The Florida Commission on Ethics has dismissed an ethics complaint filed against Anna Maria City Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus.
The Commission found that the complaint, filed by John Cagnina, “substantively fails to indicate a possible violation” of the ethics laws.
In a press release, Richard Harrison, an attorney representing Stoltzfus, quoted his client: “I certainly appreciate the diligence and speed with which the Commission disposed of these baseless violations. I knew in my heart that I had not violated any ethics laws, and now everybody else knows, too.”
The ruling from the Ethics Commission while dismissing the complaint said, “Regarding the Sunshine Law, it is not, per se, within the jurisdiction of the Commission on Ethics; rather, it is the province of the courts and State Attorneys.”
The Commission’s language further stated about the complaint, “In essence, rather than substantively alleging a corruptly motivated use of public office by the Respondent for the private benefit of himself or another, the complaint describes an alleged situation susceptible to a possible remedy, if any remedy is required, through the courts, prosecutors, local government board considerations, recall efforts, or standard elections process.”
The complaint was thus dismissed for failure to constitute a legally sufficient complaint. Original complaint Cagnina responded that, contrary to Stoltzfus’ conclusions, the dismissal doesn’t clear the commissioner of wrongdoing.
“It simply states that the remedies are recall, which is currently under way,” he said. “Further, it states that Mr. Stoltzfus would have to vote on an issue he raised in the lawsuit, which he has clearly done.” Cagnina was referring to the vote Stoltzfus cast to deny the site plan approval for 308 Pine Avenue.
In his complaint, Cagnina had alleged that Stoltzfus offered to help fund a lawsuit against the city if his name could be kept out of it and that the commissioner made comments to the Florida Department of Community Affairs in another legal action that were in opposition to the city’s position.
Both charges arose out of e-mails Stoltzfus turned over to legal consultant Michael Barfield as a result of a public records request.
Also charged was that the commissioner had used a private citizen as a conduit for communication between himself and another commissioner — something that’s not allowed under Florida’s Open Government laws.
Stoltzfus to seek legal fees In a separate letter last week, Harrison notified the city that his client would be seeking reimbursement of the legal fees he incurred in defense of the ethics complaint.
“Commissioner Stoltzfus is entitled to such reimbursement as a matter of right under the law of Florida,” Harrison wrote in his letter to city officials. Harrison cited a 1990 case in which a Fort Walton Beach commissioner was able to recover his legal expenses in a similar situation.
“Florida courts have long recognized that public officials are entitled to legal representation at public expense to defend themselves against litigation arising from the performance of their duties while serving a public purpose,” Harrison noted.
Harrison declined to give an estimate how much the Stoltzfus’ legal fees might run.