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Officials may seek fee reimbursement after ethics complaint dismissed

By Staff | Apr 7, 2011

An ethics complaint filed against Mayor John Sullivan and Councilmember Bill Deile was dismissed by the state ethics commission last Friday.
The commission found “a lack of legal sufficiency” in the complaint filed by resident and city employee Laurie Taylor, who felt Deile and Sullivan intimidated other councilmembers during a discussion of their utility lawsuit against the city, which they have since dropped.
According to the ethics commission, its reviews for legal sufficiency “are limited to questions of jurisdiction and determinations as to whether the charges in the complaint are adequate to allege a violation of the Code of Ethics. As no factual investigation precedes the reviews, the Commission’s conclusions do not reflect on the accuracy of the allegations made in these complaints.”
Sullivan said he wasn’t surprised by the ruling and that he likely will file a fee petition with the ethics commission to have Taylor repay legal costs incurred.
So far the city has spent $1,889.50 in attorney fees for Sullivan and Deile, who requested legal representation after the complaint was filed.
“What I would like the residents to know, before one of these crackpots decides to file, it’s costing the residents of this city money. The city is going to have to defend it and it’s costing taxpayer money,” Sullivan said. “Make sure you have the proper grounds or don’t file.”
Taylor replied to the commission’s decision, and the mayor’s decision to seek repayment of costs, with the following email: “I still believe the actions of Mayor Sullivan, and Councilmember Deile, were inappropriate and I’m disappointed that I was not able to sufficiently present my concerns. With that said, I hope our elected officials will be more mindful of their words and actions while representing Cape Coral citizens. Mayor Sullivan and Councilmember Deile are certainly within their rights to pursue legal fees but honestly there was no malice behind my complaint only concern regarding their actions during that particular meeting.”
Deile called Taylor’s complaint frivolous, adding that it was likely “politically motivated” due to her comments posted on the “Get out and Vote … Take Back the Cape” facebook page.
“Whether it was political vindictiveness or a more involved scheme I have no idea, I’ve never met her,” Deile said.
Kerrie Stillman from the state ethics commission said the burden of proof is on Deile and Sullivan should they choose to file the petition to recoup fees incurred.
They have to show Taylor had “malicious intent,” Stillman said, and they must prevail with the commission before making their arguments in a full evidentiary hearing.
According to Stillman, the commission rarely sees fee petitions filed, having only heard six over the last two years.
In 2010 there were 190 actions made by the commission on complaints and only three were related to fees. All three were dismissed.
“We don’t see a lot of these,” Stillman said. “The last couple of year there’s just been a handful.”
Sullivan said recouping the fees might be a deterrent against “baseless” ethics complaints.
“They better have good information before they file it. Its going to cost them,” he said.
Deile called Taylor’s claims of intimidation “ridiculous” since council didn’t support settling the lawsuit as a majority.
“(The complaint) struck me as being totally without merit,” he said.