The Florida Commission on Ethics’ advocate and former Mayor Milissa Holland have agreed to a $1,000 fine Holland would pay over the commission’s finding that she violated the state’s ethics rules when she sent three private-business solicitation emails from her public, mayoral email account in 2018.
The ethics commission advocate–the lawyer who represents the commission–and Holland agreed to the joint stipulation, but is it only a recommendation to the ethics commission board. The board meets on September 10 to decide the recommendation. The board can lower or raise the fine, or even reject the stipulated agreement. Most of the time, the board approves its advocate’s recommendation. If it does so, the approval would close the case against Holland.
The case is the result of an ethics complaint Jay Maher, a now-former Palm Coast city employee, filed in 2018, making seven allegations of misconduct by Holland in her role as mayor, from favoring her private employer to interfering with city employees’ functions. The advocate recommended throwing out five of the seven allegations, and the commission threw out a sixth, leaving only the email matter on the table. In 2018, Holland sent two emails trying to set up a meeting with Orlando government’s innovation director to talk about setting up a “citizen engagement platform” much like what became Palm Coast Connect. But Holland was doing so on behalf of Coastal Cloud, her employer. The emails bore her official signature as mayor. The solicitations went nowhere.
Holland’s attorney, mark Herron, argued before the ethics commission in late July much as Holland had previously, when she apologized for the matter: that the emails were inadvertently sent from her city account much as different private and public accounts can be mingled in a person’s devices. Ethics commissioners conceded that the inadvertance isn’t uncommon. One commissioner, who’d been in elected office in local and state government, spoke of committing the same errors several times, and argued that the violation should be dismissed on that account. But the commission chair said the error remained a violation, and it is incumbent on public officials to carefully follow the law. The advocate had argued that three such emails established a pattern, though no such pattern was detected in the commission’s investigation.
The stipulated agreement means that Holland admits to having violated Florida law “by using her public position and/or resources to benefit herself and/or her employer regarding emails sent to the City of Orlando.” Holland and the advocate in the recommendation urge the commission to approve the stipulation and enter a final order in the case.
If the agreement is not ratified by the commission, the recommendation becomes null, as does Holland’s admission, though that’s only part of the technical language of the recommendation: Holland is not about to reverse course on admissions she’s made several times.
Holland, the recommended order states, “enters into this Joint Stipulation with the understanding of the seriousness of the allegations and gives her assurance that this proceeding has affected the manner in which she conducts herself as a public official in a positive way.”
Holland resigned as mayor in mid-May, just months after winning a bruising re-election. She cited her daughter’s health as a reason. The resignation reignited claims dating back to last year, all false, that Holland was resigning because of criminal proceedings likely to result from the ethics charges against her. The fabrications had weakened her candidacy in 2020, and were revived, especially by the campaign of Alan Lowe, run by his ally and sitting Council member Ed Danko.
Danko falsely claimed from the dais during a public meeting, and in more explicit terms while campaigning for Lowe, implicated the governor in claims that Ron DeSantis had told Holland to resign or face criminal charges–all lies. Danko also ridiculed her daughter’s claims of ill health.
Holland, whose father, Jim Holland, had been among the founding members of the first Palm Coast City Council in 1999, was first elected to public office in 2006 when she won a seat on the county commission, she was re-elected, served two terms, then resigned to run for a Florida House seat, losing narrowly to Travis Hutson, who has since been elected to a Senate seat. Holland won the mayorship in 2016, when Jon Netts was term-limited, and won again last November. She says she has no intention of seeking public office anymore.