By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Like a hooked swordfish, Florida ethics commission chairman Glenton “Glen” Gilzean Jr. is battling to hold onto both his post and his $400,000-a-year public job even as he was handed a legal opinion saying he must choose between them.
“Please rest assured that I am weighing my options and will take action before the Commission’s next meeting,” Gilzean wrote in a Thursday afternoon email to the legal opinion’s author, commission general counsel Steven Zuilkowski. The Commission on Ethics is not scheduled to meet again until Sept. 8.
On Monday, Florida Bulldog was the first to publish a story detailing that Gilzean has a conflict of interest because in May he took a job as administrator of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD). The ethics commission is constitutionally mandated “the guardian of standards of conduct for officers and employees of Florida and its political subdivisions” and explicitly forbids its members from holding “any public employment.”
Gilzean did not respond to Florida Bulldog’s requests for comment. But hours after Monday’s story appeared, he fired off a “high importance” email to Zuilkowski. In it, he hinted he might throw Zuilkowski and commission executive director Kerrie Stillman under the bus by asserting that he stayed on the commission after taking his high-paying public job only after obtaining Zuilkowski’s OK. Stillman had attended the conference call between the two.
“Based on our conversation from a few months ago, I remained on the Commission on Ethics after starting employment with the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. In an abundance of caution and in light of concerns that were raised today, will you please provide me a written legal opinion by the close of business Wednesday as to whether I can continue to serve on the Commission. I don’t want there to be any appearance of a conflict of interest,” Gilzean wrote. He attached an unsigned copy of his employment agreement with the CFTOD.
GILZEAN’S ADVERSE LEGAL OPINION
On Thursday, Zuilkowski released his turgid, six-page legal opinion, a copy of which was sent to Gilzean. The bottom line: “It appears that your position as District Administrator for the District is public employment. Maintaining public employment is inconsistent with the requirements” of the law.
Ouch! Click here to see the opinion and Gilzean’s initial email and CFTOD contract.
At the outset of his opinion, however, Zuilkowski mentions the April 26 conference call. He writes that Stillman informed Gilzean of the law “and you informed us that you had received legal advice elsewhere about holding both positions. You stated you would contact me if you wanted my legal opinion. During the conversation you discussed your calling for public service and your commitment to fulfilling your term as the Chair of the Commission on Ethics.”
Florida Bulldog phoned Zuilkowski and was told he does not speak with the press. He likewise did not respond to emailed questions that included asking who initiated the April 26 phone call and who had provided Gilzean with that legal advice.
Using Florida’s public records law, Florida Bulldog exclusively obtained an email string about the matter between Gilzean and commission staff.
Several hours after Gilzean received Zuilkowski’s opinion, he replied to the general counsel and Stillman.
“Thank you for your legal opinion. As you know I am not a lawyer and believed my status at CFTOD was of no concern. At the very least, I did not appreciate the nuanced factors that distinguish an employee and an independent contractor. Regardless, now that this has come to my attention, please rest assure that I am weighing my options and will take action before the Commission’s next meeting.”
GILZEAN: ETHICS STAFF ‘WEAPONIZED’ MEMO
Gilzean went on to make an unusual request, and express his bitterness.
“To that end, would you please review my contract with CFTOD once more and propose specific changes that you believe would bring it into conformity with the relevant rules. In closing, it is deeply inappropriate that your legal opinion was disseminated to the press at the same time you sent it to me. As far as I’m concerned, someone on your staff knowingly leaked this memo and weaponized it, how did this happen?”
Stillman was the first to reply. “The memo was not leaked to the press. We produced it in response to numerous public records requests we had received…There was no ill intent and no weaponization of this situation by me or anyone else on staff.”
Zuilkowski addressed Gilzean’s request for personal legal assistance.
“Regarding suggesting modifications to your contract, I do not believe I am permitted to do that. I am the Commission’s lawyer, but no individual commissioner is my client. I am not permitted as general counsel for the Commission to assist any individual Commissioner with their personal legal issues, such as amending employment contracts with other entities,” Zuilkowski wrote.
DESANTIS AND GILZEAN
Gilzean was appointed, then reappointed twice to the ethics commission by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who also engineered Gilzean’s high-salaried job.
Gilzean was hired by the CFTOD’s Board of Supervisors, each of whom was handpicked by DeSantis.
The CFTOD is at the center of DeSantis’s spat with the Walt Disney Company over its public stance against the controversial Parental Rights in Education Act – dubbed by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. In an apparent attempt to punish Disney for its defiance, an obliging Republican-dominated Legislature changed the law to allow DeSantis to wrest control away from Disney of the Reedy Creek Improvement District and change its name to the CFTOD.
Gilzean’s $400,000 annual district salary has been widely reported. The contract spells out his perks: state health and retirement benefits, vacation, sick and holiday time, a corporate credit card “solely for business expenses,” and a cellphone, laptop, wireless card and computer tablet.
Then there’s Section 7.2 of the CFTOD contract: “Conflicts of Interest.” No apparent problem there for ethics chairman Gilzean.
It states, “Executive must report any real, potential or perceived conflict of interest to the Board Chair immediately upon learning of such conflict of interest, whether involving himself or others.” And so long as there are no “non-waivable” conflicts with the district, “the District will willingly provide the waiver necessary on its behalf to permit Executive [Gilzean] to continue his BOD [board of director] service.”