TALLAHASSEE — A Tallahassee mother of three said she filed an ethics complaint this week against state Rep. Erik Fresen over his family's ties to a charter school company.
Fresen, a Miami Republican, voted in a Florida House committee last week for a broad charter schools reform bill. His sister and brother-in-law work for Academica, which runs numerous charter schools in Florida.
Fresen helped slip language into the bill prohibiting cities and counties from imposing stricter building and zoning rules on charter schools than on traditional public schools. The provision drew the ire of South Miami city officials who recently adopted stringent rules after saying Somerset Academy at SoMi, an Academica school, caused traffic problems.
Trish Thompson, who has three kids in the Leon County public school system, said she submitted the complaint Wednesday because, in her view, Fresen should have disclosed a voting conflict on the proposal, HB 7195.
"I'm so tired of lawmakers that make laws to profit them," she said. "And I'm very concerned that all of the money is being shifted from the traditional public schools."
Fresen has repeatedly addressed questions raised about his relationship to Academica, the for-profit company run by his brother-in-law, Fernando Zulueta, that also employs Fresen's sister, Maggie. (Thompson's complaint says Fresen's wife also works a school run by Academica, but she does not, Fresen has said.)
On Thursday, Fresen, would not comment because he had not yet received the complaint, dismissed the suggestion that he has a conflict of interest.
"I consider this complaint to be another misguided attempt to create smoke where there is no fire," he said.
As a lawmaker, Fresen sits on several education committees in the state House. Legislators are required to disclose within 15 days any votes that could result in a "special private gain or loss" for themselves or their relatives.
A "special private" benefit is a narrow legal term that refers to a lawmaker voting on a matter that would benefit himself or his family — and no one else. The charter schools bill, Fresen has noted, would affect all charter school companies — not just Academica.
Patricia Mazzei can be reached at pmazzei@MiamiHerald.com.