Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman was appointed president and CEO of the Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce, replacing Colleen DePasquale and interim CEO Dianna Ryan.
DePasquale provided 11 years of service to the chamber before relocating to Colorado to accept a new chamber position. Hamman was officially hired last week when the commissioners weren’t in session.
“I think this is a great opportunity to continue with my mission of helping to grow the business community, give people great job opportunities so they can stay here and raise a family here and really improve the quality of life of the community,” Hamman said.
Hamman is a Lee County native and has served District 4 as a county commissioner for nearly nine years. The role of a county commissioner is to protect the best interests of the citizens of the county through the adoption of ordinances and resolutions, which then establishes policies and programs.
The chamber represents more than 800 businesses, professionals and individuals throughout Lee County and provides opportunities for members to network with other businesses, become better educated through various chamber-sponsored programs and communicate one-on-one with community leaders.
In his new role, Hamman will direct all business, programs, projects and events of the chamber to promote the growth of businesses and the community.
“The two positions go hand in hand,” he said, confirming he will continue to serve as a county commissioner.
Holding both positions raise concerns of conflicts of interests, since one role is to serve the county and the other to serve a certain group of businesses within the county.
“This is not an appropriate appointment,” said Pamella Seay, law professor at Florida Gulf Coast University.
Before accepting the position, Hamman said he had a conversation with the county attorney to understand what checks and balances and procedures are in place to ensure that there won’t be a conflict of interest by holding both positions.
Commissioners already have a policy in place, where if commissioners do have a conflict of interest, they have the ability to file that and abstain from voting. Hamman confirmed that he will be following the procedures that have already been established.
“He’ll have to recuse himself from a significant number of votes if he stays on as a county commissioner and when he does that, he is not performing his duty as an elected official,” Seay said.
The chamber is also known for lobbying on behalf of the business community, leaving out the interests of individuals in the community, Seay said.
“The priority of the chamber is not the full community,” Seay said. “It lacks fair representation. You have a paid advocate for business, sitting on a board that makes decisions relating to those businesses. I see an existing conflict of interest. I do not see how he can avoid that.”
She added that the chamber represents its members, and not all businesses are members or have the same interest as the chamber.
“As the CEO, he is the advocate for the membership of the organization,” she said. “That means he is obviously excluding other people within the county such as retirees, individuals and nonmembers.”
The chamber’s board of directors includes people who work for companies and entities who often benefit from decisions of the Lee County Commission. Hoffmann Family of Companies, Fort Myers Brewing Company, the Boston Red Sox, the Minnesota Twins and several construction companies are among the groups that could benefit from Lee County commissioner decisions that each have representatives on the Fort Myers chamber board of directors.
The Lee County Commission’s code of ethics states no employee shall have or hold any employment or contractual relationship that will create a continuing or frequently recurring conflict of interest between his/her private interests and the performance of his/her official public duties, or would impede the full and faithful discharge of those public duties.
Florida Statute 112.313 paragraph 7 states that no public officer or employee of an agency shall have or hold any employment or contractual relationship with any business entity or any agency which is subject to the regulation of, or is doing business with, an agency of which he or she is an officer or employee.
Both of these are applicable to the situation, according to Seay, who said holding both positions is a bad spot for a commissioner to be in. “I see it as a serious conflict of interest that will create a minimum of frequent conflicts, that he will not be able to vote on certain matters, and the potential existing conflicts, that he has access to private information from the county and negotiations in the county that would have an impact on his membership and perhaps his actions,” she said.
To her, it seems Hamman only has one option. “He needs to make a choice,” Seay said. “Is he going to represent the constituency of the county or is he going to represent a small group of business persons in the county? I don’t see that there is a route for him to do both.”
Despite concern over potential conflicts of interest by holding both positions, Hamman is anticipating his new role and having even more of a presence in the community.
“It makes me even more accessible to the public, because I’ll be out in even more meetings where they can come and talk to me and share their concerns and ideas for helping to improve our community,” Hamman said.