Florida CFO Jeff Atwater's decision to leave state politics for academia could have a big impact on the Sarasota-Bradenton region.
Atwater announced Feb. 10 that he accepted the position of vice president of strategic initiatives and CFO of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. Atwater, from nearby North Palm Beach, will leave Tallahassee, where he holds an elected cabinet-level position, in May.
The next step is for Gov. Rick Scott to name a replacement CFO, who will hold the position at least until the 2018 election. The new CFO, with oversight of the Office of Insurance Regulation and the Office of Financial Regulation, would join Scott, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Attorney General Pam Bondi in the four-person cabinet.
One possibility for CFO is Lakewood Ranch-based homebuilder Pat Neal, who has an extensive history in state politics: He served in the Florida House from 1974 to 1978 and the Florida Senate from 1978 to 1986. He has since supported numerous conservative candidates and pro-business causes, both in the Sarasota-Bradenton area and Tallahassee.
Neal, with Neal Communities, was interested in the CFO position in early 2014 when Atwater was one of 10 finalists for the then open presidency at FAU. “I've gotten quite a few calls on this,” Neal tells Coffee Talk. “I would be honored if the governor chose me.”
Another possible CFO is State Rep. Joe Gruters, a prominent area Republican elected in November to serve District 73, which covers parts of Sarasota and Manatee counties. An accountant, Gruters has been involved in local, state and federal politics for years. He is a noted friend of Scott, worked for U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key and was an early supporter of President Donald Trump and co-chair of Trump's Florida campaign.
Neal and Gruters have been friends for 20 years, and both speak highly of each other and their respective careers. “I'd love to serve,” Gruters tells Coffee Talk. “It's something no one expected to come up, but it's honor to be mentioned for this with people such as Pat Neal.”
Adds Gruters: “I'm sure the governor will make a great choice.”