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Despite Ethical findings of abuse of office, Rep. Fine appointed to higher positions by Speaker of the House

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The Florida Commission on Ethics is a nine-member Commission that serves as the “guardian of the standards of conduct for officers and employees of Florida.” Much like a Yorkie guarding a bank vault, it appears to be just as effective and equally ignored.In a move that slaps the citizens of Florida in the face, Rep. Randy Fine (R-Palm Bay) has been reappointed to his leadership positions in the Florida House of Representatives by Speaker Paul Renner.

This decision comes despite the recent findings of the Ethics Commission that Fine abused his office and position. Not only does Fine retain his seat as the Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, but he also continues to serve on the Appropriations Committee and the Education & Employment Committee. The Speaker’s decision to reinstate Fine to these influential roles raises significant concerns about the integrity of the legislative process and the values upheld by the Florida House of Representatives.

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The Florida Commission on Ethics recently found probable cause that Fine violated ethics laws last year. The allegations against him are severe, suggesting that he threatened to veto funding for the people of West Melbourne and withhold funding for the Special Olympics because he wasn’t invited (or in his words, “honored”) to a Chick-fil-A fundraising event.

“Found probable cause to believe that [Fine] abused his position to obtain a disproportionate benefit and that he misused his position by threatening to take away State funding over a personal feud with a Brevard County School Board member, and that he interfered in a council member’s response to a public records request for communications related to the dispute.” (Excerpt from Commission ruling)

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If proven true, this behavior represents a blatant abuse of office and position, casting doubt on Fine’s ability to serve the public’s best interests. Not to mention that he has several ethics complaints still pending for similar and other actions.

Fine labeled the Commission a “kangaroo court,” claiming to Florida Today, they found probable cause against him solely because they disagree with his politics. “It is clear to me, based on Jim Waldman’s motion that the kangaroo court that is the Florida Commission on Ethics has a personal axe to grind with myself and my politics,” Fine said. It’s worth noting that the Commission is predominantly Republican-appointed, with appointments made by Governor DeSantis himself.

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What’s even more unsettling is that Representative Fine might face no consequences for his actions. After finding probable cause, the Commission requested Fine to face an administrative judge in a public hearing over the charges in July. Since then, Fine seems to have been delaying the hearing, likely to invoke Florida Statute 11.111, which grants a continuance to any state legislator preparing for or during any legislative session.

This is crucial because any punishment Fine might receive will come from the Florida House of Representatives. Fine is serving his final term due to term limits, and this is his last legislative session. His appointment to powerful positions, while facing these charges, indicates that the Speaker of the House is indifferent. Instead of penalizing Fine, he has rewarded him and placed him in roles where he can further exploit his office and position.

Anticipating this strategy, we emailed the attorney for the Ethics Commission and the assigned administrative judge, urging them to resist further delays. Today, a status report was filed, revealing more delays due to the upcoming legislative session. Imagine that. In other words, there’s simply no time to have this hearing because Fine is too busy potentially abusing his office.

Given these findings, the decision to reappoint Fine to leadership roles is both surprising and deeply concerning. It suggests that the Florida House of Representatives might prioritize political convenience over ethical conduct. Moreover, Fine recently hired the former General Counsel for the Florida House and advisor to the Speaker, George Levesque, to represent him.

Even more troubling is the possibility that the attorney representing the Ethics Commission might be complicit in the delay strategy. This attorney, assigned from the Office of the Attorney General, surprisingly recommended against finding probable cause during the hearing, which Fine didn’t even bother to attend. Its almost as if Fine knew what the recommendation would be.

The Commission, however, voted 8-1 against this recommendation. It would appear to be in her interest to continue to delay a case that she clearly did not want to prosecute anyway for unknown reasons.

Adding to the complexity, Florida Atlantic University (FAU) is embroiled in controversy. Fine, who didn’t make the finalist list for the University President position, has caused the search to stall indefinitely. The ongoing investigation by the Florida Board of Governors, coupled with threats of additional investigations by Florida’s CFO Jimmy Patronis, and the Attorney General’s Office inquiry into whether FAU broke the law in their search, further delays the process. Fine’s interest in avoiding a final ruling on his ethics violations is evident, especially as he seeks a position in which he is demanding an outrageous $1.5 million annual compensation package.

The Health and Human Services Committee, chaired by Fine, plays a crucial role in Florida. It oversees vital areas like public health and medical services. With the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the committee’s decisions impact the well-being of Floridians. Having a chair with ethical concerns is not only unthinkable but also potentially harmful. He has already demonstrated his desire to exploit these positions with his inflammatory language and targeting of minority groups in both rhetoric and law.

Last year, Fine withdrew nearly $6 million in funding for Palm Bay after facing criticism from the City Council. The city had to appeal to the Governor and the Speaker of the House to step in. The city was eventually able to secure funding through other representatives while Fine secured millions for private organizations and projects in South Florida.

We can expect more of the same from Fine. He will likely continue to threaten local officials with funding cuts, all while waiting for allies to support his aspirations for a high-paying job he’s significantly unqualified for. As Fine himself said, he does it “because he can.”

The decision to reappoint Randy Fine to leadership roles in the Florida House of Representatives highlights the challenges of ensuring ethical governance. It emphasizes the need for transparency, accountability, and a commitment to the highest standards of conduct in public office. Floridians deserve representatives who prioritize their well-being over personal or political gains. The Speaker’s decision deserves scrutiny, and Floridians must remain vigilant. While Yorkies are adorable pets that might try to protect their homes, they, like this Ethics Commission, aren’t effective guardians by any standard.

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