Cape council member files ethics complaint against mayor
Following through with a course of action made public Monday, a Cape Coral council member has filed an ethics complaint against the city’s mayor.
Councilmember Richard Leon sent a 50-plus page packet of documents, photos, receipts and what he believes to be applicable state law to the Florida Commission on Ethics on Tuesday.
Leon said once he received reports that Mayor Marni Retzer failed to disclose gifts received in a previous relationship as well as failed to disclose possible conflicts of interest he was obligated to bring the information forward for discussion and possible action.
“Why now?” he said Tuesday. “Because I had the information gathered and verified. It was the right thing to do and politics had nothing to do with it. Questions needed to be asked and the public deserves answers.”
Leon said he showed the material to outside attorneys, though not the City Attorney’s Office, before bringing it forward, first to council – where some members said it smacked of politics – and then to the state.
“We just have to sit back and wait for the Commission on Ethics to do whatever they come up with,” he said. “Maybe they will find that (Retzer) acted properly. I hope for that outcome.”
The nine-member ethics commission “serves as the guardian of the standards of conduct for officers and employees of Florida” and “functions as an independent commission responsible for investigating and issuing public reports on complaints of breach of the public trust by public officers and employees.
The commission “renders legally binding advisory opinions interpreting the ethics laws and implements the State’s financial disclosure laws,” according to the agency’s website.
Leon told his fellow board members during council reports Monday night that enough people had contacted him on the matter and that he felt it was time to ask for some guidance on how to go forward.
He defined the issue as the reporting of gifts, doing business with city vendors and conflicts of interest.
“I’m asking if council can investigate the mayor or if we should take it to an outside agency,” Leon said. “The mayor recently asked if anyone had anything to bring it forward, so I’m doing what she asked.”
Leon immediately was chastised by several on council for bringing the matter into a public forum.
“I’m disturbed by you bringing this here,” said Councilmember John Carioscia. “If you have allegations of ethics violations, you should take it to the Commission on Ethics. I think you need to go back and start all over and validate whatever documentation you might have. I think this is motivated by a few people who have attacked the mayor since she first announced she was running for office.”
Councilmember Jim Burch agreed.
“I am disturbed by the toxicity that seems to fill the air at council meetings lately,” he said. “You better have your facts backed up. This is a slippery slope and you don’t need to denigrate a fellow member of this council or the mayor.”
Councilmember Rick Williams saw Leon’s method as a political move.
“The mayor should wear a red T-shirt with a target on it,” Williams said. “We were working together so well, then all of a sudden we are divided. We should not be dealing with this. If you have evidence, then give it to the people who can do something about it. If it’s ethics, take it to the commission, if a law has been broken, take it to the police department.”
Councilmember Marilyn Stout said, “It didn’t need to happen this way. The mayor should not be tried in the (media).”
Retzer said she found what Leon was doing to be improper, that it was done on purpose and was politically motivated. She also said she was more offended by him attacking her credibility in public.
“With all due respect, this is political,” Retzer said. “The way you are doing it prevents me from having any defense. I am guilty until proven innocent. It needs to be done in an appropriate venue.”
Leon continued to maintain that his actions were not politically motivated.
“This is not political. This is what’s right and what’s wrong,” he said. “I think we can still work well together, but if something is wrong we have a duty to discuss it.”
Ending the discussion, Leon told council that he would copy each of them and report it to the Commission on Ethics.
The alleged violations on reporting gifts occurred during a time when Retzer was in a relationship with Brian Rist, CEO of Storm Smart, who rescued Red White & Boom as a primary sponsor.
Rist said, through a spokesperson Tuesday, he has had no business dealings with the city while Retzer has been in office.
“Brian Rist does not deny the relationship or that he gave her gifts,” said Christopher Spiro, CEO of Spiro & Associates. “He is blindsided by this or he would be the one speaking to you. He has been in meetings all day and not reachable. He is taken aback by Councilmember Leon’s attack. What he did (Monday) night is reprehensible and he questions the source of the receipts. Mr. Rist had no contract with or for the city of Cape Coral while Retzer has been in office.”