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Florida ethics chairperson, a DeSantis appointee, sets up possible conflict with job

Glen Gilzean was also hired to serve as the district administrator for the former Reedy Creek special district.
 
Glenton "Glen" Gilzean is the administrator of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight district, which was formerly known as Reedy Creek.
Glenton "Glen" Gilzean is the administrator of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight district, which was formerly known as Reedy Creek. [ Miami Herald ]
Published Aug. 14, 2023|Updated Aug. 14, 2023

The head of Florida’s ethics committee may have violated one of the commission’s own rules.

Glenton “Glen” Gilzean, the chairperson of the Florida Commission on Ethics, was appointed in 2019 by Gov. Ron DeSantis. But Gilzean in May also took on another role, as the new administrator of the DeSantis-controlled Central Florida Tourism Oversight district — a special district formerly known as Reedy Creek that governs and manages taxes for Walt Disney World and two surrounding cities.

Gilzean, who was chosen by the DeSantis-appointed board of the special district, is making $400,000 in his new job.

State statute says members appointed to the state’s top ethics commission may not “hold any public employment.”

It’s not clear if Gilzean’s role constitutes public employment, but if it does, it seems that Gilzean would be in violation of the commission rules, said Jim Waldman, another member of the ethics commission. Waldman, a Democrat, was also appointed to the commission by DeSantis.

Gilzean did not return a call and a message left with his office Monday seeking comment. The potential conflict was first reported by the Florida Bulldog.

The state constitution defines a “public officer” as, among other things, “... an elected special district officer in a special district with ad valorem taxing authority, or a person serving as a secretary, an executive director, or other agency head of a department of the executive branch of state government.”

DeSantis’ office did not return an email Monday seeking comment.

Gilzean, a Republican, has been a frequent appointee by Florida governors. Along with appointing him to the ethics commission, DeSantis also appointed Gilzean to the Re-Open Florida Task Force and the Florida Census Complete Count Committee. Former Gov. Rick Scott previously appointed Gilzean to the 9th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission and the Pinellas County School Board, along with the Florida A&M board.

In 2014, when Gilzean was a Scott-appointed member of the Florida A&M University board of trustees, he lobbied for the nonprofit group Step Up for Students while not registered as a lobbyist.

That was in spite of the fact that months earlier, a state-issued opinion said that he would have to register. At the time, Gilzean was the Step Up for Students vice president of advocacy and outreach and was advocating for a bill that would expand the school voucher program. But state law prohibits university trustees from being registered lobbyists.

Shortly before his Senate confirmation for the board of trustees post, Gilzean sent Scott a letter withdrawing his nomination. In the letter, Gilzean said he had “foreseen no conflict” but said he decided to “err on the side of caution and to register, which, according to statute, prevents me from serving as a trustee.”

Florida’s ethics commission investigates complaints about “breach of the public trust by public officers and employees,” issues legally binding opinions about ethics laws and implements financial disclosure laws.

In May, the commission dismissed a complaint from allies of former President Donald Trump, who argued that DeSantis violated campaign finance laws by running a “shadow” campaign for president. In the order dismissing the allegations, Gilzean wrote that the complaint did not give enough information to establish that the governor’s out-of-state travel impeded his public duties.