Kilsheimer: “We were focused on the benefit we were trying to provide, and the good we were going to do.”
In February of 2017, Apopka Mayor Joe Kilsheimer and three partners formed a for-profit social purpose corporation (SPC) called Certified Second Chance Inc. (CSC). One of the partners is Allan Chernoff, who is the chief operating officer of the City of Life Foundation, a non-profit organization in Orlando which is being funded by the City of Apopka to manage a program to improve Apopka-area schools.
CSC is designed to give felons re-entering society a chance to prove themselves through third-party verification of obligations they meet in order to gain employment. CSC is seeking $500,000 from the State of Florida to begin the company through a request introduced by State Senator Randolph Bracy of Orlando.
The actions Kilsheimer and CSC took to request funding from the State have gained attention on social media because of two posts by a Central Florida blogger that alleges either legal or ethical wrongdoing by Kilsheimer.
In conversations with The Apopka Voice, Kilsheimer denied that CSC would in any way impede his ability to govern as mayor, or that anything he did was illegal or unethical. He references an email sent to him by City Attorney Cliff Shepard in September of 2016.
The email begins by Shepard citing the Apopka City Charter:
Section 2-37 (of the City charter) – Office of mayor to be full-time; salary of mayor. The office of mayor of the city shall be a full-time job, and the mayor shall pursue no other occupation in such a manner while serving as mayor as to interfere with his official duties and obligations.
“Please note the provision that I have bolded,” Shepard writes. “As written this would mean that having other business interests or even another job would be okay unless said interests were to interfere with his official duties and obligations as Mayor. This also seems consistent with the manner in which this provision was interpreted by former Mayor (John) Land upon his well-known outside business pursuits. Essentially, this means that if there is a conflict over any of his Mayoral duties and his other business interests the Mayoral duties must prevail. Other than that he is ‘good to go’ under the code.”
According to Shepard, an Apopka mayor can own a business or even hold a second job as long as the duties of mayor come first. Kilsheimer said he would work on CSC after business hours.
“I may take an occasional call (for CSC) when I am in my car on the way somewhere, but the vast majority of my work (for CSC) will be after 5pm and not during City functions,” said Kilsheimer.
Shepard also told Kilsheimer that, “The Mayor must avoid business interests that do business with or are regulated by the City.”
This puts light on Chernoff. The City of Life Foundation, which Chernoff is COO, has received a total of $55,000 from the City of Apopka to manage the “Apopka Begins and Ends with A” program for the past two years.
Last year Kilsheimer proposed the contract with Chernoff not only be continued but that the annual funding be increased to $70,000. He was unable to convince the rest of the City Council, but they did agree to budget $35,000 for the program.
The question being raised focuses on the fact that Kilsheimer, who has obtained $55,000 in tax-payer funding for Chernoff’s organization, would be a business partner with Chernoff if CSC were to receive funding from the State and become a working business.
The Apopka Voice asked Kilsheimer if he believed it was a conflict to go into business with Chernoff, but Kilsheimer looked beyond that potential conflict-of-interest to point to the greater good CSC would do.
“This is a project beyond my role as mayor of the city of Apopka,” Kilsheimer said. “This is a project I’ve been working on since before I was elected mayor, even before I was elected as a city commissioner. We were focused on the benefit we were trying to provide, and the good we were going to do.”
For-profit social purpose corporations are a relatively new filing option in the state. In 2014, Florida joined the growing number of states that permit special types of for-profit corporations to pursue substantial public interest goals at the possible expense or deferral of profit maximization, the traditional corporate goal objective. A social purpose corporation (SPC) is a type of for-profit entity that enables corporations to consider social or environmental issues in decision making instead of relying only on profit-maximizing goals.
According to Kilsheimer, it’s easier to raise private money through an SPC.
“It’s better for investors because they can own stock in the company,” he said.
Kilsheimer said he wrote the business plan for CSC eight years ago after volunteering in the St. Petersburg mayoral election for Deveron Gibbons – one of the partners involved with CSC.
“I was sitting in the campaign office when a man came in and asked Deveron (Gibbons) for a letter of recommendation,” he said. “He was well-dressed and well-spoken, but he had a criminal record and had been incarcerated. As the conversation evolved he explained that it is virtually impossible to come out of prison and get a good job. ‘The moment you check the box (that you have been convicted of a felony), the distrust begins. All felons deal with this,’ he told Kilsheimer.
It was after that encounter that he thought of the idea.
“I’ve been working on this since 2009,” he said. “This is a long-held interest of mine and a long-held passion of mine. Our society is built on third-party verification. That’s what CSC does for felons. Everything they do is tracked and documented. If they have drug testing or restitution, CSC verifies it. Now their good record is documented.”
Despite writing the business plan in 2009, the timing of the filing coincided with the election of Bracy.
According to Kilsheimer, criminal justice reform is a priority for Bracy. The first-term state senator represents much of west Orange County, including Apopka. Kilsheimer attended Bracy’s swearing-in ceremony and heard him speak about criminal justice reform. When Kilsheimer heard Bracy’s passion on the subject, he approached him about CSC. It was Bracy’s idea to request the funds to start a satellite project in his district.
Kilsheimer also points out that without funding from the State, CSC is still little more than a business plan.
“It exists only on paper,” he said. “We don’t have a bank account or a federal tax ID number. There is no ‘there, there’.”