Bob Milligan, Florida's new chief banking regulator, has been in office just two weeks, but he's already dropping smart bombs on bankers.
On his first day on the job, the former Marine Corps general jolted bankers by crossing party lines to appoint former Democratic state legislator and Miami attorney Art Simon to run the state's banking and finance department.
That followed his request for the resignations of top staff members of the department shortly after upsetting 20-year incumbent Gerald Lewis in the November election.
Many bankers, especially those who supported Mr. Lewis, are nervous about the appointment of Mr. Simon. They fear he will push for a state community reinvestment requirement. And they resent him for not only roughing up Mr. Lewis in the early 1990s by probing his ties to scandal- plagued Centrust Bank, but for mounting a nasty campaign last fall in the primary race against the incumbent.
"I hope my perception of him is worse than reality," groused one banker, who requested anonymity.
Trade group officials are also concerned with the appointment.
"It was an unexpected move," said John E. Milstead, executive vice president of the Florida Bankers Association. "It was a surprise."
Sam Cook, executive director and general counsel of the Community Bankers of Florida, wasn't brimming with optimism either.
"We feel like Gen. Milligan is a very prudent businessman. We are going to give him the benefit of the doubt and see what happens," she said. "We certainly will try not to be judgmental about it. We are hoping for the best."
Mr. Milligan maintains that he will work closely with bankers and seek their counsel on issues. He's already met with Mr. Milstead and Ms. Cook, and plans to meet Rep. Jim Leach, the House Banking Committee chairman, in Washington shortly to discuss interstate branching laws.
Mr. Milligan said he hired Mr. Simon because he knows banking and finance, and he's a man of "honesty and integrity." He will also help Mr. Milligan further his goals to protect consumers, get out in front of problems before they happen, and transform the bank regulatory job from an elected position to an appointed one.
Meantime, Mr. Milligan is focusing on understanding the internal workings of the office, which has 920 employees and oversees state- chartered banks, savings and loans, credit unions, cemeteries, mortgage brokerages, and securities firms.
"The firehose is on full. What it hasn't done yet is blow me out into the street," Mr. Milligan said.
While state bankers are unsettled with the change in administration, some bankers who run national banks can chuckle at the turn of events. For several years they were operating under a cloud of regulatory uncertainty. Now, under the Milligan regime, state-chartered banks don't know what to expect.
"They are very confused," said a national banker. "We know where we are. It is a kinder, gentler Comptroller of the Currency. Hell, they don't know what they are dealing with."