DeSantis ethics appointee, Disney district head faces ethics questions for dual roles

Glen Gilzean Jr. stepped into controversy when he accepted the gig to oversee Gov. Ron DeSantis’ district governing Disney World, which is in a legal skirmish with Disney.

But questions are now being raised over whether he should have made that step at all.

Gilzean is also the DeSantis-appointed chair of the Florida Commission on Ethics. But on its website’s “About Us” page is the line, “No member may hold any public employment.”

It’s a rule that’s set in law.

First reported by Florida Bulldog, an online investigative news outlet, the questions have prompted no answers from Gilzean himself.

“I refer you to the FL Commission on Ethics,” wrote Alexei Woltornist, a district spokesman.

The commission is made up of nine members, who don’t receive a salary, and around 25 employees. It “serves as the guardian of the standards of conduct for officers and employees of Florida and its political subdivisions,” according to the website.

Gilzean was first appointed to the commission in 2019. Commission representatives did not respond to a media request.

Glenton Gilzean Jr.

“It should be mentioned first and foremost that unquestionably Glen Gilzean has given superlative service to the Florida Commission on Ethics and through that the people of the state of Florida,” said Caroline Klancke, executive director of the nonprofit Florida Ethics Institute. “However, the membership requirements of the commissioners… they’re set forth by law.

“Thus, the question then remains whether his position, newly-acquired, as administrator for the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, constitutes a public employment position,” she said.

Klancke said it’s a factual question, and she doesn’t have enough facts to weigh in.

Ben Wilcox, research director and co-founder of the nonpartisan government watchdog Integrity Florida, said it looks to him like a public position.

“It seems to me [Gilzean] is going to have to resign from one of those positions,” Wilcox said.

“It’s a pretty clear conflict of interest for a member of the Florida Commission on Ethics to also be serving in a public position, because those cases involving public officers, are exactly the cases that are going to come before the [commission],” he said.

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

A background on Gilzean:Who is Glen Gilzean Jr., DeSantis’ go-to guy for African American History and Disney district?

Back in May, the DeSantis appointed Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board unanimously approved Gilzean as administrator, giving him a $400,000 salary. That’s $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.

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 and giving it to the governor. It was renamed in the process.

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.”

Though, in a pivot of tone, DeSantis said on Monday that the state has “basically moved on” from issues surrounding the changes to the former Reedy Creek Improvement District, and Disney should drop its lawsuit.

But ramifications of the takeover are still far from settled, even outside the courts, as evidenced by the DEI announcement.

And, 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

The litigation isn’t the only controversy Gilzean is embroiled in.

Earlier this month, the district announced it was abolishing its diversity, equity and inclusion programs. In the announcement, Gilzean name-dropped his previous employer.

“Our district will no longer participate in any attempt to divide us by race or advance the notion that we are not created equal,” Gilzean, who is Black, said. “As the former head of the Central Florida Urban League, a civil rights organization, I can say definitively that our community thrives only when we work together despite our differences.”

But that civil rights organization is an affiliate of the National Urban League, which, in a statement sent to the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida, blasted Gilzean and the decision.

“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.

Contributed: News Service of Florida

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 Twitter: @DouglasSoule.

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