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Florida Ethics Commission Waives Fine for Its Own Member

Ethics Commissioner Freddie Figgers didn’t submit his 2021 financial disclosure statement until the day after Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed him to the Ethics Commission. The commission voted 4-1 to waive the $1,500 fine.

The Florida Commission on Ethics waived $1,500 in fines levied against one of its members on Friday, finding that unusual circumstances led to a required form not being filed correctly.

Ethics Commissioner Freddie Figgers didn’t submit his 2021 financial disclosure statement on time when he served on the Board of Directors of Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development organization.

The commission voted 4-1 to waive the fines. Figgers, who did not speak about the issue at the meeting, abstained from the vote.

He had a deadline of July 1, 2022, to file the form, but he didn’t submit it until July 28, 2023, a day after Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed him to the Ethics Commission, state records show. Figgers, a Lauderhill entrepreneur, racked up $25 in automatic daily fines after a Sept. 1, 2022, grace period passed. Fines are capped at a maximum of $1,500.

In his written appeal, Figgers said he signed the form and gave it to administrative staff at Enterprise Florida for processing, which had been the “longstanding” practice for board members. However, the Ethics Commission didn’t receive the document.

“[M]y professional and philanthropic endeavors have always been guided by a strong ethical compass,” Figgers wrote. “The notion of inadvertently failing to comply with financial disclosure requirements is contrary to everything I stand for and have worked towards.”

Steven Zuilkowski, the commission’s general counsel, recommended the fines be waived, saying Figgers had every expectation Enterprise Florida’s staff would file the form promptly as it had done in the past.

“I have zero heartburn about the recommendation I’m making here. … I don’t feel like this an outlier in any way from what this commission has historically done,” he said.

But Michael Barfield, public access director for the Florida Center of Government Accountability, said the decision will give politicians and public employees who fail to file on time a convenient out.

“It sets a precedent that a fellow member will get favorable treatment, and, second, it sends a bad message to everyone else in the state who is required to file that they too can use an excuse that they were depending on someone else to get it filed,” he said.

The commission’s decision was “defensible” based on previous cases, but state law is clear about who is responsible for filing the form, said Caroline Klancke, a former general counsel and deputy executive director of the Florida Commission on Ethics

“The obligation to file financial disclosure and be transparent under the law pertains to the individual public servant,” said Klancke, who now serves as the executive director of the Florida Ethics Institute. “It is their responsibility to fulfill that obligation accurately and timely.”

Financial disclosure statements are required to inform the public of potential conflicts of interest involving elected and appointed officials. Filers can appeal fines if they can demonstrate “unusual circumstances,” defined as “uncommon, rare or sudden events over which the reporting individual had no control and which directly result in the failure to act in accordance with filing requirements.”

The investigative website Florida Bulldog first reported Figgers’ appeal.

After the July 1, 2022, deadline passed, the Ethics Commission sent letters and a postcard to Figgers’ Lauderhill business address about the late filing, according to a finding of facts by the commission. An email also was sent to Figgers and a staffer at Enterprise Florida.

Someone at the Lauderhill address signed on July 29, 2022, for a “notice of delinquency,” but it’s unclear from the record who signed for it, according to the commission’s order. In a letter, Figgers said he didn’t get the notice, blaming “unique challenges” because of a “shared mailroom.”

On Sept. 19, 2022, Figgers emailed an Enterprise Florida staffer about the form, writing “I thought this was taken care of?.” A back-and-forth then ensued between the Ethics Commission and Enterprise Florida.

Enterprise Florida was dissolved in June 2023 and merged with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

Starting July 1, public officials will file financial disclosure statements electronically, which should prevent such mailing errors in the future, Klancke said.

Aside from his ethics fine, Figgers, owner of the telecommunications company Figgers Communication, made news in October because of a $242,500 no-bid deal he struck to work on the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District’s 911 system.

Figgers briefly served with former tourism oversight district administrator Glen Gilzean on the Florida Commission on Ethics.

DeSantis appointed Figgers to serve on the Florida Commission on Ethics on July 27. Less than a month later on Aug. 22, Gilzean resigned as chairman of that panel.

Gilzean stepped aside after it was revealed that he violated a state law prohibiting ethics commissioners from holding public employment.

The district ultimately canceled the contract, but public records indicate Figgers Communication still received nearly $100,000 from the Disney World tourism oversight district. District officials have not responded to questions from the Orlando Sentinel about the reason for the payment, first reported by WFTV Channel 9.

In October, district spokesman Matthew Thomas Oberly said Figgers’ company was hired because it could meet the 120-day timeline for the project, which officials considered to be “a critical urgent need.”

District officials would not say if work was ever done on the “urgent” project.

©2024 Orlando Sentinel. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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