‘Conflict’: DeSantis ally can’t lead both ethics board and Disney district, lawyer says

Florida Commission on Ethics Chair Glen Gilzean Jr. had been told about a law barring him from public employment.

But he took on the gig of overseeing Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Disney district anyway. He’s now being advised to resign from one of his roles.

That all’s according to a Thursday legal opinion released by the commission’s general counsel.

The counsel said in a Thursday legal opinion that Gilzean’s district position counted as “public employment.” On the commission website’s “About Us” page, it says, “No member may hold any public employment.”

Questions have abounded about his dual roles following a Monday morning article from the Florida Bulldog, an online investigative news outlet, pointing out inconsistency with the rule, which is also in state law,

Glen Gilzean photo illustration

Gilzean asked the counsel, Steven Zuilkowski, to weigh in in a Monday afternoon email that was attached to the legal opinion. He copied Kerrie Stillman, the commission’s executive director, in the email.

“Based on our conversations from a few months ago, I remained on the Commission on Ethics after starting employment with the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District,” Gilzean wrote. “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 on 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.”

In the opinion, Zuilkowski said he had been been in an April 26 conference call with Gilzean and Stillman before Gilzean became the district’s administrator. He said that Stillman had informed Gilzean of the public employment rule during it.

“You informed us that you had received legal advice elsewhere about holding both positions,” he said. “You stated you would contact me if you wanted my legal opinion…  I was not present for any other conversations you may have had with Ms. Stillman about [the rule].”

THE USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida sent Gilzean and his spokesperson a media request and is awaiting response.

Back in May, the DeSantis appointed Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board unanimously approved Gilzean as administrator. His $400,000 salary is $45,000 more than the last administrator got, but the board said the new role came with more responsibilities and the knowledge the person filling it would have to deal with litigation from Disney.

Questions raised over dual role:DeSantis ethics appointee, Disney district head faces ethics questions for dual roles

Gilzean has falling out with org:‘Dismayed:’ DeSantis’ Disney district admin rebuked by ‘betrayed’ civil rights group

How the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District came to be

Disney used to control the district, which takes care of roads, construction permits, fire protection, water and waste collection and other infrastructure needs across 25,000 acres of property in Orange and Osceola counties. 

But that was back when it was called the Reedy Creek Improvement District.

Last year, Disney spoke out spoke out against the Parental Rights in Education Act, dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by critics, which restricts instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in schools.

DeSantis and his GOP legislative allies responded with actions Disney says were retaliatory and a violation of its free speech rights, such as stripping Disney’s control of the district, renaming it and giving it to the governor.

In April, the theme park giant filed a federal lawsuit against the governor.

Gilzean and the board, along with acting Secretary of the Department of Economic Opportunity Meredith Ivey, are also named in the suit. The board filed a legal salvo of its own against Disney in state court.

In interviews, writings and at the podium, DeSantis has repeatedly connected the legislative crackdown on Disney with what he calls their “woke” criticism of his signature parents rights law. But at other times and in his legal arguments, he said those efforts were focused on fairness, putting Disney on “a level playing field with every other business in Florida.”

Ramifications of the takeover are still far from settled, even outside the courts.

Last month, the board, encumbered with litigation costs due to the Disney dispute and other start-up expenses, said it’s eyeing cutting $8 million used to pay off-duty law enforcement officers who exclusively patrol Disney properties. Chairman Martin Garcia called it “wasteful spending.”

Gilzean controversies

This isn’t the only controversy Gilzean is embroiled in.

After the district announced it was abolishing its diversity, equity and inclusion program, the National Urban League bashed him and the decision.

Gilzean had previously been the head of the Central Florida Urban League, one of the civil rights organization’s local affiliates.

“The National Urban League and our nationwide movement of more than 90 local affiliates are shocked and dismayed by Glen Gilzean’s betrayal of the values at the very core of our mission,” said Marc Morial, its president and CEO, in a statement to the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida.

Gilzean is also the chair of the African American History Task Force. Amid a controversy about Florida’s new African American history standards, particularly on required instruction that “slaves developed skills” for “personal benefit,” he has defended the curriculum.

When DeSantis took fire after Florida rejected the Advanced Placement African American Studies course, Gilzean wrote an opinion piece defending the governor and the move.

Former Gov. Rick Scott appointed him to the Florida A&M University Board of Trustees, which was considered by some to be a controversial choice, Gilzean withdrew his nomination in 2014 before he could be confirmed after the Herald/Times reported that as the vice president of advocacy and outreach for Step Up For Students, a nonprofit organization in Jacksonville that managed Florida’s school voucher program, he would have to register as a lobbyist.

State law prohibits university trustees from working as registered lobbyists and the Times/Herald verified that Gilzean had lobbied “at least six lawmakers on the issue.”

Contributed: The USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida’s C. A. Bridges

This reporting content is supported by a partnership with Freedom Forum and Journalism Funding Partners. USA Today Network-Florida First Amendment reporter Douglas Soule is based in Tallahassee, Fla. He can be reached at DSoule@gannett.com. Twitter: @DouglasSoule.

Get Insightful, Cutting-Edge Content Daily - Join "The Neo Jim Crow" Newsletter!

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Get Insightful, Cutting-Edge, Black Content Daily - Join "The Neo Jim Crow" Newsletter!

We don’t spam! Read our [link]privacy policy[/link] for more info.

Get Insightful, Cutting-Edge, Black Content Daily - Join "The Neo Jim Crow" Newsletter!

We don’t spam! Read our [link]privacy policy[/link] for more info.

This post was originally published on this site