TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott is expanding the state's new “no bonuses” mantra.
Scott has advised the agency Volunteer Florida that he wants it to emulate recent decisions by Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida to eliminate bonuses for staff members.
In a letter addressing his concerns to Volunteer Florida Chair Sarah “Sam” Seevers, Scott put emphasis on a $12,163 bonus that went to former Chief Executive Officer Chester Spellman in July.
“As a former business owner, I know the importance of fair compensation for employees,” Scott wrote. “However, I do not believe that Volunteer Florida employee compensation should include bonuses.”
“I believe it is vital that all taxpayer and private money Volunteer Florida receives be spent solely to implement its mission of helping Florida's communities,” Scott added.
Volunteer Florida CEO Vivian Myrtetus, who succeeded Spellman, said in a statement that the agency, which handles more than $32 million annually in federal, state and local funding, continually reviews its policies.
“While we have made significant progress in increasing transparency and accountability, we will continue to review and enhance agency policies so that we operate at the highest standards,” Myrtetus said.
Spellman, who had led the agency Volunteer Florida since 2012, was appointed in August by the White House as director of AmeriCorps.
At the time, Scott in a release wished Spellman “the best of luck as he continues to build on his commitment to serving families and communities.”
The agency distributed $32,965 in bonuses in 2016 and $15,695 in 2015. The overwhelming majority of the 2016 bonuses were between $800 and $900, while in 2015 most of the bonus payments were $519.68.
Spellman, who received mid-year bonuses of $7,424 in 2015 and $12,785 in 2016, also received an end-of-year bonus nearly equal to other employees each of the past two years.
Scott, in calling this year's payment to Spellman “large,” pointed to legislation (HB 1A) passed in June that established new accountability requirements for tourism-marketer Visit Florida and business-recruiter Enterprise Florida.
“I ask that Volunteer Florida follow these same practices,” Scott advised Seevers, while acknowledging that the bonus program “has recently come to my attention.”
This month, the Enterprise Florida Executive Committee approved $118,000 in raises for 16 upper-level and mid-level employees as a replacement for a controversial bonus program.
The pay increases were seen by committee members as a way to maintain Enterprise Florida without causing an exodus of employees. The public-private agency has faced heavy scrutiny during the past year, with House leaders even seeking to eliminate it.
Last October, Enterprise Florida handed out $448,662 in bonuses to 57 employees.
In 2015, with up to $765,000 in bonuses being offered, then-President Bill Johnson received $50,000, half of what he could have received, despite being on the job for just six months.
In August, Scott sent a letter to members of the boards of directors at Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida outlining his opposition to employee bonuses.
“Employees are the key to success in any organization,” Scott, who serves as chairman of Enterprise Florida board, said in the letter. “But, after a long legislative session where the spending at these organizations was greatly debated, I do not believe that employee compensation should include bonuses at this time.”
Visit Florida, which gave out $440,915 in bonuses to 119 employees in May, has announced it ended the bonus program.