Joseph Cranney , firstname.lastname@example.org; 239-213-6035Published 1:20 p.m. ET March 7, 2017 | Updated 5:47 p.m. ET March 7, 2017
Naples leaders rejected a proposal Tuesday for an independent ethics watchdog to oversee conduct from city and county government officials.
“I’d say it’s dead in the water,” Collier County Commissioner Penny Taylor said about her suggested countywide commission on ethics.
Taylor’s fellow commissioners rejected her idea when she brought the issue up during Tuesday’s joint workshop with the Naples City Council.
Jeff Klatzkow, the county attorney, suggested to commissioners that the county doesn’t have ethical issues among its government officials.
“In my own opinion, you don’t have a corruption issue,” he said. “And Collier County staff is unblemished, in my opinion. You may be creating something to fix a problem that doesn’t exist.”
“I’m not sure that we need to create this new entity without there being a finding at this point that we have a problem to solve,” Commissioner Burt Saunders said during a brief discussion that didn’t include a vote.
Taylor did have support from Naples Vice-Mayor Linda Penniman, whose own proposal for a Naples city ethics panel was rejected by her fellow council members last November.
Penniman called for stricter enforcement of ethics after reporting last year from the Naples Daily News on a potential conflict of interest involving Councilman Sam Saad.
Saad didn’t fully disclose his business relationship with a real estate investment group before he voted to approve their project, the Daily News reported.
The council, in rejecting Penniman’s proposal, said the city was too small for its own ethics board.
But Taylor’s proposal would have enforced ethics rules for city and county government officials.
For his part, Saad said Tuesday he wanted to explore Taylor’s idea further.
“I want to see what it would look like,” he said.
The city is rewriting its ethics code, which was enacted after the county’s Stadium Naples public corruption scandal in the late 1990s. But some council members still question whether the code needs to be enforced by a local commission with the power to penalize ethics violators or remove them from office.
State ethics laws, which govern conduct for all of Florida’s public officials, are enforced by the Florida Commission on Ethics.
Counties throughout Florida have commissions to enforce local government ethics rules, Penniman said.
“We would be among the few — not the many — counties that do not have an ethics commission,” she said.
Mayor Bill Barnett opposed the idea, questioning whether the agency would have the power it needed.
“There is no proposal to give it teeth,” he said.