By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
The Florida Commission on Ethics found “probable cause” last month to believe that Broward County Commissioner Tim Ryan filed inaccurate financial disclose forms from 2015-2017, but dropped the case after choosing to take no further action.
Specifically, ethics commission documents say, Ryan failed to disclose major “secondary sources of income” for those three years – or more than $1 million in payments made to his law firm, Ryan & Ryan, LLC, by two clients: the city of Dania Beach and the town of Pembroke Park.
Ryan’s lack of disclosure was of concern because the Broward County Commission regularly votes on matters of concern to both Dania Beach, where Ryan served as special counsel, and Pembroke Park, where Ryan’s brother and law partner, Christopher Ryan, served as city attorney.
The commission decided against taking further action because Tim Ryan reported those sources of income on his 2018 and 2019 “Full and Public Disclosure of Financial Interests” forms. He also filed corrected disclosure forms for 2015-2017 last September – a month after the ethics complaint that led to the probable cause finding was filed against him.
If the ethics commission had not dropped the case, and a settlement was not reached, an administrative law judge would have conducted a public hearing and made a recommendation to the commission. The commission has no power to impose penalties, but after further consideration would report its findings and recommendations to the governor.
The complaint was filed by Rita Lipof, a Hollywood woman who ran unsuccessfully against Ryan in last year’s Democratic primary. Ryan’s district currently includes all or portions of Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, Dania Beach, Davie, Wilton Manors, Lazy Lake and the Boulevard Gardens Municipal Services District.
Ethics complaint against Tim Ryan
According to the report of the commission’s investigation of Lipof’s complaint, Ryan “confirmed in a written sworn affidavit” that income received from the municipalities to the law firm he shares with his two brothers met the thresholds of more than $1,000 requiring disclosure. He provided copies of his firm’s contracts with each entity “that confirms his testimony.”
Ryan also provided investigators with federal 1099 forms showing that between 2015 and 2017 Dania Beach paid his firm a total of $737,318 and Pembroke Park paid $443,476 for a total of $1.18 million.
“Commissioner Ryan stated that he was not aware of his responsibility to disclose secondary sources of income until he file his 2018” disclosure form, “at which time he did not review his prior CE [Commission on Ethics] Form 6 filings to make any necessary corrections,” the investigation report says.
Ryan claimed he was not aware of that responsibility despite having certified on his annual Form 6 disclosure filings for 2015, 2016 and 2017 that he had completed four hours of annual ethics training as required by state law. The ethics commission did not challenge his assertion.
Tallahassee attorney Mark Herron represented Ryan before the ethics commission. He asked the commission to “conclude that it is not in the public interest to proceed further.” Among other things, he argued that Lipof’s complaint was an election “ploy” intended to “injure Mr. Ryan’s reputation,” noting it was filed just eight days before the Aug. 18 primary election.
“Ms. Lipoff [her name is repeatedly misspelled] is a former County employee who was fired on the basis of poor job performance. (She is challenging her termination.) Ms. Lipoff has filed baseless complaints against a number of County elected and appointed officials, including with the Florida Commission on Ethics, the Broward County Inspector General, and the Broward County Professional Standards section. Her approach is to make voluminous public records requests, review them for what she perceives to be irregularities, and then raise creative (though unsubstantiated) ‘kitchen sink’ allegations,” Herron wrote.
Herron was referring to a number of other disturbing allegations made by Lipof against Ryan, including her assertion that his duties as a county commissioner and special counsel for Dania Beach created a “continuing and frequently recurring conflict; these conflicts were repeatedly not disclosed, repeatedly not announced during Broward County Commission meetings and documented, according to Florida law.”
Among other things, Lipof noted that Broward County controls the budget for the sheriff’s office, which has contracts for police services with both Dania Beach and Pembroke Park.
State law prohibits a public officer like Ryan from having “an employment or contractual relationship with any business entity or any agency which is subject to the regulation of, or is doing business with, an agency of which he or she is an officer or employee…” But before its investigation could begin, ethics commission executive director C. Christopher Anderson III decided that a favorable 2012 ethics opinion Ryan obtained about his job as special counsel to Dania Beach when he was a candidate for county commission shielded him again in 2020-2021.
“The commission concluded [then] this portion of the statute would be inapplicable, as Broward County does not ‘regulate’ the City of Dania Beach, and intergovernmental agreements for the provision of services – such as agreements between the County and the City – do not constitute ‘doing business’ for the purposes of the statute,” Anderson wrote.
Anderson also noted the ethics commission had determined previously that Ryan’s representation of Dania Beach “would not create a prohibited conflict…as the County Commission had no authority over the City and [Ryan] was not representing the City in any litigation against the County.”
Ethics commission chair JoAnne Leznoff signed the order finding probable cause to believe that Ryan twice violated Article II Section 8 of the Florida Constitution and Section 112.3144, Florida Statutes by filing inaccurate financial disclosure forms.
“However, given the totality of the facts involved in this particular case…the commission modifies the [staff] Advocate’s recommendation and will take no further action as to these allegations unless [Ryan] requests a public hearing,” she wrote.
Ryan did not request a public hearing.