Florida CFO to top financial regulator: 'I no longer have confidence in your ability to lead'

Posted May 5, 2018 12:07 p.m. EDT

TALLAHASSEE -- Florida's Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis says there are problems in the Office of Financial Regulation.

Patronis wrote the OFR's commissioner, Drew Breakspear, on Thursday to tell him that he is prepared to seek a change at the top of the agency.

"I no longer have confidence in your ability to lead the Office of Financial Regulation," Patronis wrote. "Should there be a change in leadership, I am prepared to recommend an interim commissioner to ensure continuity of operations."

The OFR regulates many financial institutions and the securities industry and also oversees such businesses as check-cashing stores and payday loans.

Patronis will seek election in 2018. He's running against Democrat Jeremy Ring.

Gov. Rick Scott has long wanted to get rid of Breakspear, a former banker appointed by Scott and the Cabinet in 2012.

Breakspear was one of three agency heads that Scott said in 2015 he wanted to replace, without giving a reason.

But Scott couldn't do it without a vote by the Cabinet, then made up of Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Attorney General Pam Bondi and then-CFO Jeff Atwater.

The Cabinet members resisted, especially Atwater, who said he wouldn't support the move without a formal process.

Just months earlier, Scott went around their backs to get rid of then-Florida Department of Law Enforcement commissioner Gerald Bailey, triggering concerns that the state's public meeting law had been violated.

Last year, Atwater resigned, and Scott appointed an ally, Patronis, to replace him.

With Patronis, Scott might have the votes to get rid of Breakspear.

In the letter, Patronis mentioned "concerns over the lack of cooperation, responsiveness, and communication" between the office and the community served by the agency.

Breakspear said in a statement that he's never talked with Patronis about the issues in his letter.

"I have since reached out to him and look forward to discussing his letter with him soon," Breakspear said in the statement. "I will reserve making further comment until such time as we have had this discussion."

Jon Moore, a spokesman in the CFO's office did not provide specifics about the incidents Patronis referenced. But he said that Patronis intends to discuss his issues with Breakspear at the May 15 Cabinet meeting.

"The letter speaks for itself, and we are going to be highlighting the issues and any of the ongoing conversations in the sunshine," Moore said.

Breakspear has been an outspoken supporter of the payday loan industry.

His absence would not be mourned by Alice Vickers, head of the Florida Alliance for Consumer Protection.

"He never reached out to our community, and he never seemed to have a concern for consumers," said Vickers.

She said past commissioners, or their aides, used to reach out to consumer organizations for input.

"We were not particularly pleased with his tenure," Vickers said.