Ethics Committee calls on Governor DeSantis to remove Doug Underhill from Escambia Commission at request of Don Gaetz


The Florida Ethics Commission asks the governor. Ron DeSantis remove the beleaguered Escambia County commissioner Doug Underhill of his functions one month before the end of his mandate.

The panel voted 6-1 on Friday, calling on the Republican governor to remove Underhill and fine him $35,000 for a series of ethics violations. His most serious offence, which the ethics committee found necessitated his dismissal, was publishing the transcript of a county commission executive session meeting on a legal matter involving local utilities.

Underhill’s lawyer, Marc Herron, told the ethics committee that his client felt it was his moral duty under Sunshine to disclose information that was not publicly available. No one won on release, he added.

However, the lawyer acting as attorney, Elizabeth Millertold the panel that the release of the transcript revealed the county commission’s strategy in the case.

“Mr. Underhill knew he shouldn’t do it, and yet he did it anyway,” Miller said. “It had all sorts of ramifications, which I don’t know if we saw.”

Initially, Miller was only pursuing a $12,500 fine for Underhill based on a recommendation of the Florida Administrative Hearing Division. However, Don Gaetz, a Republican former president of the Northwest Florida Senate and a member of the ethics commission, inquired about the maximum fine for Underhill. Miller revealed the maximum would be $10,000 per violation plus the governor’s suppression for transcript disclosure.

“What I would really like is for him to be removed from public office,” Miller said. “I don’t think his actions warrant him being a public officer if he violated all those laws.”

Gaetz led the motion to increase the fine and remove Underhill from office.

“This individual needs to be removed from his position,” Gaetz said. “The fact is that there were delays, which I believe were intended to drag this matter out so that he was very close to the end of his term.”

Ahead of the reunion, Gaetz revealed his relationship with David Bear, a Pensacola businessman who brought one of the complaints against Underhill. The couple have known each other for about a year and work on the same nonprofit board, Gaetz told the commission, adding that this would prevent him from acting appropriately because they do not share any business transactions or financial.

Member of the ethics committee Jim Waldman, a former Democratic member of the Florida House in Fort Lauderdale, questioned the need for a new recommendation after officials had already thoroughly researched the offenses to reach their conclusion. Additionally, he suggested it would set a precedent by dramatically increasing fines for more minor, but still serious, gift and solicitation violations, including fundraising through GoFundMe, which the panel set at $6,250. each.

“I just think we’ve gone off on a tangent here where we’re making it a lot bigger than it is when we don’t have the benefit of actually being there,” Waldman said.

“Just because we haven’t done it this bad in the past doesn’t mean it’s wrong to do it now,” the president said. John Granta Tampa Republican and attorney.

Waldman was the only member to vote against the increased sentence.

Friday, Underhill told the Pensacola News Journal that the decision was “political” and pointed to Gaetz’s comments. He plans to appeal the decision.

“In trying to ensure that I never run for office again, they are eliminating the one person who had the courage to speak out against the Bear family and the Gaetz family and the power they improperly wield,” said Underhill.

Last year Underhill, a Republican, decided not to seek a third term. His term ends on November 22. But whether he completes that term and his ability to run for future office will be in the hands of the governor.

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