UPDATE: Oct. 31 The Orlando Sentinel reports “As Scrutiny Mounts, DeSantis’ Disney District Cancels No-Bid 911 Contract”
By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Oct. 29 – The Florida Commission on Ethics is taking another ethical hit with news of a cozy million-dollar no-bid contract given to one of its members by Gov. Ron DeSantis’s recently retooled Central Florida Tourism District (CFTOD).
The existence of the deal with the special taxing district formerly known as The Walt Disney Company’s Reedy Creek Improvement District was disclosed last week by Orlando television station WFTV, which reported the contract went to Figgers Communication, incorporated in 2015 and owned by Fort Lauderdale businessman Freddie Figgers.
CFTOD’s board canceled its regular Oct. 25 meeting after word began to spread about its contract award to Figgers Communication, a wireless telecom company
DeSantis appointed Figgers to a two-year term as an ethics commissioner on July 27. Less than a month later, on Aug. 22, ethics commission chairman Glenton “Glen” Gilzean Jr. resigned after Florida Bulldog reported Gilzean’s glaring conflict of interest: he was also the $400,000-a-year administrator of the CFTOD.
Ethics commissioners’ sole duty is to investigate and adjudicate “complaints of the breach of public trust by public officers and employees.” Therefore, commission rules say “no member may hold any public employment.” Gilzean chose to quit the commission, not his lucrative CFTOD post.
COST OF SCRAPPING DISNEY DISTRICT
The CFTOD’s five-member board, all the governor’s appointees, named Gilzean administrator in May. In that post, Gilzean has considerable influence at the self-governing district in the awarding and managing of district contracts.
“The district is investing $1 million for a new communication network, completely separating from the Walt Disney World system that exists on property,” Gilzean told CFTOD’s board.
How a company owned by Gilzean’s former ethics commission colleague ended up with CFTOD’s lucrative contract is unclear. But hints of an inside deal exist.
Emails obtained by WFTV, some displayed on screen, show that the CFTOD’s contracting office was in touch with Figgers in early August. But the report added this, “According to emails, district employees reached out to Figgers as the CEO of Figgers Communication consulting firm for his services in early August. Then, less than a week later, his contract was sent over for approval and that deal was done without open bids from other companies.”
Another email displayed on screen in the station’s report was sent by CFTOD contracting officer Tiffany Kimball to Figgers: “So we can get the paperwork out of the way and your company in our system as a vendor, please complete the attached forms and return to me. I will call you later today for the contracting part.”
A CARVE OUT
The contract that Figgers won was apparently a carve out of work that was originally part of a larger solicitation by the district.
In an email, CFTOD spokeswoman Eryka Washington Perry told WFTV reporter Shannon Butler that Figgers submitted a “broader bid to reconfigure the existing 911 to Smart 911 capabilities; however, that scope was not what we needed with a pressing schedule. The migration of wireless and VoIP calls directly to our 911 system is what we needed, and what we contracted Figgers Communication to configure.
“Figgers Communication was able to commit within the compressed timeframe for this important migration of 911 wireless calls,” Washington Perry wrote, adding that “qualifications and experience are the metric we use to select a firm” – not cost – when choosing items involving public safety.
Florida Bulldog exchanged text messages with Washington Perry throughout Saturday, but she did not respond to questions before deadline Saturday night.
The spending was made necessary because of the state’s takeover of Disney’s Reedy Creek district, which handled governmental operations required for Disney World. After the takeover, the district was removed from Disney’s internet network.
Freddie Figgers did not respond to Florida Bulldog’s emailed request for comment. Figgers Communication, however, told WFTV that existing 911 technology was outdated and was forcing calls to be “routed through Orange County, adding five to eight minutes” to response times.
“The work is expected to be completed within 120 days of contract execution pending no delays from Orange and Osceola County 911 staff for their required piece of the integration,” Washington Perry told the station.
WHO IS FREDDIE FIGGERS?
Figgers, 34, describes himself as “an American Inventor, software engineer, telecom entrepreneur, and philanthropist.” He has said Figgers Communication manufactures smartphones and consumer electronics. Figgers is also the founder and “chief architect” of Figgers Health, a firm that builds “devices and innovative software for proactive healthcare solutions.”
A December 2019 profile in The Washington Post headlined, “Abandoned as a newborn and called ‘dumpster baby,’ he’s now an entrepreneur worth millions,” says Figgers got his “big break” in 2012 when he sold a GPS tracker program to “an undisclosed company in Kansas for $2.2 million.” Figgers also told the Post that in 2017 his privately held company, then called Figgers Wireless, was appraised to be worth more than $62 million.
DeSantis appears to be a big fan of both Figgers and Gilzean, repeatedly naming them to various state posts.
For example, in March, DeSantis chose Figgers to serve as vice chairman of Enterprise Florida. DeSantis is chairman. In April, Figgers accompanied DeSantis, Secretary of State Cord Byrd and then-Secretary of Commerce Laura DiBella, on a junket to Tokyo where they met with officials of Keidanren, the Japan Business Federation.
Figgers was also recently appointed to the State Board of Administration’s Investment Advisory Council. His wife, Natlie Figgers, 32, was appointed by DeSantis in March to the board of trustees of her alma mater, Florida A&M University. She is listed on Figgers Communication website as the company’s chief human resource officer.
DeSantis appointed Gilzean to the ethics commission three times, even though commissioners are limited to no more than two consecutive terms. (Gilzean resigned for his conflict-of-interest before this could become an issue.) He also appears to have OK’d Gilzean’s high-paying post at CFTOD. The governor also gave Gilzean a role in his working group for reopening Florida during the COVID pandemic.