At this point, it might be official: the Commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation is the most doomed position in Florida state government.
In the last 20 months, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, Jimmy Patronis, has forced out one commissioner under dubious circumstances. Then the man Patronis picked to replace him was fired by the Cabinet for inappropriate behavior.
The new guy? He was hired Dec. 3, but he still hasn’t taken the job. And nobody seems to know when he will.
Today was supposed to be the start date for Russell Weigel, a Coral Gables securities lawyer, but an Office of Financial Regulation spokeswoman announced he wouldn’t be there.
“The commissioner’s start date has been delayed,” spokeswoman Jamie Mongiovi said in a Friday email. “I do not have a new date at this time.”
The situation has frustrated Cabinet members, particularly Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who has disputed why and how Weigel was hired.
Weigel was chosen during a bizarre December meeting where Gov. Ron DeSantis, without any discussion, nominated Weigel from three finalists. Patronis quickly seconded the motion. The meeting lasted just 1 minute and 16 seconds.
Afterward, Fried, the lone Democrat on the Cabinet, accused DeSantis of violating the Sunshine Law. DeSantis and Patronis have been unable to provide substantive reasons for choosing Weigel, and Weigel seemed as surprised as anyone by his selection — he said he learned of it through a family member.
Fried said Friday that the current situation is more fallout from the secretive selection process.
“I don’t know what’s going on, but it’s very frustrating,” Fried said. “They have not kept us in the loop, which has always been my biggest concern with the process.”
Weigel, who did not respond to a request for comment, is “in the final stages of winding down his obligations to his clients and his law firm” and will start when that’s finished, DeSantis’ spokeswoman Helen Ferré said in a statement.
“We remain in contact with him and are confident that this will occur in the near future,” she said.
As recently as two weeks ago, Weigel was apparently telling people that he wanted to keep his law firm while taking the job. In a Feb. 5 letter, Patronis’ chief of staff, Peter Penrod, wrote to him that the arrangement would not be acceptable.
“This office’s position has been and remains that you should end all business ties with your current firm if you still intend to begin your role as commissioner," he wrote.
The situation would be an obvious conflict of interests, considering that Weigel represents some of the types of companies that the Office of Financial Regulation regulates, Fried said.
“I see conflicts of interest all over that,” Fried said.
She said she understood needing time to wind down his law firm. As a lawyer, she said she had to do that when she ran for office. But Weigel should have been more up front about the situation, she said.
Weigel will not be on the state payroll until he takes the job, which pays $166,000 per year.
The office, which regulates banks, check-cashing stores and payday loan operations, has been without an acting commissioner since May. It also doesn’t have an inspector general. The office has advertised the job but waited for Weigel to get to Tallahassee before conducting interviews.
Fried made multiple calls last year to appoint an experienced person as acting commissioner, but DeSantis never brought it up. The office is currently being led by the previous commissioner’s chief of staff, who by law is not qualified to be interim commissioner.