by Joseph Cranney
The Naples City Council is set to vote Wednesday on a proposal that some consider a loosening of ethics guidelines for public officials, including eliminating a rule that forbids council members from doing business with firms seeking council approval for projects.
“It’s absolutely a weakening of the ethics code,” said former councilman Fred Coyle, who helped draft the city’s ethics guidelines in the late 1990s in response to the Stadium Naples scandal, the largest case of public corruption among elected officials in local history. “There are just too many circumstances, particularly in a small town like this, where elected officials get too friendly with people doing business with the government.”
The proposed ethics changes offered by City Attorney Bob Pritt would delete a city rule forbidding council members from having an “employment or contractual relationship” with a firm that “routinely seeks zoning, permitting, or inspection approval” from the council.
Pritt proposes replacing that language with state guidelines, which forbid council members from having a professional relationship with businesses subject only to the “regulation” of government. Coyle said those rules aren’t as strict as the city’s rules.
“I don’t consider that wording to be particularly effective,” he said. “It’s subject to too much interpretation.”
Vice Mayor Linda Penniman said the state ethics guidelines are “too ambiguous.”
“There are too many gray areas in there,” Penniman said. “For us not to hold ourselves to that high of a standard is, in my opinion, an insult to the people that put us in those chairs.”
The Naples Daily News reported in March on concerns about a potential conflict of interest involving Mayor Bill Barnett’s personal relationship with a Naples law firm that frequently represents real estate developers before the council. [READ MORE]