Group eyes August for Naples ethics referendum

Joseph Cranney Naples Daily News USA TODAY NETWORK – FLORIDA

A Naples political action committee is now eyeing the August ballot for a referendum to poll voters on the creation of a local ethics commission to govern conduct of public officials.

But the newly formed Naples Ethics PAC is still collecting signatures

on its petition to establish a volunteer ethics board and an Office of Ethics and Government Integrity.

The commission, which would be the first in Naples history, would have the power to investigate complaints against local officials and oversee sweeping changes to Naples ethics ordinances.

The PAC has collected 360 signatures since its effort began Nov. 1, said John Lehmann, the PAC’s vice president.

To qualify its petition for a ballot question, the group must collect signatures from at least 10 percent of the city’s registered voters. For the 2016 election, there were roughly 14,500 registered voters, so about 1,450 signatures would be needed.

The PAC must collect those signatures by May 15 to get a referendum on the August primary ballot, Lehmann said.

“I have no doubt we’ll meet the deadline,” he said.

The PAC initially aimed to have the ballot question as part of February’s municipal election, but Lehmann said his group didn’t have enough time to collect signatures.

In the meantime, the PAC has pitched its proposal to local officials.

“We would love to get on the February ballot, but we’ve got a much better document now, because we’ve gotten a lot of input,” Lehmann said.

According to the PAC’s proposal, the five members of the ethics board would be appointed by the Naples City Council, the Naples representative on the Collier County Commission, the sheriff, the public defender’s office and the state attorney’s office.

Individuals from each of those groups already have agreed to the arrangement, Lehmann said.

Idea rejected last year

The council considered

establishing an ethics commission last year but ultimately rejected the idea. Councilwoman Linda Penniman had called for stricter enforcement of ethics after Naples Daily News reporting on a potential conflict of interest involving Councilman Sam Saad.

Saad in May 2016 joined the council in voting to approve a redevelopment at a property overseen by Saad’s business partner for a company that has hired Saad for legal work, the Daily News reported.

Penniman in April filed a complaint against Saad with the Florida Commission on Ethics. The complaint is pending.