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DEO aide vows neutrality in deals involving husband's lobbying clients

The communications director at the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, Monica Russell, wrote a letter this week to her supervisor that states she will recuse herself from any issue relating to clients of her husband, the lobbyist Daniel Russell.

“Although no matter or issue has come before me to date, in the unlikely event that an issue or decision directly involving one of these clients were to come before me, in an abundance of caution and to avoid the appearance of any impropriety, I will immediately recuse myself from such issue or decision and delegate responsibility to the appropriate DEO staff member,” Monica Russell wrote to Jesse Panuccio, the DEO’s executive director.

Download Letter from Russell to Panuccio

The date of the letter is Aug. 27, the same day the Times/Herald reported that a birthday celebration for Melissa Sellers, Gov. Rick Scott's communications director, was held Saturday at the Tallahassee home of the Russells. Sellers and Adam Hollingsworth, Scott’s chief of staff, were among those who attended.

On Monday and Tuesday, they told the Times/Herald that at the time of the party they didn’t know that Daniel Russell lobbied for the Northrop Grumman Corp., a defense contractor that is negotiating up to $19 million in economic incentives from DEO in return for creating more than 1,000 jobs.

Hollingsworth said Thursday that Monica Russell wasn’t involved in negotiating deals. He said that when she was hired in January, she was counseled about conflicts of interest and gifts and disclosure laws, which was highlighted in a second letter written Tuesday by the DEO’s general counsel, Robert Sechen.

Download Sechen letter

Hollingsworth called the letter Russell wrote Tuesday a “belt-and-suspenders” action: Not necessary because of its redundancy, but taken to avoid any appearance of conflict.

Asked why she wrote the letter, Russell told the Times/Herald in an e-mail: “I wrote the letter to formalize the fact that I have not been, nor will I be, involved in any issues or meetings involving any of my spouse’s current or future lobbying clients.”