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Thursday, 03 March 2016 12:02

Commissioner Kiker's Woes Mount- League of Women Voters Files Ethics Complaint with State Featured

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This past February, the Lee County League of Women Voters made a stand against a lack of transparency by Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker in regards to the Grand Resorts Development on Fort Myers Beach. The project, proposed by developer Tom Torgerson and his company TPI Hospitality, is a quarter million dollar transformation of the Downtown commercial district of the island that will contain multiple resorts, shops, and a multi-level parking garage.
The Grand Resorts project has caused great consternation on Fort Myers Beach over the past year just by its scope alone. Regardless of what shape it takes, should it find approval from officials it will change the face of the north end of the Town. The height of the resorts, the realignment of the Boulevard, and the nature of the Coastal Protection System, seen by many as a seawall, has raised questions and concerns throughout eastern Lee County, as a development of this size should.

However, numerous shortfalls in transparency in the process this development has taken has taken these concerns to new heights. A few weeks ago, the Sun Bay Paper reported on a request made to the FBI for an investigation into Lahaina Realty's, owned by Larry and Paula Kiker, involvement in the sale of the parcel where Salty Crab now stands to Torgerson and his group last year.
Before that, the News-Press reported on several omissions in Kiker's logs for contact with lobbyists, which centered around the Grand Resorts issue. These holes in Kiker's log records conflict with the Lee County's own ordinance regarding lobbying, 3-14.
In the language of the ordinance, the responsibilities of record keeping when a County Commissioner or County Employee meets or has oral contact with a lobbyist falls with the said Commissioner or Employee, where they have to specify the name of the lobbyist, the date of the meeting or communication, and the subject matter that was discussed by the two parties. Upon completion of the log, it is delivered to the Lee County Clerk of Courts at the end of each quarter.
It is these log deficiencies by Commissioner Kiker that spurred the League of Women Voters to file a complaint with the Florida Ethics Commission on February 12th. "The law requires that all contacts with lobbyist be properly documented by recording the Date; Type of Contact (T for Telephone Call and V for Personal Visit); Name of Lobbyist; Principal Represented by Lobbyist; Topic of Discussion; and Comments (if any)," the complaint, signed by Lee County League president Clara Anne Graham, read. "Mr. Kiker, this past year, left numerous discussion topics blank and did not record that discussions had occurred for about 30 entries. This indicates a pattern and practice beyond matters discussed in this complaint."
"Torgerson has amassed millions of dollars of Fort Myers Beach properties for a multi-hotel development that will require county as well as federal, state, and local approvals," the complaint continued. "(Tina) Matte, who represents developers besides Grand Resorts, has registered with the County as a lobbyists, as the law requires. But it also requires Kiker and others who meet with her to log the contact."
The complaint listed 2015 meetings with Torgerson and Matte that weren't logged, with the specific dates of February 17th, March 2nd, May 5th, June 15th, August 25th, and October 3rd. Many of the meetings were revealed by other means of evidence, such as a note on Kiker's calendar that served as a reminder for a phone call with Torgerson, but was not logged by Kiker afterwards.
"The League of Women Voters of Lee County, Florida believes that transparency and accountability are fundamental to the functioning of democracy," The complaint concluded. "If citizens are to know what their government is doing, we need to know when meetings occur and be able to access proper documented public records. Decision-making in the dark is like mold growing in a closet; eventually, it will make us sick without knowing it. Commissioner Kiker, by his actions, has forfeited the right to vote any of these matter related to the complaint."
In terms of a conflict of interest causing him to abstain his vote, Kiker has already stated to the Sun Bay Paper in our previous article (Vol. 1 Issue 29) that he had talked with "legal counsel who told him he had to vote on any issues before him unless there is a conflict and that the test of that was whether his vote would insure a special private gain or detriment in which case he'd have to recuse himself."
In a phone interview with the Sun Bay Paper, Graham, who filed the complaint following a vote by the Lee County League's Board of Directors, emphasized the importance of the logs. "They're mportant for letting the public know who the Commissioners are talking with, and what they are talking about," Graham said. "I would understand if there were a minor omission, or something not completed."
However, there were just too many omissions to be ignored.
As of press time, the League has yet to hear back from the Florida Ethics Commission on their registered complaint.
The Sun Bay Paper also contacted former Lee County Commissioner John Albion on the importance of public officials keeping accurate logs, from both a policy standpoint and for perception.
"There are two branches to that tree," Albion said. "One, anything that is tied to ethics of the office, as determined by State law, should be held to a very high standard. If you can get into that kind of trouble, you had better pay attention. It needs to be done right. These laws tell the commissioners how they need to conduct their business."
"The other branch deals with the confidence and trust of the public," Albion continued. "It's a checks and balance issue to make sure anyone in the public can see who is in contact with you. They have the right to open government so they can understand what might affecting or influencing some part of legislation or money spending."
"These are some of the responsibilities that an elected official has to hold to a high standard," Albion said. "I looked at those responsibilities not only on how they reflected on my reputation, but on the commission as a whole."
"One elected official ticks people off, and they start seeing that as all elected officials," Albion concluded. "Perception is important."
Former Commissioner Ray Judah also confirmed the importance these logs hold for the public. "For total transparency, it's of critical importance for the public to see who the commissioners are meeting with, and on what issues. These logs hold the government accountable."

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