The old adage says, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” The lobbying logs that are currently fueling that flame belong to Lee County District 3 Commissioner Larry Kiker. Gaps in this official paperwork bring questions concerning a perhaps-cozy relationship with a potential major Fort Myers Beach developer, resulting in a Florida Commission on Ethics complaint from The League of Women Voters of Lee County.
The spark ignited in late January when Commissioner Kiker’s lobbyist logs revealed significant omissions, including several that may pertain to the Grant Resorts – Fort Myers Beach proposed redevelopment for the Fort Myers Beach Downtown and Times Square districts. These discrepancies led The League of Women Voters of Lee County to file its claim with the Florida Commission on Ethics against Commissioner Kiker on February 12th. The complaint alleges that Kiker did not complete the lobby forms, leaving many discussion topics blank and not listing contact in over two dozen cases.
When reached by The Island Sand Paper, Commissioner Kiker stated that while he is “surprised by The League of Women Voters complaint, it happens. Once the Ethics Commission receives the paperwork, they have 2 to 6 weeks to act, and can dismiss it at any time. As this is a confidential situation process, I cannot comment further, but look forward to addressing it completely when it is over.”
Lee County Ordinance #2003-14 defines lobbying and lobbyist reporting duties. Section #2 says that “’Lobbying’ means communication outside of a duly noted public meeting or hearing on the record, whether written or oral by a lobbyist, with any member or members of the Board of County Commissioners . . . whereby the lobbyist seeks to encourage or influence the passage, defeat, modification, or repeal of any item which may be presented for vote before the Board of County Commissioners.” Section #3 states that “County Commissioners . . . shall be responsible for maintaining a written log which documents each oral lobbying communication or meeting with a lobbyist whether paid or unpaid, held for the purpose of lobbying outside a duly noticed public meeting or hearing on the record. The written log must be of uniform form.”
While his four Commissioner colleagues maintain near-perfect logs, combining for just 5 errors over the past year, Mr. Kiker has roughly 30 lapses, several prominent because appointments indicate the meetings concern the proposed Grand Resorts – Fort Myers Beach development. That plan would add three multi-story hotel resorts to the Downtown/Times Square area, with a parking garage, traffic rotary at the base of the Matanzas Pass Bridge, and a coastal protection system among its amenities. Any development, prior to implementation, will require Lee County as well as local, state, and federal approval. Logs of elected county officials who may rule on such proposals are expected to provide open access to any potential or actual influence.
Mr. Kiker did not record the discussion topics or results for the entries in question. He has since explained that the errors were from lack of staff training of a new assistant, administrative confusion and differing legal interpretations, but that the final responsibility is his and he is correcting the situation.
Should Grand Resorts – Fort Myers Beach submit a proposal to Lee County, some feel the log issue means that Mr. Kiker should recuse himself from those decisions. To this end, The League of Women Voters of Lee County filed its complaint against Commissioner Kiker with the Florida Commission on Ethics, claiming that “Mr. Kiker, this past year, left numerous discussion topics blank and did not record that discussions had occurred for about 30 instances,” before concluding with “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 on any of these matters related to the complaint.”
The League of Women Voters of Lee County formed in 1949 to encourage citizen involvement in government, and does not endorse or oppose candidates. Before proceeding with an action such as the ethics complaint, the League explains that its membership develops an educated opinion before voting to determine a consensus. Its tally on the log issue was one ballot shy of unanimous. If the Florida Commission on Ethics rules against Commissioner Kiker, it can impose a fine up to $500 and 60 days in jail. The League of Women Voters of Lee County, should the Commission on Ethics agree, are encouraging the maximum monetary penalty.
Mr. Kiker is a Republican who served one year as vice-mayor after being elected in 2007 to the Fort Myers Beach Town Council before becoming mayor. He remained in that capacity until 2012, and his subsequent election to the Lee County Board of Commissioners for District 3, and seeks re-election this year. To review all lobbyist logs, see the Lee County Clerk of Courts website at www.leeclerk.org.