Rick Scott, Emergency Management…and Wal-Mart?

I haven’t made it a secret that I consider the election of Rick Scott as the governor of Florida a disaster.  Still do, until proven otherwise.  But he did one thing last week that I approve of–he made an executive of Wal-Mart the new Director of Emergency Management for the state. 

Now, those who know me know that I have a certain…antipathy toward Wal-Mart.  Antipathy might be too mild.  I won’t shop there, even though I have one around the corner (which is the very problem I speak of).  I’m intimately familiar with their steamroller tactics.  It’s frightening to go up against a juggernaut.  In the end, you can only rely on their sense of decency or fairness, and if they don’t have that sense, then prepare to be crushed.  Thankfully, by the time I and my neighbors were involved in a battle with them, Wal-Mart had started to develop a smidgen of awareness of their, call it, social impact.  You could say that we lost, since there IS a Wal-Mart around the corner, but we “won” 70 something concessions that involved everything from design to operations.  “Winning” is not always getting everything you want.  And during the process, I developed a sort of grudging respect for them, particularly their lawyers. 

During the time of the battle, I read a book called In Sam We Trust, which confirmed a lot of the bad stuff I already thought about them–and that’s what I was looking for at the time–but it gave me a window into a side of Wal-Mart I hadn’t seen or thought of.  They were one of the first to have their own satellite to track their trucks.  This seems commonplace now, but at the time, it was very forward-thinking. 

That brings me to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  Wal-Mart was the first to get to New Orleans with truckloads of bottled water, well before the government got there.  They had a superior and long-standing ability to mobilize quickly.   And by that time, a social conscience big enough to want to help.  And all “help” from corporations is based on profit.  Which is okay–what Wal-Mart recognized is that they were going to lose money any way you l00ked at it, and they could either be the good guys or the bad guys.  They could send in armed teams to protect their stores from looting, or they could send help.  They chose to help their customers, not their stores.  It was a brilliant move.

Of course, they were turned back at the city limits by the National Guard, but that’s Louisiana for you. 

Which brings me to Emergency Management in Florida.  It’s legendary, and that’s well-deserved.  It’s never been more legendary than it was under the leadership of Craig Fugate, who is now the head of FEMA.  His successors haven’t had to deal with the level of disasters he had to deal with, so it’s unfair to say they don’t compare to his ability.

When a new governor is elected in Florida, all agency heads submit a letter of resignation, which the new governor can either accept or reject.  As far as I know, Scott accepted all of the resignation letters, because he thinks that the existing agency heads are part of the problem.  It’s “the old way of doing business”.  It’s “that problem in Tallahassee”.  I think it’s throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  There’s no evaluation going on.  Even President Obama kept George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense. 

But Scott is supremely confident–read, arrogant.  We’ll see.   I expect him to crash and burn.  In fact, I’m pretty sure of it.  Already, the Republican Legislature is saying, Um, we’d like to be his friend, but we don’t see how we can do it. 

Scott already merged the Department of Transportation with the Department of Environmental Protection.  As the political reporter, Bill Cotterell, for the Tallahassee Democrat put it, thereby making one agency responsible both for protecting the environment and paving over it. 

But call it grasping at straws, looking for the silver lining…we are stuck with Rick Scott.  Scott (unless, as I’ve mentioned, he gets indicted for something before he can do much damage), made the selection of a Wal-Mart exec to head Florida’s Emergency Management, and that was a possibly good decision in my opinion.  Assuming the guy shares Wal-Mart’s new conscience, and assuming he has any knowledge or skill related to their ability to mobilize.  Just being from Wal-Mart does not a leader make.


21 responses to “Rick Scott, Emergency Management…and Wal-Mart?

  1. It’s been a busy two weeks, and I’ve missed a lot of your posts. You’re back in high gear, so I have some catching up to do.

    I have never completely shared the common animus towards Walmart. You could definitely argue that Walmart improved the shopping choices in the small towns they entered. Their original locations were on farmland on the small town’s outskirts. The existing stores in those small towns largely sucked, and paid wages as low or lower than Walmart. They often improved a small town’s tax base by keeping shoppers in the town rather than forcing to shop in the nearby larger city.

    Of course Walmart has its faults. Twenty years ago, there was a famous case of Walmart opening stores in Pawhuska and Nowata, Oklahoma. The predictable effect was felt by the small-town businesses – many of them closed. Then perhaps 5-10 years later, Walmart closed both of those small stores and “replaced” them with a Super Store in nearby Bartlesville, midway between the two small towns.

    Today, the nearest Walmart to me is in the small town of Jay, only a 15 minute drive from the Supercenter in Grove. But it remains open and florishing. The criticism was withering when the stores in Pawhuska and Nowata were closed. Perhaps Walmart learned something from that episode.

    I heard a news item the other day about Walmart pledging to sell more healthful groceries, including less expensive fresh produce and store brands with less sodium. Someone made the comment that Walmart has decided it can learn something by listening to its critics, and I believe that we have seen that in recent years. One of their new frontiers is in inner cities, which obviously will require a re-design of their standard sprawling store model. Having conquered rural America, it’s their best chance for growth in America.

    But I digress. If the new Florida emergency management director has some of Walmart’s expertise in logistics and materials distribution, he may be the perfect choice for the job. At least his resume doesn’t list experience as a horse show director as the crowning achievement of his career.

    Rick Scott is the most shocking electoral winner I can recall – ever. Your best chance for getting rid of him is indictment – not an improbable eventuality.

  2. Lol GC–it’s true that I’m back in gear…whether that’s high gear or not remains to be seen 🙂 I did decide to try to wean myself from the RL blog. Unlike you, I haven’t given it up entirely; perhaps I can do so for Lent? (If someone will just tell me when Lent starts.) But it did occur to me that I’m more interesting and diverse, if I do say so myself.
    As for Wal-Mart, they’re a conundrum. A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, as the saying goes. They have made it possible for lower-income people inside the U.S. to afford things they otherwise could not afford, and that is unquestionably a good thing. That’s assuming that you have a job and an income at all, and that Wal-Mart didn’t ship your job to Thailand. Whether Wal-Mart is good or bad is no longer an easy question to answer. Especially as they move into urban areas (as in my case) as you mention. In our case, we mostly lost, but they’ve been hammered in other parts of the country and have indeed learned from that. The Wal-Mart of yesteryear is not the Wal-Mart of today. They’ve changed, not out of the goodness of their hearts, but because it makes business sense. And it’s always nice when business and social awareness coincide.

  3. In our case, Wal-Mart conceded on every single thing we asked for except our request that it not be a 24-hour store. Their concessions cost them money they would not otherwise have spent ( a lot of money in fact), but they recognized that it was in their interests to spend almost whatever it took to be able to have a store there. Whatever they had to spend on the front end would pay off in spades as time passed. I thought that was very smart (there you go with the grudging respect thing).
    A small part, in opinion, was about pride and reputation on their part. They could not afford to have a few tiny neighborhoods in Tallahassee defeat them.

  4. * In “my” opinion.

  5. What does Walmart gain if it gets to build a store its way with no concessions to local wishes, and pisses off half the town in the process such that all those customers shop at Target and boycott Walmart totally? (Like our daughter does.)

    Pride? Arrogance? Yeah – lots of that. They’re Walmart, after all. Who wouldn’t welcome Walmart with open arms and unconditionally? Only some nutty, tree-hugging eco-freaks who aren’t worth listening to – that’s who.

    They started off rural and southern, where towns didn’t have much charm to protect. They ran into lots of buzzsaws in New England. Maybe they have figured out why by now. Pride and arrogance are indeed bad business.

  6. As you know I did not vote for Scott. However I wish him success in meeting his campaign and inaugural promise of downsizing Government and increasing jobs. I can personally attest to the waste of salaries and pensions that have existed in Florida’s Government for decades. I used to joke that I could tell you about an employee’s efficiency by looking at his leave balance i.e. the higher the leave balance the more planning that had to be done to use it and that planning would not occur after 5 pm. (I was only half joking).

    My take on Scott is that he has higher ambitions than Governor so he is going to try for the dramatic image that turning Florida around will give him to move on to the National stage.

    So far his appointments have been pretty good I think. Time will tell. Good that he has Putnam and Bondi to keep him from total despotism. They have already said “no” to his edict of total control over the known universe.

    As for Wal-mart, it is evolution, it has both good and bad impacts on local economies. Good prices for the consumer but it is a job eliminator overall and a low paying employer. I still shop at Publix, cause I am a snob, I feel more comfortable with the clientele. Price isn’t everything. Besides I have to drive past Publix to get to Wal-mart:)

  7. Yesterday after completing an Enterprise Florida Board meeting Scott fired the CEO who was a Bush appointment. He plans to have his office run EFI, OTED, Visit Florida and AWI all with his oversight. That could be a real good move depending on how well he understands what is real and what is BS. EFI was formed under Childs and then Bush and has such a conflicted funding formula it is often ineffectual. SO I give him a solid A on that.

    Now if he could sunset DCA, and DEP, and repeal the business tax Florida would grow quality jobs like crazy.

    • > Now if he could sunset DCA

      Even the new DCA Secretary in a meeting with agency staff (as well as the transition team responsible for DCA) admitted he was surprised that the “growth management” aspect of the department is just a very visible tip of the iceberg. That 90% of the DCA budget has NOTHING to do with growth management.

      It is DCA that administers $300 million of federal hurricane recovery money and almost $100 million of federal Neighborhood Stabilization funds. And some $200 million of stimulus funds. How many folks knew that?

      We don’t need a “growth leadership” agency. Just rescind the Growth Management Act and that portion of DCA folks say is a “job killer” will disappear. Any city or county that wants, on its own, to attempt growth management can.

      The state cannot manage growth. I doubt the local governments can either, or the HomeTown Democracy amendment would not have had enough support to get on the ballot.

  8. pt, I agree, it would be a little crazy to hope Scott fails…as the Republican establishment says so often about Obama. However, I’m very concerned about what kind of jobs those 700,000 jobs he wants to create will be.
    Now, over time, you and I have found that we agree on a surprising number of issues, but now you have shocked me! Are you serious that you think DCA and DEP should be eliminated? I personally think their beleagured (sp?) departments are all that stand between us and the age of the robber barons. Between us and having a Florida that looks like Miami Beach. Between us and the days when the real estate scammers were selling an acre of prime Everglades swampland.

  9. Walmart no longer carries guns in its stores in the New Orleans area. Not sure of the date of their attempt to deliver water but passes were available. We had them and went back and forth routinely after the water receded. Only exception was when Rita was close. They Army closed the area and passes were only valid if you were accompanied.

  10. I guess I never thought about Wal-Mart selling guns. Rifles and shotguns maybe, but now we know they also sold ammo for handguns, if not the guns themselves. At least in Arizona. At “my” Wal-Mart, they can’t sell guns, ammo, liquor, tires, or houseplants. It’s food, clothing, aspirin, and novelties. If you need a pencil or a plastic trash can, Wal-Mart is your place.

  11. “the age of the robber barons.”

    That is a great lead in to my answer to you about growth management. Were they indeed Robber Barons (pejorative) or Captains of Industry (affirmative)?
    Personally I have a high regard for Astor, Carnegie, Rockefeller, Stanford, Plant and Vanderbilt, ………where would America be without their business acumen?

    One of the great things about being retired is I can access what I like in life whenever I wish. One of those things is Neal Cavuto on fox at 4pm. This week on successive days he interviewed the CEOs of Caterpillar and Heinz, (smart smart guys) both growing global companies. They are both creating jobs offshore and at home. Neither are creating jobs in Florida. Why not? Because somebody else made it more attractive to locate new plants in Illinois (OMG) and South Carolina. What we need in Florida is a CEO to go and get those guys to expand in Florida. In order to do that he needs tools in the tool kit. It needs to make “cents.”

    Growth management applies to all companies not just the “bad” ones, and it is onerous to have to obtain permits and approval from multiple agencies. It is the chief complaint of business.

    AND finally my own philosophy is that the only way to manage growth is to manage population which no one has an appetite for.

  12. pt, not familiar with Cavuto–of course that’s the wrong time of day for me. Perhaps I’ll check it out tomorrow, as I’m sick and not going to work. Unless I feel a whole lot better. It may come as a surprise to you that I ever watch Fox 🙂 I admit it’s rare, but I have mostly lost my taste for the talk show in the guise of news format altogether. Probably the person I can stand most is Greta Van Susteren. While she has mostly conservative guests, she doesn’t really let anyone get away with much, yet she is still respectful. In fact, quite by accident, I happened to be watching when Sarah Palin made her now infamous “WTF” comments.
    But back to the topic. I bow to the superior knowledge you and Spencercourt have about the inner workings of state government. But I’ve seen DCA intervene in situations where local government rolled over and played dead, with mostly positive results. Sometimes, however, egregious projects slip through the cracks. Of course permits and regulations are the chief complaint of business. They would like to do whatever they want whenever they want. (See: Wal-Mart, above. Also see: Wall Street.)
    I’ll probably be okay with a lot of projects that create jobs, as long as they aren’t construction jobs. The last thing we need is more building of residential and commercial office developments, when so much is now vacant and/or in foreclosure.
    As for population management, I came up with the ideal solution for that, while having a conversation with my sister about the Chattahootchee-Flint-Appalachicola issue. Limit access to drinking water. That would do the trick, even without a “one-child” policy. (Which makes me very uncomfortable anyway.)

  13. On a side note, I once worked for the State of Tennessee for 8 years, and I imagine it isn’t so different here than it was there. I grew to hate it. They were absolute fanatics about coming to work on time and not leaving early, but didn’t give two hoots about what got accomplished in between. Plus, almost no one would make a decision. Ever. Even the simplest thing. I once had to practically get an Act of Congress to call an exterminator when my work area was overrun by mice.

  14. I simply think that Wal-Mart has the best, most innovative business plan in the world. Had one the prescience to buy 1 share of Wal-Mart on October 19, 1971 when it went public for $47 dollars, one would now be blessed with over 5,000 shares through splits each worth $~56.70 dollars each. They must be doing something right, with their just in time inventory control, their sales mix, their pricing, their displays, and their promotions from within, their rolling warehouses, etc. Much ado is made about how Wal-Mart destroys main street, yet the public is clamoring for their products. What Wal-Mart actually does is cut the fat away and pass along low prices to people who couldn’t afford niceties in the first place. Where else can you get a 40″ LCDTV for $299. Plus, they give jobs a plenty and uplift what would otherwise be impoverished people. Wal-Mart allows for people who couldn’t afford expensive things to get them at a reasonable cost, and that is a good thing. If main street complains, then they should not cry foul, and instead find a way to compete, differentiate themselves from Wal-Mart. Disclosure, I do own WMT common stock.

  15. Jeff, I can’t find much to disagree with you on there, and think I said as much in the body of the post. They are pretty amazing. But you also can’t deny they clawed their way to the top, leaving quite a few bodies in their wake. Recently, they’ve begun to act differently, and as GC noted earlier, it isn’t out of the goodness of their hearts. Somehow there was a turning point (a tipping point? lol), when they began to realize that the NIMBYs they so tried to crush were a) a potential customer base they were alienating, b) the NIMBY’s were starting to attract support. And they changed, which is very, very smart.
    Just one funny story from our Wal-Mart fighting days. Right before the crucial hearing before the Board of Adjustments and Appeals (this was the Board that could say yea or nay, and if yea, what size the store could be), Wal-Mart sent out a very slick, full color brochure with a detachable card you could mail back. The card asked “Would you like to have a Wal-Mart store in your neighborhood?” Underneath it was a box you could check that said, “Yes!”
    At the hearing, they brought in their PR guy for the state of Florida, who did a presentation about what a fabulous response they got (something like 5% of recipients had mailed back their cards, which he claimed was a very high response) and they overwhelmingly said yes.
    So the attorney for the Board said, I notice there is no box to check for “No”. Well, said Mr. PR Guy, they could have written it in. Where? said the attorney–in the margins? There was not a straight face in the room–everybody got it. I almost felt sorry for PR Guy.

  16. While he wasn’t that smart…Wal-Mart had a biology consultant. I gave a presentation about the sensitive environmental issues involved with their plan. When I was done, their biologist stood up and said, “She’s right”. Talk about having your thunder stolen. Now that was smart. He went on to say, it is indeed a sensitive environment, but we can mitigate the damage, and here’s how….How I have grown to loathe that word mitigate. It means, yes, we’re going to do some damage, but it won’t be as bad as it could have been. Meanwhile, four years later, they chased away “my” bats and the bats haven’t come back. I have a bat-free back yard.

  17. By the way, our lawyer advised me not to give that speech to the Board, because, he said, you have no credentials. I won’t say that was bad advice, but, it missed the point that I was not an expert witness in a trial. I was a citizen, speaking out in a public hearing. Nevertheless, I started out by saying “I’m no expert…but I’m a long-time member of the Nature Conservancy and more importantly, I live here”. So maybe it was actually good advice 🙂 Our lawyer was a good guy. But early on, he urged us to give up. He said we would never get a better deal than what Wal-Mart was already offering. But he said that we were his clients, and he would argue our position to the best of his ability, even if he disagreed with it. And he did. At the final hearing, he came in and said, “Can I sit next to you? Because none of your neighbors are speaking to me.”

  18. Our almost-felon governor is already finding that governing – as one branch of a governement – is not the same as giving orders from the CEO chair.

  19. Very true, Moe. I think he’s going to become very frustrated.

    • By the way, re Walmart: I’ve also been pretty anti Walmart – saw the devastation in downtowns after a mega store opened and sucked all hte businesses dry. I hear though that they’re beginning a program to sell local produce insted of shipping it in from a thousand miles away. That’s something interesting; healthier food for thier customers and new life for small farmers.

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