City Council's 2018 lawsuit

Summary
  • Ethics Naples gathered 1,481 signatures on a Charter Amendment referendum to improve the ethics policy in Naples
  • The referendum was certified by the Supervisor of Elections to be placed on the ballot in April 2018.
  • Led by Bill Barnett, the City Council refused its ministerial ("nondiscretionary") duty to place the certified referendum on the ballot and sued Ethics Naples to prevent a vote, alleging a multitude of illegalities in the petition in May 2018.
  • City Council lost
    • in Circuit Court in October 2018.
    • in the Second District Appellate Court in February 2020.
  • The judges unanimously found in Ethics Naples favor, and noted that the City had not in fact challenged any of the main components of the Amendment: 
    • Creation of an independent ethics commission
    • The commission's authority and responsibilities
    • The minimum requirements of an ethics code or
    • The establishment of an ethics office
(City Council couldn't challenge them, because similar provisions are standard features of most ethics commissions in Florida.)
  • The Court ordered the City to place the Amendment on the ballot.
  • One point of view - based on the weakness of the City's case - is that the whole effort was an attempt to delay a vote at any cost, and to see if Ethics Naples could be bankrupted by legal costs.
  • The lawsuit prevented Naples voters from making up their own minds and deciding for themselves what ethics they want in Naples.

The origins of Ethics Naples:

 

  • August, 2016: Council votes to abolish the City ethics policy and adopt the State's looser ethics code.

  • September, 2016: A public outcry ensues; City Council rescinds their vote to abolish the City ethics policy.

  • Early 2017: Council then “revises” ethics policy, arguably making it less effective and harder to use.

  • Summer 2017: Concerned by City Council's track record, Ethics Naples is formed to work towards a better ethics policy in Naples. Consultations with Florida ethics commissions, ethicists and lawyers lead to the drafting of the ballot petition.

  • October 2017: The final petition is shared with City Council and receives endorsements from Mayor Barnett and Council members Buxton, Price and Penniman. Ethics Naples begins collecting signatures from Naples voters.

  • November 2017: City Council brings up the Ethics Naples petition. City Attorney Pritt advises City Council that should the petition be certified for the ballot, that they have a "ministerial duty" to place it on the ballot under Florida Statue 166.031. (A "ministerial duty" refers to the official duty of a public officer wherein the officer has no room for the exercise of discretion, and the performance is being required by direct and positive command of the law or a superior, in this case the Supervisor of Elections and Florida Statute.)

City Council opposes Ethics Naples, sues to prevent vote:

  • April 2018: Ethics Naples completes petition drive with 1,481 certified Naples voters’ signatures. Barnett and Buxton rescind their endorsements.

 

  • May 2018: City Council refuses to place the matter on the ballot and instead votes to sue Ethics Naples. This effectively prevents Naples voters from deciding on the petition themselves, over-ruled by the votes of 4 City Councilors (Barnett, Buxton, McLeod, Seigel all voting to sue). 
    • City Council May 2018 lawsuit here
    • Ethics Naples September 2018 response here
    • City Council September 2018 response here

City Council loses, appeals and loses again

 

  • October 2018: Council loses their suit in County Court, Judge Hayes orders City Council to place the Ethics Naples petition on the ballot.

    • Judge Hayes decision here

 

  • November 2019: City Council votes (Barnett, Buxton, McLeod, Seigel all voting for) to appeal their loss to the Second District Appellate Court.

  • February – October 2019: More legal skirmishes ensue culminating in a hearing before the Second District Appellate Court (October 2019), all using many $100,000’s of residents’ tax money.

  • February 21, 2020: The Second District Appellate Court finds for Ethics Naples 3-0 and orders the City to place the Charter Amendment petition on the ballot.

    • Read the decision here.

  • Stay tuned for the next episode, as the City Council considers whether to continue its litigation.

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© 2020 by  Ethics Naples, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization.

Contact us at email@ethicsnaples.org

Paid political advertisement paid for by Ethics Naples, Inc., P.O. Box 1384, Naples, FL 34106-1384