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Florida ethics chairperson resigns after conflict with job with Disney district

Glen Gilzean is the administrator of the Gov. Ron DeSantis-controlled Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.
 
Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Board administrator Glen Gilzean, right, speaks with Disney historian Rick Foglesong during the board's meeting in the headquarters of the former Reedy Creek Improvement District at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista.
Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Board administrator Glen Gilzean, right, speaks with Disney historian Rick Foglesong during the board's meeting in the headquarters of the former Reedy Creek Improvement District at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista. [ JOE BURBANK | Orlando Sentinel ]
Published Aug. 22, 2023|Updated Aug. 23, 2023

ORLANDO — Glen Gilzean resigned Tuesday as chairperson of Florida’s ethics commission so he can keep his $400,000-a-year job leading Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Disney World oversight district.

In his resignation letter, Gilzean wrote he was unaware of a potential conflict of interest under Florida law until media reports flagged it last week.

The commission’s executive director and general counsel never raised an issue with a state law that prohibits ethics commissioners from holding “public employment” until he requested a legal memo, Gilzean wrote. He has served as administrator of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District since May.

“The potential for a conflict between my position with the District and with my service on the Commission on Ethics did not come up at that time with any of the counsel that I consulted, including the Commission’s General Counsel,” Gilzean wrote.

“Regrettably, if I had been aware of any issue presented by serving in the two positions, I would have addressed it immediately,” he added in the letter, first obtained by The Messenger.

Ethics Director Kerrie Stillman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

Steven Zuilkowski, the ethics commission’s general counsel, gave a different account in his legal memo, which the ethics commission released Thursday. He wrote that he and Stillman spoke with Gilzean about the issue on April 26.

“During that conference call, Ms. Stillman informed you of the requirement … and you informed us that you had received legal advice elsewhere about holding both positions,” Zuilkowski wrote. “You stated you would contact me if you wanted my legal opinion.”

Gilzean, though, wrote in his resignation letter that the ethics commission and its lawyers never raised the potential for a conflict when he was drafting his employment agreement or attending two meetings after he was hired by the tourism district in May.

“The Commission General Counsel … decided in the memorandum, unnecessarily, to disclose and mischaracterize previous communications I had with him while seeking legal advice relating to my service on the Commission on Ethics,” Gilzean wrote.

Gilzean’s conflict went publicly unnoticed until a story by the investigative news outlet Florida Bulldog last week. Gilzean then requested a legal opinion from the ethics commission.

Zuilkowski concluded Gilzean needed to give up one of his jobs.

DeSantis first appointed Gilzean to the ethics commission in August 2019, an unpaid position.

The nine-member ethics commission is tasked with investigating complaints of “breach of the public trust by public officers and employees.” With a staff of about 25 employees, the commission describes itself as the “guardian of the standards of conduct for officers and employees of Florida.”

DeSantis has not named a replacement.

On Thursday, Gilzean sent an email to Stillman complaining that the legal opinion he had sought had been released to the news media.

“(I)t is deeply inappropriate that your legal opinion was disseminated to the press at the same time you sent it to me,” Gilzean wrote. “As far as I’m concerned, someone on your staff knowingly leaked this memo and weaponized it, how did this happen?”

Stillman responded that the memo wasn’t leaked but produced in response to numerous public records requests.