The Florida Cabinet has appointed a new commissioner for the state’s Office of Financial Regulation. One cabinet member, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, withheld her vote.
The vote took place on a conference call between cabinet members, which lasted just over one minute. It resulted in naming a new top financial regulator for the state, Russell Weigel. He’s a University of Miami law school graduate, and worked as an attorney for the federal Securities and Exchange Commission from 1990-2001. Weigel now heads his own practice in Coral Gables.
Weigel replaces ousted OFR commissioner Ronald Rubin, whose employment with the agency was terminated by the cabinet in July. Rubin’s firing was the result of sexual harassment allegations that were verbal in nature, but Rubin claimed there were political motivations at play.
Rubin alleged state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who initially suspended him from the post in May, did so for political reasons. He filed a lawsuit in June against a lobbyist the suit claimed is in Patronis’ “inner circle,” alleging Patronis set up a “pay to play” system meant to extort illegal campaign contributions.
Patronis, in July, said comments Rubin allegedly made to OFR employees cross the limits of “human decency.”
“I take full responsibility for recommending him as a candidate for this office,” Patronis said during the July Cabinet meeting. “It is clear a much deeper vetting needed to take place in addition to the standard criminal background check that we did in the application process.”
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the cabinet’s only Democratic member, was the lone cabinet member not to vote on Weigel’s appointment Monday. Fried put out a news release shortly after Weigel’s appointment explaining her withheld vote, citing concerns over "the search and candidate selection process and a lack of confidence in the finalists considered." Fried says she wishes the process had been more transparent.
Fried also abstained from voting when the cabinet elected to remove Rubin from the post earlier this year. At the time of that vote, Fried cited transparency concerns, she said the item wasn’t on the meeting agenda, and hadn’t been publicly noticed.
Salary for the commissioner post will remain $166,000.