ORLANDO, Fla. (WFLA) – The woman who alleges she was fired from her position managing Florida’s widely-praised COVID-19 dashboard for being too transparent was insubordinate and under “active criminal charges,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday.
Rebekah Jones was fired from the Florida Department of Health recently and wrote a note to her former team claiming it was because she was too transparent.
“As a word of caution, I would not expect the new team to continue the same level of accessibility and transparency that I made central to the process during the first two months. After all, my commitment to both is largely (arguably entirely) the reason I am no longer managing it,” Jones said in her email.
When the governor was asked about Jones during a Tuesday evening news conference, he dismissed her firing as a “non-issue” and said he didn’t know who she was. His office released a statement shortly after the news conference saying 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.”
The governor was in Orlando on Wednesday with Vice President Mike Pence and was asked again about Jones’ firing.
“One, she’s not a data scientist. She’s somebody that’s got a degree in journalism, communication and geography,” DeSantis said. “She’s not involved in collating any data, she does not have the expertise to do that. She is not an epidemiologist.”
DeSantis also said Jones was not the chief architect of Florida’s web portal, calling it a “false statement.”
But according to Syracuse University, Jones was the geographic information systems (GIS) manager for the Florida Department of Health. A feature the university posted about her this year says Jones built the state’s interactive COVID-19 website.
“I started from scratch and decided what I thought was important,” Jones said, according to the feature.
Her Alma mater identifies her as “a geospatial scientist who earned a dual bachelor’s degree in geography and journalism.” She also received a dual master’s degree in geography and mass communication from Louisiana State University, Syracuse says.
“What she was doing is she was putting data on the portal which the scientists didn’t believe was valid data,” he said. “So she didn’t listen to the people who were her superiors, she had many people above her in the chain of command.”
According to the governor, Jones was dismissed from her position because of those actions along with “a bunch of different reasons.”
DeSantis also went after Jones for charges that appear to be unrelated to her position with the state.
“Come to find out, she’s also under active criminal charges in the State of Florida. She’s being charged with cyberstalking and cyber sexual harassment,” the governor said. “I’ve asked the Department of Health to explain to me how someone would be allowed to be charged with that and continue on because this was many months ago. I have a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment.”
Court records obtained by WFLA show Jones was arrested by the Tallahassee Police Department in July 2019 just weeks after she filed a suit against an ex.
The governor said Jones should have been dismissed before she actually was.
According to Syracuse, Jones joined the Florida Department of Health in September 2018 as a GIS analyst and was appointed GIS manager in November 2019.
After taking aim at Jones, DeSantis slammed questions that have surfaced about the accuracy and transparency of Florida’s data. He pointed out that Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House coronavirus task force, has talked multiple times about how Florida has the best data.
“Any insinuation otherwise is just typical partisan narrative trying to be spun,” he told reporters. “And part of the reason is you’ve got a lot of people in your profession who waxed poetically for weeks and weeks about how Florida was going to be just like New York.”
The governor said Florida has a lower death rate compared to several other states despite being “the number one landing spot for tens of thousands of people leaving the number one hot zone in the world.”
“We succeeded and I think that people just don’t want to recognize that because it challenges their narrative, it challenges their assumption,” DeSantis said. “So they’ve gotta try to find a ‘boogeyman.'”
When asked Wednesday if he had any concerns about the data coming out of Florida, former Gov. Rick Scott, now a U.S. senator, touted the state’s transparency.
“I think the expectation for all of us is that Florida is very transparent with information,” he said. “My experience as governor was the more information you gave Floridians, the better decisions they made. So I’m hopeful that all the information is public and we can reopen our economy in a manner that’s safe for every Florida family.”
Sen. Scott noted he did not know all of the details about what happened with Jones.