Miami Herald / Tampa Bay Times // Mary Ellen Klas
Before Gov. Rick Scott named Taylor Teepell to be the finance director of the New Republican Super PAC, the governor gave him a $110,000 job in Florida government for which he had no experience.
For 14 months, the Louisiana native served in a top position in the Department of Economic Opportunity — as head of growth management oversight in Florida. When he left in May, he had been given a raise — to $116,561— nearly three times the average state worker salary.
Teepell, 34, had spent a decade working as a Republican political operative and was campaign manager for former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s campaign for president. He had worked in the executive offices of Jindal and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, and worked campaigns in Louisiana and Mississippi.
Teepell was also close with Scott’s former campaign manager, Melissa Sellers Stone, but he had no experience in development or land planning — which the director of the Division of Community Development oversees.
After Jindal’s five-month campaign ended in November 2015, Teepell needed a job. He moved to Tallahassee, rented a townhouse from former Scott legislative affairs director Jon Costello and applied to head the division charged with fostering “economic development and planning in the state’s rural and urban communities.”
Teepell filled out the standard application for the DEO job on Feb. 9, 2016 but left most of it blank. Instead, he referred to a two-page resume that listed 10 years working in political jobs and one year as marketing director at a Colorado printing company.
According to Teepell’s LinkedIn page, he was “responsible for state level review of land use and planning issues of Florida communities, including, but not limited to, comprehensive plans and amendments, future land use maps, DRI’s and other land use issues.”
Teepell referred questions about his employment to Stone, who is both the executive director of the New Republican super-pac and Scott’s Let’s Get to Work political committee. Scott is widely expected to announce his campaign for U.S. Senate next year.
“I’m sure Melissa and the governor had a reason,” Teepell said.
Scott spokesman John Tupps defended Teepell’s hiring, emphasizing the three years he spent on Jindal’s executive staff and the one year on Barbour’s.
“Prior to being hired at DEO, Taylor had years of government experience serving in senior roles for two governors including deputy chief of staff and deputy legislative affairs director under Gov. Bobby Jindal, and energy and environment policy adviser to Gov. Haley Barbour,” Tupps said.
The idea that Scott would name someone with no planning experience to head the department in charge of serving as the state watchdog over local government regulation of developers was “very surprising” but not out of character for the governor, said Ryan Smart, president of 1000 Friends of Florida, the non-profit growth management advocacy group.
One of the first jobs Scott did when he was elected in 2011 was to dismantle the Department of Community Affairs, the state agency created by former Democratic Gov. Bob Graham and streamlined by former GOP Governors Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist. The agency was designed to provide a layer of oversight and assistance as local governments review large and small land use changes that would impact a region for decades into the future.
Although Florida’s economy soared under Graham and Bush in an era of robust state planning oversight, “growth management became a bogeyman during the recession,” Smart said. By eliminating the rigorous review, “DEO has become a rubber stamp for development proposals.”
During a January meeting of the Senate Community Affairs Committee, DEO Secretary Cissy Proctor announced that since the state’s growth management program was downsized in 2011, the state has objected to fewer than 20 local comprehensive plans, compared to the previous years of more than 200 which were often rejected because of the impact on roads, water or schools.
“Our goal is not to object or comment if we can work through those issues,” Proctor said.
When Teepell got the job, he was elevated over Julie Dennis, who was then named “executive staff director” and served as his top deputy. In contrast to Teepell, Dennis had a decade of community planning experience and a masters degree in urban and regional planning.
Dennis was named to lead the division in February when Teepell was given a new title, director of executive projects and a more than $6,500 raise. His LinkedIn page says the role was to “create and implement effective solutions to complex issues impacting the economic vitality of Floridians.”
When it comes to political advice, Scott has relied heavily on Louisiana experts to advance his career. In 2011, he tapped Stone as his communications director and in 2014 named her campaign manager for his re-election bid.
Sellers was a transplant from Louisiana, where she had worked with Jindal. Taylor Teepell’s brother, Timmy, was Jindal’s chief political adviser. She was not the only Louisianan to work in Scott’s campaign and subsequently his administration. Frank and Meghan Collins came, too. Frank is director of policy at the Florida Department of Transportation, and his wife, Meghan, is director of communications at the Department of Education.
The three were once referred to by FDLE agents as the “Louisiana Mafia” for their heavy-handed demands that state police provide transportation for Scott campaign workers during the governor’s 2014 re-election campaign.
Timmy Teepell left Jindal’s office after the 2011 election and started the Baton Rouge office of OnMessage, the Maryland political consulting firm led by Curt Anderson, now Scott’s chief strategist.
Taylor Teepell was hired to be Jindal’s deputy for legislative affairs and, subsequently, deputy chief of staff. In March 2015, Jindal announced he was running for president and then assigned Taylor Teepell and his legislative affairs director, Matt Parker, to Iowa to operate the campaign.
Parker is Timmy Teepell’s brother-in-law, but he also has a Rick Scott connection. He left Louisiana to work as Scott’s field director on his 2010 campaign. In 2016, Parker came back to Florida and served as campaign manager for Carlos Beruff’s short-lived campaign for U.S. Senate.
The New Republican super-pac was founded by Republican strategist Alex Castellanos, who will serve as the pac’s senior adviser. Stone is the executive director; Teepell is finance director and Volusia County developer Mori Hosseini serves as the treasurer. Scott announced the pac at an invitation-only dinner with Washington, D.C., reporters in May.
In amended organization documents filed with the Federal Elections Commission, it states that the committee will raise contributions in unlimited amounts and “will not use those funds to make contributions, whether direct, in-kind, or via coordinated communications, to federal candidates or committees.”
According to the PAC website, one of the goals of the New Republican committee is a focus on candidates that support deregulation.
“In Florida we have cut taxes many times, and that has been important, but deregulation is what has really made our economy take off,” the web site says. “We will aggressively back the president’s push to take the leg irons off of this economy and reinvent government.”