DeSantis administration cites ‘insubordination’ in firing of data manager

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' administration said Tuesday evening that a Department of Health employee who helped create Florida’s COVID-19 information “dashboard” was fired for insubordination, disputing allegations that she was terminated for refusing to manipulate data. 

“Rebekah Jones exhibited a repeated course of insubordination during her time with the department, including her unilateral decisions to modify the department’s COVID-19 dashboard without input or approval from the epidemiological team or her supervisors,” DeSantis spokeswoman Helen Ferre said in a prepared statement. “The blatant disrespect for the professionals who were working around the clock to provide the important information for the COVID-19 website was harmful to the team.”

The dismissal came as a growing number of Democrats called for an investigation into Jones’ removal from her job, first reported by the Florida Today newspaper. 

Cabinet member Nikki Fried has asked Department of Health Secretary Scott Rivkees to appear before the state Cabinet next week to answer questions about Jones’ firing. Democratic lawmakers also said they want answers from Rivkees, while state Democratic Party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo called for an investigation into the firing.

Jones, a geographic information systems manager for the department’s Division of Disease Control and Health Protection, told the paper that she was fired for refusing to manipulate data. She subsequently told CBS 12 News that she was removed because she was ordered to censor some data but refused to "manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen" the economy.

DeSantis called the situation a “non-issue,” noting at a Tallahassee news conference Tuesday that the COVID-19 dashboard has been lauded by the Trump administration and researchers.

“Our dashboard has been recognized nationally. Dr. Birx (federal coronavirus official Deborah Birx) has praised it multiple times. It’s a heck of a tool. Just as we are very transparent with this, you can drill down and see all of the different data on each individual county. I think that’s a very good thing.” 

DeSantis has taken a series of steps this month to reopen the economy after businesses shut down or scaled back to prevent the spread of the virus.