Sunny-day flooding caused by higher sea level along Brickell Avenue in downtown Miami. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
For the first time in one year and nine months, Florida will have a full-time chief resilience officer, responsible for the state’s response to rising sea levels and other consequences of climate change.
Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday announced that he has selected Wesley Brooks for the role, along with new leaders for the departments of Corrections, Juvenile Justice, and Elder Affairs. The appointments will take effect in the coming weeks, according to a news release.
The governor had appointed Julia Nesheiwat as chief resilience officer in August 2019 but she left after only six months.
The new resilience officer has been director of federal affairs in the state Department of Environmental Protection and was an aide to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio who has worked on initiatives in clean water, Everglades restoration, and coral reef conservation, according to the news release.
The nonprofit Everglades Foundation released a statement from CEO Eric Eikenberg, applauding the appointment and saying: “As a peninsula with 1,350 miles of coastline and a very unique environment in almost every region of the state, Florida is and will be facing impacts from sea level rise that will present a challenge for our state, and Dr. Brooks is well qualified to lead us in preparing for these challenges.
“With a doctorate in ecology, and an expertise in Everglades science and policy, coupled with his experience working in government, Dr. Brooks is an excellent choice for this important position.”
The announcements come as DeSantis is getting close to the end of his gubernatorial term. He is now campaigning for reelection.
The new Corrections secretary is Ricky Dixon, who has spent 15 years in the agency including six years as deputy secretary. He replaces Mark Inch, who has retired and has been vocal about the challenges in Florida’s state prison system.
In a Florida Phoenix story in February, Inch “warned that the system is woefully understaffed and could erupt in violence as tensions mount. Inch didn’t mince words, using language such as ‘collapse’ and ‘crisis.'”
And in September, then-deputy secretary Dixon told lawmakers that low staff wages have been a major reason that correctional facilities aren’t able to maintain adequate staff levels. That said, Florida’s correctional system has made some efforts to incentivize staff members, such as offering bonuses.
Eric Hall will lead Juvenile Justice. Previously, he served as a chancellor within the state Department of Education, overseeing the public schools, community colleges, career and adult education, vocational rehabilitation, blind services, and the offices of Safe Schools and Early Learning and was instrumental in the department’s response to COVID-19. He replaces interim secretary Josie Tamayo, who will serve the DeSantis administration in another capacity, according the governor’s press office.
The new Elder Affairs secretary is Michelle Branham, formerly vice president for public policy for the Florida Alzheimer’s Association, chair of the Florida Alzheimer’s Disease Advisory Committee, and advisory member of the State Plan on Aging Task Force.
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