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For Immediate Release: Mar 18, 2015
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
SCOTT’S CLIMATE CHANGE GAG ORDER CLAIMS A VICTIM
DEP Employee Reprimanded, Suspended and Ordered to Get Mental Exam
Posted on Mar 18, 2015
Washington, DC — A Florida state employee is in hot water for speaking about climate change at an official meeting and keeping notes of that discussion in official minutes, according to a complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In response, his superiors at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued him a letter of reprimand, ordered him to take two days leave and then told him not to return until he had medical clearance of his fitness for duty.
Barton Bibler is a long-time DEP employee who now serves as Land Management Plan Coordinator in its Division of State Lands. He attended a Florida Coastal Managers Forum on February 27, 2015 at which climate change and sea-level rise were discussed among a mix of public attendees. Mr. Bibler’s official notes on this meeting reflected all of that discussion. He was directed to remove any hot button issues, especially explicit references to climate change, and then was given a letter of reprimand for supposedly misrepresenting that the “official meeting agenda included climate change.”
As he was given the reprimand on March 9th, Mr. Bibler was told to not return to work for two days which would be charged against his personal leave time. Two days later he received a “Medical Release Form” requiring that his doctor supply the DEP with an evaluation of unspecified “medical condition and behavior” issues before being allowed to return to work.
“Bart Bibler has fallen through a professional looking glass in a Florida where the words ‘climate change’ may not be uttered, or even worse, written down,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP attorney, pointing out that Bart Bibler has no idea whether he will ever be allowed to return to work. “If anyone needs mental health screening it is Governor Rick Scott and other officials telling state workers to pretend that climate change and sea-level rise do not exist.”
Today, PEER asked the DEP Office of Inspector General to open a three-prong investigation into –
- The propriety of how Mr. Bibler was handled, including the summary forced leave and directive to waive his privacy rights so DEP could review his physician’s evaluation;
- The basis for the widely reported perception among current and recently departed DEP employees that topics such as “climate change”, “sustainability” and “sea-level rise” are off-limits; and
- Whether the orders to censor meeting summaries violated Florida law forbidding alteration of official records.
“Not just the employees but the citizens of Florida should demand a full investigation into what the heck is going on inside DEP and whether we can expect more cases like this,” added Phillips, noting that in addition to the climate change gag, Scott has also eviscerated anti-pollution enforcement and rigorous permitting. “Under Governor Scott, the Department of Environmental Protection functions like a gulag where those in servitude who show any spark of honesty are simply made to disappear.”