Joseph Cranney , firstname.lastname@example.org; 239-213-6035 Published 3:22 p.m. ET May 10, 2017 | Updated 7:56 p.m. ET May 11, 2017
Naples has begun requiring real estate developers to disclose exactly who benefits from their projects, but the City Council member who asked for the change said some developers aren’t playing by the rules.
Councilwoman Linda Penniman said developers must use a two-page form that the council agreed to in January. That form requires the name, address anddescription of ownership for any individual holding at least a 5 percent interest in a real estate development.
The city’s planning department has a copy of the form at the office and had expected to require it for all new land permits, Planning Director Robin Singer said.
But for two recent projects, City Attorney Bob Pritt allowed John Passidomo, a Naples lawyer who frequently represents owners in high-profile developments, to submit his own disclosures with less information than required by the city's form.
Pritt said the council never agreed on what exactly the city should require in the disclosures.
Penniman had asked for a full disclosure of interest in real estate applications to ensure the public that no government official could benefit from projects they might have a hand in approving.
She requested the disclosures after the Naples Daily News reported on a potential conflict of interest involving Councilman Sam Saad's relationship with a real estate investment group.
Penniman said the city isn’t enforcing her request, which received unanimous approval from her colleagues on the council.
“I would say that what has been submitted is not at all what we were looking for,” Penniman said.
After reviewing Passidomo's recent disclosures for his clients, Penniman said she wasn't satisfied.
One of Passidomo’s disclosures provides the names of three members of The Brookline Cos., a limited liability company petitioning the city to redevelop the site of the former St. George and the Dragon restaurant. Each of the members holds at least a 5 percent interest in the company, according to the form. But the disclosure doesn’t include addresses or detail the percentage of ownership for any of the members.
Passidomo’s other disclosure, for a redevelopment in Park Shore, provides a complicated corporate structure of ownership for another land holding LLC, without listing the names of people who might benefit from the company.
“It is not the thorough disclosure that we agreed upon,” Penniman said. “We agreed upon a more thorough disclosure, showing all parties that have interest, including the amount of interest they have, in terms of percentages.”
Pritt said he allowed Passidomo to submit his disclosures because the council didn't direct staff to use the city's form.
“The council did not adopt a particular form,” Pritt said. “They talked about a form that I had prepared and gave to them as a rough sample of what we might want to do.”
The council did agree to the two-page form Pritt prepared for the council during a Jan. 18 meeting.
But the details of that form weren’t included in the discussion March 15 when the council gave final approval to start requiring the disclosures as part of an overhaul to the city's ethics code. And the form wasn’t attached to the ordinance that adopted the changes.
Without an agreed-upon form, Passidomo said his clients are required to disclose only the information outlined in the ethics ordinance, which states: “Where the owner is an entity other than an individual, the application or petition shall contain a disclosure of all persons who have a material interest of more than 5 percent in the entity.”
Passidomo said his disclosures follow the language of the city’s ordinance.
“We think it’s pretty clear it’s consistent with the ordinance adopted by the City Council,” he said. “The petitioner has to disclose ownership of material interest. The other form has a lot of extraneous things.”
Pritt said he also allowed Passidomo to submit his own form because the city didn’t want the new disclosure process to stall development applications from some of Passidomo’s clients.
“We said we’re not going to hold up the applications, but just know they may become an issue until we’re done,” Pritt said.
The council has yet to consider a land application that included the disclosures. If a majority of the council finds the ownership disclosures to be incomplete, they may reject the petitioner’s application, Pritt said.
“Council has the ultimate authority over whether they feel the application is complete or not,” he said.