule out Monday that he might yet formulate some sort of reprimand for Okaloosa County School Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson.
He acknowledged receiving correspondence from county residents asking for Jackson to be removed from office in the wake of a scandal that has resulted in child abuse-related arrests of four employees, including her deputy superintendent of human resources.
“We’re going through it. We want to make sure we get all of the right information,” Scott said.
Scott also would have access to two grand jury reports generated following investigations into the school district’s operations, policies and procedures. Both questioned Jackson’s ability to lead a controversy-ridden district.
The grand jury recommended the Florida Department of Education review Jackson’s behavior, lack of leadership, and failure to fulfill her obligations as superintendent and take appropriate action. Scott, however, is the only person with the authority to remove an elected school superintendent from office.
Okaloosa County’s troubled school district obviously wasn’t a high priority for Scott on Monday. He was in Crestview politicking for a U.S. Senate seat, and visited the Hub City Smokehouse and Grill to energize supporters from the area of the state he always acknowledges as crucial to both of his successful gubernatorial campaigns.
“I won my two races because of the Panhandle,” he told a cheering group of local dignitaries and diners.
Scott was keen to announce that Florida’s crime rate was presently at a 47-year low and that unemployment had dropped in his two-term tenure as governor from 8 percent to 3 percent. The governor also promised to fight in the Senate for federal term limits and criticized his incumbent opponent, Sen. Bill Nelson, by claiming Nelson had voted more than 300 times to raise taxes.
He spoke of cutting Florida's taxes and reducing the state’s debt and when asked about Jackson he slipped smoothly into a discussion of the importance of taking care of kids and the steps he’s made as governor to improve K-12 education.
U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz and state Rep. Mel Ponder were in attendance at the Hub City Smokehouse and Grill as were Okaloosa County commissioners Graham Fountain and Carolyn Ketchel. Crestview Mayor David Cadle was also present.
Restaurant owner Mike Carroll was given a brief moment to greet the assemblage and commented that with “so many important people” in the room he felt better thanking his hard working staff than trying to name all the dignitaries.
“I think it’s great, I wish I had a bigger place,” Carroll said as he watched his diner fill before the governor arrived. “This is a pretty good turnout for a small place.”
Scott didn't stay for lunch. His staff said the candidate, who claimed to have visited 60 Florida counties during this campaign, was on a tight schedule. The only reporter seeking to ask questions was granted just one.