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The Gilzean files: Your governor’s press office in action

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This is a screenshot of Jeremy Redfern’s X (Twitter) page. The blue “H” is the Miami Herald’s logo.

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org

This story is under the category “You Should Know How Your Government Operates.”

From time to time, news reporters publish stories that draw reactions from elected leaders or their staff who claim a story is wrong. Occasionally they are right and a correction or even a retraction is published. Mostly, though, the complaints are bogus – intended to intimidate or coerce a minor correction that can be used to try and discredit an entire story.

Usually, such back and forth goes on behind the scenes. Sometimes, it should be out in the sunshine.

On Tuesday, Florida Bulldog published a story headlined: “DeSantis appointed, Fl. Senate confirmed Gilzean to ethics post when rules said he was ineligible.” It followed a Monday story reporting that Glenton “Glen” Gilzean Jr. has a conflict of interest because he recently began a $400,000-a-year job as head of a local government special taxing district called the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD).

The afternoon before Tuesday’s story was published I wrote to Gov. DeSantis’s office in Tallahassee explaining the story we intended to publish and requesting comment. I received no reply until the next afternoon. It was from the governor’s press secretary Jeremy Redfern:

PRESS SECRETARY’S EMAIL

“Hey Dan,

Your story is blatantly false, and I believe a retraction is in order. The Statement of Organization and Operation that you cited is clear.

Let me break this down for you. The cited document states that “All members serve two-year terms and may not serve more than two full terms in succession.”

As you can see, serving one partial term, and then two full terms, is within the ethics commission’s rules. Mr. Gilzean will have served “two full terms in succession” at the end of his term in 2024.

I understand that math isn’t everyone’s preferred subject, but I truly believe that you can count to two.”

Jeremy T. Redfern

Press Secretary

Executive Office of the Governor

BACK AND FORTH BEGINS

My reply followed 2 ½ hours later.  

“I have been out of the office much of this afternoon. The story is not false and no retraction is in order. I will get back to you with the details after I have finished assembling my information.

In the meantime, I’d ask you to address the conflict of interest Mr. Gilzean now finds himself in after he accepted his current job as administrator of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. Will Gov. DeSantis ask Mr. Gilzean to end that conflict by resigning from either the CFTOD or the Commission on Ethics? 

Going forward, I trust you will drop the petulance so we may communicate as professional adults.”

Three minutes later Redfern, a former bomb squad member in military service, wrote:

It is false, and I have demonstrated how it is false. If you were worried about professionalism, you would retract your story. 

Again, let me break this down for you. The cited document states that “All members serve two-year terms and may not serve more than two full terms in succession.”

As you can see, serving one partial term, and then two full terms, is within the ethics commission’s rules. Mr. Gilzean will have served “two full terms in succession” at the end of his term in 2024.”

FLORIDA BULLDOG’S RESPONSE

I emailed my full answer to the press secretary Wednesday morning:

“Mr. Redfern,

For someone who is so sure of his facts you ought to check them out fully before you make bogus accusations against a reporter who does check his facts.

While Mr. Gilzean’s first appointment was indeed confirmed by the Senate for a term ending June 30, 2020 that’s clearly not when he or the Commission on Ethics understood his term to end. The apparent reason for that confusion: an erroneous/incomplete Aug. 23, 2019 press release from the Governor’s office announcing Mr. Gilzean’s first appointment to the commission. Note that its final sentence says, “Gilzean is appointed to a two-year term.” No actual dates are given.

 A check on the Wayback Machine, the Internet archives site that even an amateur such as yourself should be able to easily navigate, reveals that multiple ethics commission profile pages for Mr. Gilzean between September 2019 and July 16, 2020 state his “Term expires June 2021.” It is noteworthy his profile was altered on July 31, 2020 to say “Term expires June 2020.” That is, after being notified that his term had in fact ended on June 30, Mr. Gilzean continued to serve on the ethics commission. 

 Ethics commission press releases, public session minutes and meeting videos further verify that Mr. Gilzean continued to serve as a commissioner from July 2020 until he was reappointed by Gov. DeSantis on December 11, 2020. So, there was no gap in his service, as you suggest. Yet even if there was, such a small gap certainly would seem to violate the spirit of the commission’s limitation on service.

You may blame Mr. Gilzean for serving past his appointed term if you must. But be aware that there’s a reason he did this – a reason the governor may want to address. The commission’s recent annual reports – 2020, 2021, 2022 – all say this: “Members of the Commission on Ethics serve two-year terms and may not serve more than two full terms in succession; however, members whose terms have expired continue to serve until they are replaced.” That’s an open-ended invitation to avoid the term limitations required by the first part of that compound sentence.

So let me repeat…Florida Bulldog will not retract the story. And if you had responded to my original emailed request for comment before publication, instead of waiting 24 hours before contacting me with your misinformed opinion, perhaps I could have explained all this to you at that time.

Oh, and as you failed to respond to my previous question regarding Mr. Gilzean’s conflict of interest by working as both a salaried public employee and as chairman of the ethics commission, I will pose it again: Will Gov. DeSantis ask Mr. Gilzean to end that conflict by resigning from either the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District or the Commission on Ethics?”

‘I’M NOT READING ALL OF THAT’

Florida pays Redfern $126,000 a year to answer reporter’s questions to promote public understanding on the governor’s behalf. Instead, in an email sent at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, he backed down without a rebuttal.

“I’m not reading all of that. I’m happy you took the time to write it all out… or I’m sorry you took the time to write that out.

Again, let me break this down for you.

The cited document states that “All members serve two-year terms and may not serve more than two full terms in succession.”

As you can see, serving one partial term, and then two full terms, is within the ethics commission’s rules. Mr. Gilzean will have served “two full terms in succession” at the end of his term in 2024.

Jeremy T. Redfern”

To press secretary Redfern then, the facts don’t appear to matter much. Seven paragraphs responding to his complaint about our story was too much to even read

Notice, too, how Redfern twice sidestepped opportunities to provide requested comment from his boss about whether he will intervene to put an end to Gilzean’s conflict of interest by asking him to resign from either his high-paying new job at the CFTOD or his unsalaried post on the ethics commission.

News reporters will tell you that overpaid press secretaries and their ilk do that a lot. And like his publicly-funded predecessors in DeSantis’s press office, Redfern seems to think his principal job is to promote Republican DeSantis’s personal political fortunes. He spends much time on social media plugging DeSantis’s run for the presidency or running down President Joe Biden, a Democrat.

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Latest comments

  • Can a court order Gilzean to stop the conflict of interest?

  • Jeremy Redfern is a reflection of Gov. DeSantis: Ignoring and changing Florida’s laws to promote a personal agenda. Using Florida tax revenue, which pays state employee salaries, to promote a national political campaign. Bullying instead of discussing.

  • Keep up the great work of checking the “supposed facts” that Redfern spews out in his written barrage attempting to bury and misrepresent the truth. Thank goodness for
    reporters like yourself!!!!
    Gail Frost

  • Redfern acts just like DeSantis, Pushaw etc

  • Redfern is a unique disgrace among DeSantis’s half an egg carton of sprouted disgraces, barely second only to “Aw P’shaw” and Taryn “Ugh” Fenske. Never did so few do so little at so high a cost, for so many, as this malign crew of grade school classroom dunces.

  • DeSanctimonious would run Florida like Putin runs Russia if he could get away with it. Thank you for what you do!

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