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City retains attorneys for officials in ethics complaint

By Staff | Feb 8, 2011

The city of Cape Coral will represent the mayor and a councilman in an ethics complaint filed with the state.
A complaint was filed with the Florida Commission on Ethics against Mayor John Sullivan and Councilmember Bill Deile. According to Deile, the complaint was filed by a city employee and has to do with he and Sullivan speaking out about the assessment methodology for the utilities project at a meeting.
“I think the complaint was that we bullied council by talking about it,” he said.
Deile, Sullivan and a third individual have a lawsuit filed against the city regarding the utilities expansion project and its assessment methodology. In December, they offered to settle with the city for a total of $10,001 and the proposal was brought forward for council consideration at a special meeting.
Deile and Sullivan did not vote but spoke on the subject, with each filing required conflict of interest disclosure forms prior to the meeting.
Council rejected the settlement, which Deile said Tuesday makes no sense.
“It’s going to cost them more to defend it than to settle it,” he said.
According to Deile, the ethics complaint was filed as a form of harassment.
“There’s a group of people on one side and a group on the other and it’s their political activism,” he said. “They don’t like our attempt to improve the city, to reduce spending, to reduce waste.”
Deile added that the complaint is without merit.
Sullivan agreed.
“It doesn’t hold water,” he said. “The complaint’s not worth the paper it’s written on.”
The complainant could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Leonard J. Dietzen III, of the Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell firm in Tallahassee, will represent Sullivan and Deile regarding the ethics complaint.
“The city of Cape Coral is defending Mayor Sullivan and Councilman Deile against the ethics complaint,” city spokeswoman Connie Barron wrote in an e-mail sent in response to a Breeze query as to whether the city was providing counsel.
The city based the decision on the grounds that the excess insurance policy has coverage to do this, and that the city treats all allegations as unfounded until it determines otherwise, Barron stated. If the allegations have merit, the costs to defend must be reimbursed by Sullivan and Deile.
If unfounded, the city will seek reimbursement from the complainant.
Deile said he has no issue with reimbursing the city for the costs to defend if the allegations have merit.
He also said he does not see a conflict of interest for the city to defend he and Sullivan in regards to the ethics complaint.
Sullivan said the representation is not uncommon in such a case.
“That’s part of the deal when you’re an elected official,” he said.
Kerrie Stillman, with the Florida Commission on Ethics, said Tuesday the most recent complaints filed against Sullivan and Deile were dismissed in April. The commission voted to dismiss them both due to legal insufficiency.
No information was available in the current complaint.
According to the state website, a complaint remains exempt from public records law until the alleged violator asks that the related records be made public or until it reaches a stage in the proceedings where it becomes public. That typically happens when the complaint is either found to be without merit, in which case it is dismissed, or it is determined there is probable cause to investigate.
As far as the utility lawsuit, Deile said a pre-trial conference is set for March.