Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet voted Thursday to fire Ronald Rubin, the state’s main financial regulator, after an inspector general’s report concluded he violated rules against sexual harassment and other state workplace standards.
DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis – all Republicans – approved Rubin’s dismissal as commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation. Patronis oversees that office.
Commissioner of Agriculture & Consumer Services Nikki Fried – the independently elected Cabinet’s lone Democrat – walked out just before the vote. “I’m withholding a vote on this issue until it has been properly agendaed and publicly noticed,” she said.
Fried cited the so-called “Weidner settlement,” requiring transparency in personnel decisions by the governor and Cabinet.
Patronis – who’d pressed to hire Rubin only to later lead the charge for his dismissal – argued the governor and Cabinet hold “broad authority to terminate at-will employees” like Rubin.
“In this case, we have broad evidence and cause and we should not be intimidated by desperate legal maneuvers.” State service is an honor, Patronis continued, his voice breaking with emotion, “not a right, not an entitlement.”
He apparently referred to a lawsuit filed on Rubin’s behalf, arguing that Patronis was punishing Rubin for refusing to go along with cronyism and “pay to play” politics at the agency. Michael Tien, Rubin’s attorney, argued Thursday that his client has apologized and really was being fired “because he refused to bend to the will of powerful people and big-money donors.”
“Just because someone feels uncomfortable, just because someone doesn’t like their supervisor, just because someone rubs people the wrong way – or even rubs some of you the wrong way – doesn’t mean that Ron Rubin is fired, publicly humiliated and his reputation destroyed forever,” Tien said.
At the public Governor and Cabinet meeting, Patronis recited 10 findings against Rubin, including recounting to an employee “the sexual history of a family member;” offering to let that employee attend a Washington, D.C., conference with him and granting access to his residence there; and “asking a subordinate employee if their dog watches the employee and their spouse have sex.”
Following the vote, DeSantis insisted to reporters: “We can remove someone if their performance isn’t good. The bottom line is, there was clearly poor conduct, and I think it was below the standards we should expect.”
Patronis urged the governor and Cabinet to begin the process of installing an interim commissioner. DeSantis promised a “thorough vetting” to identify a candidate “that’s talented but also is going to conduct themselves and lead appropriately.”
Filling the post – overseer of financial institutions in Florida – might not be easy, the governor said.
“The problem is, it’s hard to get someone to come from like New York or Chicago to Florida. I personally wasn’t successful in getting some folks to apply that I thought would have been really good,” DeSantis said. He would have acted differently regarding Rubin had he known at the time about the potential for trouble, “but at the time he had better knowledge than the other candidates.”
As for transparency, the governor said he and the Cabinet had followed the law.
“It was noticed. Everyone knew this was on the agenda. People are always free to bring motions when they want. I don’t think this was a surprise to anyone that there was going to be a determination today.”
As for Fried, her office issued a written statement making clear that she “did not support Mr. Rubin’s continued employment by the State of Florida” but was troubled by the process.
“I have refrained from saying much about this entire situation publicly, because I felt we as the Florida Cabinet needed to have all the available information,” Fried said.
“After watching the back and forth, the competing reports, and the flying allegations, here is what I know: public officials need to be held to the highest moral, ethical, and legal standards, and all allegations regarding those in which the public trust has been placed need to be investigated by independent and neutral parties, so that the truth may come to light. Of what I am most sure is that this situation not only doesn’t serve the people of our state, it is a stain on the people’s Cabinet,” she continued.
“When Mr. Rubin was hired in February, I said then that this was such an important position to get right – and that remains true today. But I will remind my colleagues on the Cabinet that we are governed not only by Florida Sunshine Law, but also the Weidner agreement, until we adopt alternative Cabinet guidelines,” Fried concluded.