Former Naples mayor Bill Barnett said he lodged a complaint with the Naples Ethics Commission on Tuesday about allegations of abuse of power against Mayor Teresa Heitmann last month.
Heitmann denied the charges.
At a city council meeting on Tuesday, Barnett also asked the city council to ask the Naples Ethics Commission to investigate the allegations.
“Obviously, someone is lying,” Barnett said.
Mike Murawski, executive director of the commission, declined to say whether Barnett had filed a complaint with his office. Murawski wrote in an email Tuesday that it was his first day on the job.
“Any complaint filed is not a public record until a finding of probable cause or no probable cause is made or the complaint is dismissed for lack of legal sufficiency,” Murawski wrote.
Barnett did not want to share his complaint, saying in a text that he believed it “is now confidential”.
Brian Dye, director of technology services, wrote in a ethics complaint dated May 17, Heitmann and a friend accused Barnett, city staff and two law firms of hacking their phones and personal computers.
Dye also wrote that Heitmann accused Barnett of running a child prostitution ring with Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk and ordered staff to fire town workers, investigate Barnett and breaking the Sunshine Law, among other allegations.
Dye’s complaint was made to the Florida Commission on Ethics, a nine-member organization tasked with investigating and publishing public reports on ethical complaints filed against public officials and employees.
Heitmann denied Dye’s claims at a recent city council meeting, where she said she welcomed an independent city-level investigation after the Florida Ethics Commission finished its own.
“I never told Brian Dye that you and the sheriff were running a child prostitution ring at the airport,” Heitmann told Barnett at the board meeting on Tuesday.
Naples Ethics Commission asks if it can launch investigations itself
The Naples Ethics Commission on Friday voted unanimously to ask city staff to indicate whether the commission itself can open investigations after Dye. ethics complaint filed with the Florida Ethics Commission.
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At the Naples Ethics Commission meeting, several residents of Naples demanded that the allegations against Heitmann be investigated by the newly formed body.
Naples resident Stan Karpf urged the commission to quickly investigate the allegations made by Dye and Heitmann’s public statements about the complaint.
“I am motivated to make this request because a complaint of this nature is exactly the reason why voters in Naples last August overwhelmingly approved the creation of this ethics commission,” Karpf said.
Joe Karaganis, a resident of Naples, said he was also a victim of the alleged hack and called for a “full” investigation by the commission.
“But the problem we have now is that we have people throwing mud at, I think, a mayor who tried to do her job and protect her citizens,” Karaganis said.
Brenda Johnson, a resident of Naples, also said the commission should open an investigation.
“I just want to see the ethics committee do their duty and investigate this,” Johnson said.
George Dondanville, a resident of Naples, has asked commissioners to investigate the allegations. He said he helped collect signatures for a ballot referendum last year to create the commission.
“I have been here for 37 years, and I have never seen a sworn complaint that exposes so many allegations,” Dondanville said.
Petitions from residents have made the Commissioners wonder if they could open an investigation without a formal ethics complaint being filed with their office.
Commissioner Laird Lile expressed concern because he did not want residents to leave the meeting believing that the commission has the power to open an investigation without a formal complaint and that it chooses not to do so.
“My understanding is that we are a complaints-driven organization, and that the complaint has to be informed,” said Lile.
Peter Dunbar, commission counsel, said the question commissioners need to ask themselves is whether the commission can accept oral statements as complaints as it would with written testimony under oath. He also said the commission had the discretion to defer ethical investigations to other investigative bodies.
“Is this a complaint that you must accept?” Dunbar said.
Dunbar said he had not investigated the possibility of the commission opening an investigation without a formal complaint filed with the ethics office.
Commission Vice-Chair Susan Jones said she appreciated the residents who spoke at the meeting.
“I want to make sure they feel like we’re not just washing our hands,” Jones said.
The approved motion also ordered staff to review statements made by residents and advise the committee behind closed doors on how it should respond, Commissioner John Lehmann said at the meeting.
The next committee meeting will take place on Monday, June 7 at 9 a.m. at the Naples City Hall.