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Note to our readers: Because the City has thrown the simple matter of sending a successful citizens' petition for the ballot into legal proceedings, w...

Update on Ethics Naples

May 21, 2018

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Your right to vote for ethics is in jeopardy

April 28, 2018

The Short Story:

 

The Good News: Ethics Naples announces that we have achieved our petition goal, gaining all the necessary signatures for an improved ethics policy to be placed on the August ballot under the requirements of Florida law.

 

The Bad News: Surprised by our success, some members of the City Council opposed to the ethics petition, aided by City Attorney Pritt, are attempting to kill the petition drive without allowing you the voter to decide for yourself. This maneuver is now scheduled for the May 2nd City Council meeting.

 

What you can do:

  1. Read “The Bigger Picture” below to be updated on the issues at hand.

  2. Write to City Council at citycouncil@naplesgov.com and demand that they follow Florida law and allow the voters to decide the matter at the polls. “Don’t steal my vote” would be an appropriate title.

  3. Attend the May 2nd City Council meeting and express your concerns. We are one of the first substantive items (#9.B) on the agenda – let’s fill up the room starting at 8:30AM.

 

The Bigger Picture (in Three Acts):

 

Act One - A successful petition drive:

 

Ethics Naples began their work in 2016, convinced that better ethics were needed in Naples based on issues such as:

  • The 2016 termination of our Fire Chief for falsifying fire reports to get better funding

  • City Council’s vote to get rid of the existing City ethics policy in August 2016

  • The ongoing favoritism shown to commercial developers through the routine granting of deviations from the Land Development Code to the detriment of residents.

 

We engaged lawyers with expertise in Florida electoral and ethics law. We contacted other Florida county and city ethics commissions, studied their ordinances, and with the advice of our experts drafted a model “best practices” ethics charter amendment for Naples residents to vote on.

 

We shared the ethics proposal with the Mayor, City Attorney Pritt, County Commissioner Taylor and other County officials for comment. After review with our experts, we incorporated many but not all of the suggestions, as some would have weakened the protections contained in the proposed amendment.

 

We received endorsements from Bill Barnett, Gary Price, Linda Penniman, Reg Buxton and Terry Hutchison. Each of these individuals reviewed the petition, discussed it with us and then endorsed (as you can see here). Ellen Seigel and Michelle McLeod declined to endorse the petition and have been clear in their opposition to this ethics amendment from the beginning.

 

Early last November our volunteers began collecting signatures and this week we were certified by Collier County Supervisor of Elections as having exceeded our goal of 10% of the City’s voters! (see the County’s certification letter here).

 

We were thrilled, thinking that now the voters would get to decide whether they wanted an improved ethics policy for Naples.

 

Silly us.

 

Act Two - City Council attempts to kill the ethics proposal before voters have their say:

 

Florida law states:

“The … electors of a municipality may, by petition signed by 10 percent of the registered electors as of the last preceding municipal general election, submit to the electors of said municipality a proposed amendment to its charter… The governing body of the municipality shall place the proposed amendment contained in the … petition to a vote of the electors at the next general election held within the municipality or at a special election called for such purpose.Florida Statutes 166.031(1) Charter amendments (emphasis added)

 

 

That's Florida law. Under that law:

  • Ethics Naples has achieved the required, County-certified 10 per cent of registered electors.

  • The law requires the City to place the proposed amendment on the August ballot.

  • The law says “shall” – not “may” or “if you agree with it”.

 

 

Unfortunately, surprised by our success in gathering 1,500 signed petitions in only a few months, City Council convened on April 16 to “discuss” the proposal. Our legal counsel advised us to stay away from this kangaroo court, and we followed that advice. City Attorney Pritt spoke at some length regarding his negative impressions of the proposed ethics amendment. He then asserted – based on a single obscure bit of case law – that City Council did not have to follow Florida law, and could vote against putting this matter on the ballot.

 

Mayor Barnett asked for a consensus to proceed in this manner and was joined by Reg Buxton, Ellen Seigel and Michelle McLeod in supporting a move to kill the petition.

 

You will be reassured to know that Linda Penniman, Terry Hutchison and Gary Price refused to join in. Ethics Naples is grateful for their support of the law and the right of voters to make up their own minds.

 

What are the issues? You can watch the April 16th discussion to hear the hour-long litany of concerns raised by counsel and City Council’s response (video here). It was clear that a number of City councilors did not like the idea of tighter ethics regulation, but the only legal justification for not following Florida law offered by City Attorney Pritt was that the voting requirement for revising the ethics ordinance (in Section 17.2.2 of the petition) was not legal.

 

Ethics Naples strenuously disagrees with Mr. Pritt’s opinion. This voting method is not prohibited by Florida Statute and is in fact specifically permitted by Florida Statute. You can read our attorney’s rebuttal of Mr. Pritt’s remarks here.

 

We also note that neither City Council nor Mr. Pritt are a court authorized to make judgments of law. The time for that comes if and when voters approve the amendment. Florida law then has provisions for challenging the legality of any part of such an amendment.

 

In our opinion, it is clear that:

  • Some of our “endorsers” never thought the issue would come to a vote, but hey it’s an election season and who wants to be against ethics, right? Now that the petition drive has succeeded however they are “shocked, shocked” to find various provisions in the amendment. It is important to remember that of course not a single word has changed since they read the petition and endorsed it last November.

  • The Mayor and several City Council members are unhappy that there may soon be a strengthened ethics policy in town. They know that historically voters will approve stronger ethics policies, so they are looking for a way to kill the petition without letting the voters decide for themselves.

  • None of the issues raised by the City Attorney allow the City Council to avoid the clear language of the Florida law quoted above. This is a political hatchet job to subvert Florida law, to deny the rights of 1,500 people who signed the petition and to deny voters their right to make up their own mind.

 

Act Three - What will you do?:

 

These events demonstrate the underlying hostility of some of our public servants to a real ethics policy and also that we need such improvements now more than ever. If you want to do something about this anti-democratic maneuver, you can:

  1. Write to City Council at citycouncil@naplesgov.com and demand that they follow Florida law and allow you to decide the matter for yourselves at the polls. “Don’t steal my vote” would be an appropriate title.

  2. Attend the May 2nd City Council meeting and express your concerns. We are one of the first substantive items (#9.B) on the agenda – let’s fill up the room starting at 8:30AM.

  3. Make a donation to Ethics Naples to cover our continuing administrative and legal costs .

We thank you and appreciate your support as we continue to fight for this important improvement in Naples’ governance.

 

Now it’s up to you.

 

Please contact us via our Executive Director Ray Christman at ray.christman@ethicsnaples.org.

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© 2019 by  Ethics Naples, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization.

Contact our Executive Director by email.

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