A 27-year veteran of Barnett Banks Inc. has surprised outsiders by taking an early-retirement package.

Richard C. Brewer, 55, chief credit policy executive, announced his plans to leave two weeks ago at a meeting of top Barnett officials. He is expected to leave July 30.

His move prompted some speculation that Richard Jones, the top asset management executive, might resign.

A Barnett spokesman flatly denied that would be the case, and Mr. Jones, reached for comment late Wednesday, affirmed that he is staying.

Mr. Jones and Mr. Brewer are friends, and Mr. Brewer was one of several Barnett executives instrumental in Mr. Jones' hiring, sources said.

David R. Palombi, the Jacksonville, Fla., banking company's spokesman, stated that Mr. Brewer is not involved in the businesses Mr. Jones oversees. Mr. Jones reports to Barnett president Allen L. Lastinger Jr.

Mr. Brewer, who was attending the bank's annual shareholders meeting Wednesday, could not be reached for comment.

According to Mr. Palombi, Mr. Brewer-one of six members of Barnett's management executive committee-has said in the past that he is in a financial position that makes retirement attractive. Mr. Brewer had contemplated retiring early to travel and devote more time to his favorite charities, the spokesman said.

Mr. Brewer "is part of the Barnett fabric," said Jonathan Palmer, Barnett's former head of technology and retail banking, now chief executive of an employee benefits administration company. "He leaves a hole to be filled in terms of his perspective and personality and sense of humor."

As soon as Mr. Brewer's retirement announcement hit the street, outsiders began speculating about the fate of his colleague.

Sales executives at mutual fund and annuity companies that deal with the Barnett Investment Services brokerage unit said that since Mr. Jones took over his post in July 1995, the business has not lived up to its potential.

These observers said a series of restructurings have disrupted sales of annuities and mutual funds, including Barnett's Emerald Funds family.

Mr. Jones sent out an E-mail Wednesday to employees announcing a change in the brokerage unit's hiring plans. He wrote that the bank planned to hire 250 investment representatives, a cut from an interim plan to hire 400.

Some observers read it as a pulling back in some areas of the brokerage, but Mr. Jones said it described a return to his original strategy.

Mr. Brewer, who worked his way up from an accounting job in the holding company, assumed his final executive position in May 1994.

He oversees credit policy, lending guidelines, special asset disposition, and all of the real estate occupied and owned by Barnett.

He will be succeeded in the chief credit position as well as on the management committee by Richard Anderson, currently north region banking executive.

Mr. Brewer has also served as central regional banking executive and president of Barnett's affiliate banks in Southwest Florida and Highlands County in Florida.

"Rick (Brewer) has been one of Barnett's most important and influential leaders of the past decade," wrote chairman Charles Rice in a memo to Barnett's presidents.

Mr. Anderson has been responsible for the 18 bank affiliates in the northern region since March 1996.

Before that he was central regional banking executive for two years. He also had been president of Barnett's affiliate banks in central Florida, Naples, and Broward County.

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