Pete Antonacci, a water-management district leader who once served as general counsel for Gov. Rick Scott, was formally named Monday as president of the business-recruitment agency Enterprise Florida.
The public-private agency's board of directors, chaired by Scott, unanimously accepted the recommendation of its executive committee to appoint Antonacci as president and CEO.
Antonacci most recently has worked as executive director of the South Florida Water Management District, after a stint as Scott's top lawyer.
Scott, during a teleconference meeting Monday, called Antonacci “unbelievably helpful” as his general counsel.
“In this role, he will be somebody that will work with all of us,” Scott said. “He will clearly help get deals done.”
Antonacci will be paid $165,000 a year, the amount he received when he started at the water management district in 2015. The water management district will have to quickly find a replacement, as Antonacci's first day on the new job is slated for Aug. 2.
After the recommendation last week from the executive committee, Democrats blasted the selection, calling Antonacci an “unqualified political crony” of Scott.
Rather than undertaking a search for a new leader, Antonacci's selection was proposed Wednesday by Enterprise Florida Vice Chairman Stan Connally, who is also chairman, president and CEO of Gulf Power.
Connally on Monday noted that Antonacci may not be experienced in business-recruitment but that the water-management district executive director is a “quick study.”
“Certainly, this is not an area he has worked directly in, but (he) certainly is familiar and knows our state and knows how to sell our state,” Connally said. “He will come up to speed very fast. I'm confident in that.”
There were few other comments during the meeting.
Enterprise Florida has been working under interim director Mike Grissom since March, following the abrupt departure of Chris Hart from the top position. Grissom is expected to remain with Enterprise Florida.
Hart, the former leader of CareerSource Florida, was hired in November as president and CEO of Enterprise Florida but left the position in March.
Hart pointed to a difference of opinion with Scott on the future of the agency at a time when House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, was pushing to eliminate Enterprise Florida.
Scott and Corcoran battled for months about the future of Enterprise Florida, with the House blocking Scott's request for $85 million for business incentives. Lawmakers eventually reached a compromise by creating an $85 million funding pool for infrastructure projects and job training that could boost economic development.
Antonacci has a long history with Scott.
In March 2012, Scott appointed Antonacci to complete the term of Palm Beach County State Attorney Michael McAuliffe, who had left for a job in the private sector. After Dave Aronberg was elected to the job later that year Antonacci took the job as Scott's general counsel.
Antonacci served as Scott's general counsel from January 2013 until early 2015.
Before exiting the governor's office, Antonacci was embroiled in the controversial removal of then-Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey.
The governor's office maintained that Antonacci advised Bailey that the governor wanted new leadership at FDLE and requested the resignation. Bailey left the job later the same day.
The Bailey ouster led to questions about whether Cabinet aides improperly discussed the issue behind the scenes and resulted in changes in the way Scott and the three Cabinet members --- then-Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam --- handled the hiring and firing of certain agency heads.
Between working for the governor and water management district, Antonacci worked as a registered lobbyist with the law firm GrayRobinson.