During its closed session meeting on Friday, September 9, 2022, the Florida Commission on Ethics, the constitutionally created independent agency tasked with interpreting and enforcing the State’s ethics laws, took action on 19 matters. Nine of those matters were considered for probable cause. In a press release issued on September 14, 2022, the Commission released the following findings.
The Commission rejected the recommendation of its Advocate and found probable cause to believe Broward County Sheriff, Gregory Tony, misused his public position when he provided false information or did not disclose information during the hiring process for his employment with the Coral Springs Police Department; when he provided false information or did not disclose information during the appointment process for his service as Broward County Sheriff; when completing a notarized Form 68 submitted to FDLE while serving as Broward County Sheriff; and when applying to renew his driver’s license while serving as a law enforcement officer. The prohibition against misusing public position prohibits public officers and employees from corruptly using or attempting to use their public office, or the resources thereof, to secure a special privilege, benefit, or exemption for themselves or others.
Probable cause was found to believe former Broward County Transit Director of Maintenance, James Fourcade, misused his position when his department prepared bid specifications for brake refurbishing kits that included terms that would benefit a particular vendor. In addition, probable cause was found to believe Mr. Fourcade provided a competitive advantage to the vendor when he provided them with information not available to the general public.
Probable cause was found to believe former St. Johns County Utility Department Manager, Richard Nelson, violated the constitutional amendment prohibiting abuse of office to obtain a disproportionate benefit and that he misused his position when he used his authority to ensure the County would make purchases from his private business, Technical Field Services, Inc. (TFS). Probable cause was found to believe Mr. Nelson also had a conflict of interest arising from the County doing business with TFS. An allegation he had a conflicting employment or contractual relationship based on his private business’ (TFS) interaction with the County also resulted in a finding of probable cause.
The Commission found probable cause to believe former Saint Augustine Beach City Commissioner, Ernesto Torres, violated the constitutional amendment prohibiting abuse of office to obtain a disproportionate benefit, solicited a favor from law enforcement with the understanding his official action or judgment would be influenced, and attempted to use his public position for his and his wife’s personal benefit when he interfered with a DUI traffic stop involving his wife.
The Commission held a probable cause hearing on multiple allegations regarding currently suspended Sumter County Commissioner, Oren Miller. Probable cause was found to believe Mr. Miller violated Florida’s gift law by failing to timely report donations for his legal fund received during the fourth quarter of 2021 and first quarter of 2022. Probable cause also was found on an allegation that Mr. Miller failed to file an accurate CE Form 9 for quarter ending June 2022. The Commission found no probable cause on three additional allegations: accepting things of value when he should have known it was given to influence his official action; soliciting donations from lobbyists or vendors of Sumter County; and knowingly accepting a contribution exceeding $100 from a vendor doing business with Sumter County.
After reviewing the results of a self-initiated investigation – required by statute – the Commission found probable cause to believe Robert E. Fergen, Division Chief for the Miami-Dade Water Operations and Maintenance Division, willfully failed to timely file his 2018 Form 1. However, no further action will be taken by the Commission due to the particular circumstances of the matter.
In another self-initiated investigation – required by statute – the Commission found probable cause to believe that Teandra Evette Calixte, a principal with Miami-Dade County Public Schools, willfully failed to timely file her 2018 Form 1. However, no further action will be taken by the Commission due to the particular circumstances of the matter.
The Commission rejected the recommendation of its Advocate and found no probable cause to believe Osceola County School Board Member, Jon Arguello, violated Florida’s Constitution and disclosure laws by filing an inaccurate 2020 Form 6.
The Commission considered a complaint filed against Miriam R. Hill, Ocean Highway and Port Authority Commissioner. No probable cause was found to believe she violated the constitutional amendment prohibiting abuse of office to obtain a disproportionate benefit or that she misused her position when handling a grant application for the Port Authority. No probable cause was found on an allegation she used information not available to the general public for her benefit during the grant application process.
The Commission also reviewed and dismissed 10 complaints for lack of legal sufficiency. These reviews are limited to questions of jurisdiction and determinations as to whether the contents of the complaint are adequate to allege a violation of the Code of Ethics or other laws within the Commission’s jurisdiction.
During its public session meeting, the Commission considered and took final action regarding proposed joint stipulation settlements in three separate matters. The Commission took final action and adopted a Joint Stipulation between Town of Redington Shores Mayor, Marybeth Henderson, and the Commission Advocate, entered into prior to a finding of probable cause. The Commission voted to enter a final order finding no probable cause regarding Ms. Henderson’s 2016 disclosure and finding Ms. Henderson violated the financial disclosure laws by filing inaccurate 2017 and 2018 Form 6 disclosures. A civil penalty of $750 and public censure and reprimand will be recommended for imposition by the Governor.
The Commission also adopted a settlement agreement between the Commission Advocate and Celso Alfonso, a candidate for the Florida Senate. The agreement, filed prior to a finding of probable cause, finds Mr. Alfonso violated Florida’s Constitution and disclosure laws by filing an inaccurate 2019 Form 6. The Commission recommended a civil penalty of $250 be imposed by the Governor.
The Commission considered a settlement agreement entered into between the Commission Advocate and Wakulla County Commissioner, Randall Merritt. Mr. Merritt agreed he violated the Florida Constitution and financial disclosure laws by filing an inaccurate 2019 Form 6. A civil penalty of $1,000 and public censure and reprimand will be recommended for imposition by the Governor.
The Commission voted to issue a final order rescinding a previous final order and adopting an Amended Joint Stipulation between the Commission Advocate and Omari Hardy, former Lake Worth Beach City Commissioner and former State Representative. The Amended Joint Stipulation modified where the matter would be referred for penalty imposition. The terms of the penalty remain the same as adopted at the Commission’s July 27, 2022 meeting, which were a civil penalty of $1,000 and public censure and reprimand. The recommended penalty will be referred to the Governor for imposition.
The Commission granted the Advocate’s Motion to Dismiss a complaint filed against Town Clerk, Administrator/Clerk to the Special Master, and Public Records Custodian for the Town of Yankeetown, Sherri MacDonald.
The Commission also considered and adopted a formal advisory opinion requested by a member of the Board of Commissioners of the North Broward Hospital District. The opinion found that a prohibited conflict of interest under the conflicting employment or contractual relationships provision of the Code of Ethics would not be created if the member participated in discussions and decisions regarding the District’s selection of an electronic health records (EHR) provider, reasoning that neither the member, nor his company (that assists hospitals with healthcare revenue cycle management), have an employment or contractual relationship with any EHR database company. The Commission further found that a voting conflict would not exist, pursuant to these facts, were the member to vote on the matter. The Commission also cautioned the member regarding the existence of, and compliance with, the misuse of public office prohibition as well as the constitutional prohibition against abuse of public office to obtain a disproportionate benefit—when expressing his position and opinions on the matter outside of District board meetings.
The Commission considered and approved rulemaking involving necessary updates to Chapter 34-8, Florida Administrative Code, and incorporated materials.
The Commission also considered and adopted its Legislative recommendations in advance of the 2023 Legislative Session which begins March 7, 2023.