“I don’t have a choice but to resign from my position as City Commissioner, District 3 effective on December 30, 2023,” wrote St. Pete Beach (SPB) City Commissioner Ward Friszolowski in this letter of the same date.
What he didn’t write was “I resign” or “I am resigning,” or anything in the present tense indicating he is resigning. Saying “I have no choice but to resign” is not the same as saying “I resign.”
A simple analysis of his sentence shows that Friszolowski didn’t resign — and the prominent Artificial Intelligence based web tool ChatGPT agrees with that assessment.
“The statement ‘I don’t have a choice but to resign from my position’ implies an intention or decision to resign but doesn’t necessarily indicate that the resignation has occurred at that very moment,” ChatGPT told the Guardian. See the full transcript of that session.
To be certain, we asked ChatGPT about the matter again, but in a slightly different way. We received substantially the same answer, with ChatGPT commenting on Friszolowski’s wording as follows: that “to ensure clarity and formalize the resignation, it’s advisable for the individual to follow up with a more direct and explicitly stated communication” (transcript).
Public records requests made by the Guardian show that the city’s official position is that Friszolowski has resigned, and that his letter is the record of his resignation.
However, in light of this article and the possible ramifications explained later, the city commission may or may not alter that position, which was arrived at by staff who have not yet been presented the analysis in this article.
Friszolowski did not respond by the publication deadline to our e-mailed question “in light of the above information, do you still maintain that you resigned effective 12/30/2023?”
The city public information officer also did not respond to a request for comment.
A public records request to the city for “any records of legal advice the city attorney gave Ward Friszolowski on how he should word his resignation letter” returned no records. Friszolowski also didn’t respond to this question we posed:
Given the rancor over the vacancy appointment process that you were aware of before your 12/30 letter, did you seek legal advice on how to word your resignation letter? If so, from which attorney or firm?
Three days after Friszolowski penned his letter, Harvard president Claudine Gay wrote a supposed “resignation letter” that a plain reading of shows has the same defect: Gay also did not resign in her letter. Also in that case, ChatGPT agrees with this analysis. But in Gay’s case, her sloppy wording doesn’t carry with it the potential to create a legal mess. Friszolowski’s bungled wording does.
Since Friszolowski did not resign, then there was no vacancy for the city commission to fill at its January 9th Commission meeting. In a 3-1 vote, unelected appointed commissioners Marriott, Filtz and Lorenzen voted to appoint Betty Rzewnicki to fill the vacant (?) district 3 seat. Mayor Petrila was the lone “no” vote, citing process concerns.
Friszolowski’s poor wording in trying to resign may create problems for him personally as well. If he agrees that he didn’t resign, it means that he would have to file the financial disclosure form he said he resigned in order to avoid. Anyone who was a city commissioner in Florida on or after December 31 has to fill out the form.
If Friszolowski maintains that he did resign, the Florida Commission on Ethics (FCE) might decide he didn’t resign and exercise their authority try to compel Friszolowski to file form 6.
In the end, the FCE can’t force anyone to file Form 6, but it can levy fines of up to $1,500. If a complaint is filed and upheld, “public censure and reprimand, and civil penalties of up to $20,000 per violation” can be imposed, Kerrie Stillman, Executive Director of the FCE told the Guardian in an email.
Even if FCE declines to take a position on whether he resigned or not, an ethics complaint could be filed a by a citizen about the matter. The FCE would then have to adjudicate the matter. They could adjudicate that Friszolowski didn’t resign, while the city adjudicates that he did — or vice versa. It’s unclear what would happen if the two agencies would reach different conclusions on the matter.
Even establishment mouthpiece website St. Pete Catalyst called SPB’s unusual approach “a last-minute, novel plan to stagger resignations.” But why was it last minute? This change in the financial disclosure requirements has been in the works for a long time, the resigning commissioners knew that, and several admitted to speaking to the city attorney about it over the last few months.
Again; why was all this done at the last minute? And why did the city attorney say that “we have to find a method for the remaining commissioners to appoint the commissioners.” Why did they “have” to do that?
Now that the city has been sued, the citizens may only get answers to those questions through depositions, and through documents uncovered during the lawsuit through e.g. subpoenas.
As always….the Guardian reports and our readers decide. Like our Facebook page to find out when we publish articles.