Nothing wrong with UCF’s Roofclaim deal, lots wrong with how it got torpedoed | Editorial
Orlando Sentinel (FL)
Ethics has been defined as doing the right thing when nobody is looking.
Not enough people were looking when the University of Central Florida was considering a naming-rights deal for its on-campus stadium, and still the deal got scuttled for all the wrong reasons.
Ugly got uglier when a state lawmaker retaliated with a bill that would require state leaders to approve naming-rights deals at public universities.
The bill is the end result of a process that lacked ethical awareness. That should be a standard ingredient when decisions are reached, but policy-makers were oblivious to conflicts of interests.
Either that, or they didn't care enough to recuse themselves when it would have been the right thing to do.
"Some didn't like (the deal), so they’re punishing this company and UCF,” said Ben Wilcox of Integrity Florida, a nonprofit ethics watchdog group.
The company is Roofclaim.com, a roofing firm that negotiates and litigates repairs and payments. The insurance industry has been at war with companies like Roofclaim.com, saying they push for unneeded or excessive repairs.
Roofclaim.com would have paid UCF $35 million over 15 years for naming rights to the school’s football stadium and other considerations. UCF Athletics Director Danny White presented it to the UCF Foundation Board of Directors at December’s meeting.
Board member Alan Florez raised objections to the Roofclaim.com deal, saying legislators might not like it. Florez works for Foundation Risk Partners, an insurance brokerage firm. State Rep. Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach, is the firm’s chief legal officer.
The foundation board had to approve the deal before forwarding it to the UCF Board of Trustees. Florez voted against it, but the measure passed and went to trustees for final approval.
Trustees were supposed to convene the next day. That meeting was suddenly postponed.
UCF Interim President Thad Seymour eventually sent a letter telling members the Roofclaim.com deal was off. In the interim, Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, filed a bill that would require universities to get legislative approval for athletic facility sponsorships valued at $1 million or more.
Fine said he didn’t understand how a deal like the one with Roofclaim.com “inherently has value to the school beyond the money.”
Funny, legislators never had such qualms when the University of Florida renamed the Stephen C. O’Connell Center the Exatech Arena, after signing a deal with the medical device company.
They also raised no objections when USF signed a 10-year deal that renamed its basketball arena the Yuengling Center.
That's Yuengling, as in beer. Given the perpetual problem with underage drinking on campus, it's hard to see how the deal "inherently has value to the school beyond the money."
“You could scrutinize probably every single one of our corporate partners and find something politically wrong with them," White said at the UCF Foundation meeting. “There’s so many polarizing things for all of these companies.”
You'd need quite a few Yuenglings to believe the insurance industry didn't spring into action.
Industries have every right to lobby policy-makers, but policy-makers should not vote on measures that, as the state ethics code puts it, “inure to their own special private gain or loss."
UCF’s policy is similar, and both leave a lot of ethical wiggle room. In this case, unless a board member worked for Roofclaim.com or had some other glaring connection, they could vote on the deal.
In this self-policing system, it’s too easy for the cops to make like “The Three Wise Monkeys.” The famous 17th-century pictorial is carved above the entrance to a Japanese temple, showing three monkeys covering their eyes, ears and mouth.
See no evil. Hear no evil. Speak no evil.
It’s been going on so long, politicians and the public just accept it as a way of life. Consider that 4,510 bills have been filed in this year’s legislative session. Senators are required to post a memorandum notifying the public if they have a conflict of interest. Guess how many memos have been posted this year.
As for the House of Representatives, who knows? It doesn’t even require members to file conflict-of-interest notifications.
Sen. Juan Rodriguez, D-Miami, has filed bills the past two years that would tighten disclosure rules. They went nowhere, though Rodriguez still has faith in the system.
"There are things we can do," he said. "I'm trying to figure out what they are."
A good start would be more clearly defining what “inure to their own special private gain or loss" means. But ultimately, it’s a matter of policy-makers taking an honest look in the mirror when it comes to conflicts of interest.
Right now, they’d too often see Three Wise Monkeys staring back at them.
Editorials are the opinion of the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board and are written by one of its members or a designee. The Editorial Board consists of Opinion Editor Mike Lafferty, Jay Reddick, David Whitley and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson. Send emails to [email protected].
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