TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA — After more than two decades of public service, Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Simone Marstiller turned in her letter of resignation to Governor Ron DeSantis in early November. Her last day as a top official for the administration will be December 30.
“You have my deep gratitude for choosing me to lead two agencies – AHCA and the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) – as part of your administration and entrusting me with the responsibility to implement policies to improve and elevate the lives of our citizens. Your bold leadership in these and other areas is refreshing and inspiring, and I have learned so much watching you helm this state with strength, purpose and unwavering principle,” Secretary Marstiller wrote to the governor.
Once the resignation went official, DeSantis thanked Secretary Marstiller in a tweet. Their exchange indicates that the two not only worked well together, but that they also share the same values.
Few public servants in the Sunshine State have had such a diverse and successful career in government as Simone Marstiller. She was born in Liberia in West Africa and lived there for the first nine years of her life, before her family came to Florida and settled down in St. Petersburg.
After getting her law degree, she worked for a few years in advertising before clerking for Fifth District Court of Appeal. In 2001, she joined the Jeb Bush administration’s legal team, and the year after she became general counsel for the Department of Management Services. Then back to Jeb Bush as deputy chief of staff. Then… state chief information officer, deputy attorney general, judge, executive director for the Florida Elections Commission followed by a few years in private practice before she joined the DeSantis administration as head of the DJJ followed by AHCA.
IT'S ABOUT THE PEOPLE
Perhaps one of the keys to Simone Marstiller’s success has been her ability to connect with others. Over the phone, she comes across as remarkably open and sincere. And when asked about the high points in her career, there’s one thing she keeps coming back to: the people.
“Throughout my career, I’ve worked with some incredibly talented and visionary people. It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to work with people from a wide variety of backgrounds who have all come together with a purpose. I’ve learned so much from everyone I’ve worked with,” Simone Marstiller says.
Another thing she’s passionate about is technology and what it can do in service of citizens.
“Florida has always been a very complex and diverse state, and I’ve been lucky enough to have seen it from many perspectives. Our population has grown significantly which makes the job of state government so much more complex. Technology is the thing that can really, really help the state to serve the constituents and the citizens. And it’s fascinating to see how things have developed since I was chief information officer in the mid-2000s,” Simone Marstiller tells The Florida Standard.
DRIVEN BY SERVING THE PUBLIC
In a time when distrust of government is at an all-time high after high-level scandals, blatant corruption, reckless spending, censorship and persecution of dissenters – the list goes on – it’s refreshing to speak to someone like Simone Marstiller. It’s clear that she’s been driven by a strong belief in serving the public and that this dedication is fundamental to her sense of self.
“The best moments for me have been the times when teams have come together to do some incredible work. I’ve spent many hours in the Emergency Operations Center, most recently during Hurricane Ian and before when we had Hurricane Charlie. I’ve always been impressed with how people come together from the various agencies and are able to work so quickly together. It’s ordered chaos but it’s still very coordinated and very effective. It’s an amazing experience to be part of an operation like that. I think that’s really what government is for – that in those emergency times when our citizens are the most vulnerable – that’s when we really mobilize to serve and deliver,” she explains and adds that most people only see the end result, not the actual work that goes into solving a crisis.
DESANTIS: PUSHING THE ENVELOPE
It seems that the past couple of years of service have been especially intense and rewarding for Simone Marstiller. The main reason: Governor Ron DeSantis.
“Governor DeSantis’ energy and vision has meant that all of us at the executive agencies have had a lot on our plates. It really makes it fun to work for someone who’s pushing the envelope, who’s mixing things up in the right ways,” Simone Marstiller says.
“My hope is that we continue to be a state that puts individual rights and parental rights first. The things that are really at the core that will advance the state as a community and improve humanity. We want our kids to be safe, not victimized. We don’t want the state to be raising our children. The leadership we currently have and the ones coming up behind them have a long-term commitment to those fundamental goals. And that pleases me, not only as a public servant, but as a citizen.”
“A STEP OUT INTO THE UNKNOWN”
Speaking with Simone Marstiller, it’s hard not to notice the excitement and perhaps a bit of trepidation in her voice. She says that she’s taking a step out into the unknown.
“I’ve been in Tallahassee and working in state government since 1999. Saying goodbye to this chapter in my life is bittersweet, as you can imagine. I’m leaving with mixed emotions. I’m sad to leave but I’m really pleased and blessed with my career. I couldn’t have dreamt of a better one. Serving the people of the state of Florida has been my mission during my entire professional life,” Simone Marstiller explains. “But it’s a little scary to leave that mission.”
So, what’s in the future for Simone Marstiller?
“Well… I’m going to be at loose ends for a little while. I’m going to take some time, give it some thought and prayer and see what the good Lord sends my way. But my feeling is that there’s still more for me to do,” she says.
“But I know one thing: I’m never leaving Florida.”