By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Florida Commission on Ethics Chairman Glenton “Glen” Gilzean Jr. has an ethical problem – an unacknowledged conflict of interest.
The nine-member ethics commission calls itself “the guardian of standards of conduct for officers and employees of Florida and its political subdivisions” and investigates “complaints of the breach of public trust by public officers and employees.”
And the commission’s rules say “no member may hold any public employment.” Yet for months, Gilzean has remained as chairman despite becoming a public employee in May when he accepted a $400,000-a-year job as administrator of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD) – formerly known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District when that governing authority was under the control of the Walt Disney Company.
Gilzean’s job received much notice in the news. But none of the nine non-salaried ethics commissioners, who elected Gilzean to serve as their chairman, appears to have been aware of his emerging conflict. Commissioner Jim Waldman even told Florida Bulldog in an interview on Friday that he knew of no prohibition on ethics commissioners holding public employment. Informed later of the language on the commission’s website, Waldman said Gilzean’s public employment “does appear to be a conflict under the rules of the commission.”
Will GIlzean quit his new, high-salaried job or the ethics commission – or neither? He did not respond to Florida Bulldog’s requests for comment left with his district office staff.
Gilzean — who grew up in Lauderdale Lakes after his family emigrated from Jamaica and now lives in Ocoee, just outside Orlando — came to his new job via Gov. Ron DeSantis – who also appointed Gilzean to the state ethics commission.
GILZEAN GETS THE JOB
In February, following DeSantis’s highly publicized scrap with Disney after the company came out against the controversial Parental Rights in Education Act – dubbed by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill – an obliging Florida Legislature helped DeSantis seize control of the special taxing district.
Specifically, the Legislature changed the district’s name and gave the governor the power to name its five board members. DeSantis’s handpicked CFTOD Board of Supervisors then chose Gilzean, a DeSantis favorite, as the district’s new administrator.
Disney has sued DeSantis, the CFTOD board and Gilzean, alleging it was victimized by a “targeted campaign of government retaliation – orchestrated at every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment for Disney’s protected speech.” Disney contends the governor’s action “threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region and violates its constitutional rights.” The CFTOD board has countersued.
Gilzean’s financial disclosure form for 2022, filed with the ethics commission last month, listed his three primary and one secondary sources of income. It does not require he disclose his net worth.
Gilzean listed his primary sources of income as the Central Florida Urban League, where he served as president and CEO until taking the CFTOD post; Gilzean Ventures LLC, a consulting firm; and Next EDU Inc., a for-profit education company. His secondary source was listed as Top of The Class, another education company whose major source of income is Step Up For Students.
GILZEAN AND THE URBAN LEAGUE
Gilzean has a solid conservative, Republican pedigree. For example, he’s a fellow of the James Madison Institute, which advocates for “free markets, limited government and economic liberty.”
In addition to the ethics commission, DeSantis appointed Gilzean to the Florida Census Statewide Complete Count Committee in 2020 and during the COVID-19 pandemic to the Reopen Florida Task Force. He also chairs the state’s African American History Task Force. Previously, Gov. Rick Scott named Gilzean to the Pinellas County School Board in 2012, the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) Board of Trustees in 2013 and the Ninth Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission in 2016.
Gilzean has twice drawn the ire of National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial this year, once when he was still heading the Urban League’s Orlando affiliate. In February, after Gilzean wrote a Black History Month Op-ed for the Orlando Sentinel strongly backing the governor’s assault on Advanced Placement African American studies, Morial repudiated Gilzean’s position, calling the governor’s stance a “blatantly political effort to ban AP African American History from Florida’s schools.”
On Aug. 2, after Gilzean announced that he would abolish diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives at the Central Florida Tourism and Oversight District, Morial called Gilzean’s action a “betrayal of the values at the very core” or the Urban League’s mission. “His crass political expediency is all the more offensive given his previous vantage point to the harm he knows it will cause.”
Gilzean has also used his perch as chair of the African American History Task Force to defend controversial new teaching standards adopted in the wake of a new law, approved by DeSantis, that limits how racial history can be taught. The changes drew anger for reactionary passages like this: “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”