Florida’s top ethics lawyer has delivered a legal blow to Glen Gilzean, the current Chair of the Florida Commission on Ethics. In a recently released opinion, Steven Zuilkowski, the general counsel for the Florida Ethics Commission, stated that Gilzean’s simultaneous roles contradict Florida state law. Specifically:
- Gilzean currently serves as administrator for the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD), which governs Disney World.
- Florida law dictates that no member of the ethics commission should hold any public employment.
Breakdown of Employment
Gilzean’s involvement with the Ethics Commission started when he was first appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis on August 23, 2019, to fill a vacancy. His commitment to the position was solidified with two subsequent reappointments in 2020 and 2022, each confirmed by the Florida Senate. The commission members then unanimously elected him Chair in January 2023, with his term commencing on February 1, 2023. However, complications arose when:
- On May 10, 2023, the Board of Supervisors for the CFTOD hired Gilzean as district administrator, a role with a $400,000 annual salary.
- The CFTOD was established as a replacement for Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District (RDID). Governor DeSantis had been a prominent voice in advocating for this change.
Commission and District Insights
- The Florida Commission on Ethics comprises nine members serving two-year terms. Their main charge is overseeing the standards of conduct for Florida’s public officers and employees.
- Appointments: Five members by the governor, two by the president of the state Senate, and two by the speaker of the state House.
- The CFTOD plays a vital role in Disney World’s government services.
Gilzean’s Perspective and Response
The potential conflict of interest came into the limelight following a report by the Florida Bulldog, a watchdog journalism organization. Following the report, Gilzean sought Zuilkowski’s legal advice. In an email obtained by The Florida Bulldog, Gilzean expressed his belief that his role at CFTOD shouldn’t pose a problem, citing his understanding of the difference between an employee and an independent contractor. He also criticized the Commission on Ethics staff for releasing Zuilkowski’s legal opinion to the media concurrently with his receipt of it. Kerrie Stillman, the Commission’s Executive Director, responded by clarifying that the opinion’s distribution was due to public records requests.
Upon reviewing Gilzean’s CFTOD contract, Zuilkowski determined that Gilzean’s position was indeed public employment. He declined Gilzean’s request to suggest modifications to the contract, emphasizing that individual commissioners are not his clients and that he cannot assist with their personal legal concerns.
The backdrop of this legal controversy includes a significant dispute between Governor DeSantis and Disney. Last year, following Disney’s public opposition to specific state legislation, DeSantis implemented a takeover of the district. Subsequent legal battles ensued, with both Disney and the district filing lawsuits.
Florida Bulldog was instrumental in bringing this conflict to the public eye, emphasizing the crucial role of watchdog journalism in ensuring transparency and accountability in public positions.
Gilzean is set to make a decision regarding his dual roles before the Commission’s meeting on September 8. The outcome of this decision could set a precedent for future appointments and the interpretation of Florida’s ethical guidelines.