Ethics Commission vs. Hawkins

Lost amid the sordid tales of sexual harassment are the other allegations about Larry Hawkins now under investigation by the Florida Commission on Ethics. Though less sensational, they are just as revealing. Perhaps the most serious of these involve Hawkins's former employment with Seitlin & Company, a local insurance firm. In his interview with ethics commission investigator Larry Hill, Hawkins explained that in 1990 Seitlin president Steve Jackman offered him a job as a consultant for the firm.

"[Jackman] said to me one day, 'How do you live on $6000?'" Hawkins recounted, referring to the annual salary he receives as a county commissioner. "And I said, 'I have a military retirement that allows me to do that.' And he said, 'Do you ever have some time?' And I said, 'Yeah, some time.' And he said, 'Well, you're well-known in the community, would you mind doing some public relations for the company?' And I said, 'No, I wouldn't mind doing that.'"

Hill wanted to know how much Jackman offered to pay Hawkins. "It's not a lot of money," Hawkins replied. "It was $25,000. It's not a lot of money. And I said to him, 'I might not be able to put a lot of time in.' And he said, 'That's fine. It's nice for us to have you on the letterhead.' And I said, 'Fine.'"

Hawkins's was a particularly good name to have on an insurance company's letterhead -- even if it did cost $25,000 -- because at that time he was chairman of the commission's health and human services committee. Hill pressed Hawkins further: "Was there any type of arrangement for you to attempt to use your position as a commissioner to find business for them through your contacts as a commissioner or through your job as a commissioner?"

Hawkins answered succinctly: "If my name was Sam Smith, an ironworker, they probably wouldn't have hired me."

Hawkins is facing two charges before the ethics commission relating to his work for Seitlin, the first being an accusation that he used his clout as a commissioner to pressure the Community Health Center of South Dade, known as CHI, to consider switching its insurance coverage to Seitlin. When officials for the county-subsidized health clinic reportedly refused to switch, Hawkins allegedly tried to cut their subsidy.

The second charge brought by the ethics commission accuses Hawkins of using county employees -- namely, his secretaries -- to do such things as answer Seitlin-related phone calls and to type some of his Seitlin correspondence.

Hawkins, in an interview with New Times, said he had done nothing wrong. He had merely suggested that CHI should allow Seitlin to review its insurance policy to determine if Seitlin could save the clinic money. Because of some of the deficiencies Seitlin pointed out, Hawkins said, CHI was able to renegotiate its coverage with its original insurance carrier. Seitlin earned nothing on the deal.

The ethics commission is also investigating complaints that in 1991 Hawkins secretly engineered a $50,000 grant from the county to the local Easter Seals Society at a time when the organization was considering hiring him as its president. Hawkins won that $90,000-a-year position, and holds it today.

The final charge to be considered by the ethics commission alleges that Hawkins failed to report on his financial disclosure forms a free plane trip to New Orleans given to him by Lowell Dunn, a friend and prominent South Florida developer.

A hearing will likely be held later this year. If the commission members find that Hawkins did abuse his position as an elected official, they can sanction him in various ways, from a reprimand to recommending that the governor remove him from office.

 
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