The Florida Ethics Commission ruled that the Federal Government’s effort to supplant lost income to the Broward County School Board would not violate state ethics law. However, the decision was split causing much debate. Commission member Don Gaetz, who also previously served as Florida Senate President, wanted to table the question.
“Through this request for an opinion, we are being entangled, or someone is attempting to entangle us, in a wider political and legal debate,” Gaetz said.
It is unclear if the school district will ever actually get the money which is being offered to the school board in the form of a federal grant for over $420,000.
The school board members initially lost their salaries after the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) opted to withhold their pay for imposing a mask mandate in defiance of state law banning mask mandates. The announcement of the docked pay came in early September as Broward County students were only a couple weeks into the school year.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis along with the FDOE had been threatening to withhold their salaries for weeks, giving the district time to comply with the state law, but the district refused. They also joined a coalition of pro-mask mandate school districts from across Florida is legally challenging the Florida Department of Health’s rule against mask mandate bans.
Travis Cummings, an ethics commission member, asked if the Broward County School Board had been influenced by money to make the decision on masks.
“All one has to do is simply breathe the air and feel the sunshine and the rain to understand that the (Joe) Biden administration has made it very clear that the reason they are doing this (awarding of grants) is because they want to influence the outcome and support a decision with respect to the masks,” Cummings said. “How can we say there are no parties attempting to use funds to influence … a certain vote on a certain policy?”
Another commission member, Michelle Anchors, desired to wrap up the issue given that salaries are not considered gifts.
“The conclusion that is reached in this advisory opinion simply states that salaries are not a gift,” Anchors said. “I’m concerned that the moral hazard here really is not having the moral courage to render an advisory opinion that says what the law does.”
Spokesman for the FDOE, Jared Ochs, said the school board’s decision to violate state law regarding mask mandate bans has nothing to do with Florida’s ethical gift laws and he did not see why the Ethics Commission was making a decision on the matter.
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