UPDATED: Ethics complaints pending against three Marco committee members studying electric takeover

Resident filing conflict of interest violations against leaders of solar energy firm, members of city committee on LCEC takeover

Monte Lazarus, Jack Patterson and Gary Elliott, partners in United Energy Technology, which proposed a solar plan with the Collier County School District on Tract K, chat following their meeting as members of the city's electric municipalization committee. The three face an ethics complaint being filed by resident Bill McMullan for conflict of interest. 
Kelly Farrell/ Staff

Photo by KELLY FARRELL, Staff

Monte Lazarus, Jack Patterson and Gary Elliott, partners in United Energy Technology, which proposed a solar plan with the Collier County School District on Tract K, chat following their meeting as members of the city's electric municipalization committee. The three face an ethics complaint being filed by resident Bill McMullan for conflict of interest. Kelly Farrell/ Staff

— Pending conflict of interest complaints against three members of the city’s committee studying takeover of Lee County Electric Cooperative stem around letters of intent to do business between LCEC and the Marco-based solar firm, United Energy Technology. Three leaders in the UET solar firm also serve on the city’s electric municipalization committee studying takeover of LCEC.

Resident Bill McMullan said he mailed the complaints Tuesday to the Florida Commission on Ethics against three members of the electric municipalization committee because of the “conflict of interest.” The Commission on Ethics has not yet received the complaints.

UET, the Marco-based solar firm proposing solar power projects with the Collier County School Board, has sent and received letters of intent to do business with LCEC. Three leaders in the UET firm, CEO Gary Elliott, Vice President Monte Lazarus and Jack Patterson, all serve on the city’s committee studying a potential takeover of LCEC.

Lazarus also serves on the city’s planning board, which Community Development Director Steve Olmsted said Thursday will not be charged with rezoning the Island land known as Tract K owned by the Collier County School District where UET proposes a solar project. Conditional use permits would likely be reviewed by the Planning Board, he said.

Lazarus said he would not vote on the matter if it came before him.

Councilman Ted Forcht said he didn’t believe the Planning Board would be conflicted by any interest Lazarus has with Tract K.

“These guys all have a mind of their own,” Forcht said.

They will think for themselves and base their decisions on legal facts, he added.

Lazarus said he didn’t believe the electric municipalization committee was formed to come to conclusions, but rather to gather information on the city’s prospects of taking over the electric company, LCEC.

“If we were on a decision-making committee, I’d recuse myself,” Lazarus said.

The Ad Hoc Electric Municipalization Committee has been described by City Council as a “working committee.”

The committee did however vote 16-2 in favor of advising City Council hire a consultant to study taking over LCEC and then subsequently voted unanimously to rescind that recommendation. Committee members Linda McCune and Ron Bales were the only two members to initially recommend City Council oppose hiring the consultant for the takeover.

Before City Manager Steve Thompson had seen the complaint reports he said in general terms that it didn’t appear to be a legal issue for Patterson, Lazarus and Elliott to serve on the committee.

“They are neither employees nor public officials. They’re just volunteers for the city. They don’t make any decisions. They don’t spend any money,” Thompson said.

Upon reviewing some of the background of the complaints, Thompson said Thursday that’s he is “personally still not yet convinced there is an ethics problem.”

Thompson pointed out that his interpretation is not particularly relevant to any outcome.

“I personally believe (McMullan) is misinterpreting (Chapter 112, Part III of the Florida Statute’s Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees) There’s a state process to follow and that’s why we have the process,” Thompson said.

He added that it will be up to the State Attorney’s Office for interpretation.

“Advisory committees frequently include individuals and representatives from groups to be regulated — in other words, people and businesses that will benefit from or be hurt by the legislation are included in the advisory committee,” Thompson wrote in an e-mail on the issue to McMullan, City Council and the Eagle [See today’s Letter To The Editor section].

Since the three men are not city officials, they are not represented by City Attorney Alan Gabriel in the matter and the complaint will not likely have a direct taxpayer expense in terms of legal counsel.

Gabriel said the issue may come down to whether an “enumeration of gain” can be determined.

At this time there is not a direct financial impact on UET regarding business with LCEC because UET as a firm has not performed a single energy project yet.

The business LCEC agreed to engage in with UET is not specific at this time, said LCEC spokeswoman Karen Ryan.

“They did approach us and ask us if we’d be interested in providing maintenance on their future projects,” Ryan said.

She added that when LCEC CEO Dennie Hamilton spoke with Elliott and Lazarus about business, UET “did not have anything defined.”

Hamilton’s response to UET was a general statement of “we’re interested in hearing your plans,” Ryan said.

She added that the letter of intent to do business was to assist the firm as they put in a bid for a solar project at Florida Gulf Coast University.

“The owners (of UET) believed LCEC could lend some credibility to their bids,” Ryan said.

Jerry Gibson, chairman of the city’s electric municipalization committee, said at this point he was not clear on the justification for a conflict of interest or ethics complaints.

“If the conflict is that these three had a potential vested interest, well then that logic would carry over to all the members of the committee. This is a cooperative, we’re all part owners of LCEC,” Gibson said.

Patterson, a former mayor and municipal liaison in business, said he didn’t believe there was a conflict of interest.

“This is the politics of destruction. If you can’t win on the merits, destroy the people involved,” Patterson said of the actions against him.

Elliott and Lazarus agreed.

“This is malicious use of due process,” Lazarus said.

Elliott said it would not matter who owned or operated the electric utility in terms of UET’s progress in solar projects.

McMullan is not the only resident who has perceived a conflict of interest regarding Lazarus’s involvement in the Planning Board, city’s electric takeover committee and UET.

“Monte Lazarus, who sits on the planning board as you know, slaps the face of city planning by being party to UET. This is an act of defiance. Also, this is a definite conflict of interest that smacks of impropriety,” resident Frances Enman wrote to the Eagle Jan. 19.

Enman added that she was particularly concerned that members of city’s committees are involved for the best interest of all residents, not just for their own interest.

Check back to marconews.com and upcoming issues of the Eagle for the ethics commission’s reception of these complaints once the documents have been delivered.

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 16

Fossil writes:

If we wait for "enumeration of gain" to be realized, we will have witnessed the robbery. Isn't the purpose of the law to prevent the potential for unethical behavior and/or inappropriate gain by government officials? At what point does the City Attorney look to protect the taxpayers from preditors? After the robbery? Are we to believe the entire system is corrupt? Including those charged with protecting the public?

ezeee writes:

Fossil, what the hell are you talking about? What unethical behavior? What inappropriate gain?
What robbery?

deltarome writes:

I was at the Wed meeting and Bill and the three named committee members were present. No one mentioned the subject and nothing was said between the 4.
Since everyone who uses LCEC is a "part owner" of LCEC, aren't all the committee members in some ways also in a conflict of interest???
Let the committee do its study of the facts and work and then decide if they did something wrong.

Fossil writes:

ezeee: Serving on a local government advisory board while having a financial interest in matters that are brought before it, cannot be described as conduct conforming to any accepted standard of right and wrong. The potential for isappropriate gain exists and the law is designed to protect us from that behavior.

ezeee writes:

Fossel, enlighten me, what does the electric municipalization committee have to do with the UET solar proposal with the school board on Track K? What benefit will UET receive from decisions made by the electric municipalization committee? Sorry I just can’t connect the dots.

lauralbi1 writes:

Mr. McMullan has lost every complaint he has filed. If trhis costs anybody anything, I suggest somebody sue him for the expenses as this is blatantly frivolous. How can there be a conflict of interest when the committee theys erve on makes no decisions.
Keep it up Bill, the next elkection is coming up and we need you to keep doing these sorts oif things and support the candidates that you do. It helps keep the "riff-raff" from getting elected.
Ed Issler

Fossil writes:

ezeee, is it not UET's hope to utilize public land without the public's input or approval for a business venture? Is there no value to the use of this land? Final approval of this inititive lies with Marco Island's City Council. Not the Superintendent or the School Board. EMC's recommendations carry weight with our City Council. The majority of our City Council owe these investors for their Council seats. UET investors holding seats on the EMC threaten our citizen's expectation that the Council will vote in their best interest. Perception is more important than reality and UET investors should all recuse themselves or resign from the EMC. The appearance of unethical behavior and political influence to advance an investment venture at the public's expense, is what makes this deal stink.

lifsabeach writes:

Two members of the UET as named by the Marco Eagle also have another interesting connection.

Monty Lazarus was until Dec 2008 a member of the Marco Charter Middle School Board.

Tarik Ayasun was and currently is a member of the Charter School Board.

The conflict of interest question grows as these 2 UET members seem to represent the school as well as have a personal vested interest through UET in the solar panel issue.

ejburger writes:

McMullan is the most shameless human being I have ever come in contact with. He has a long history of deceit and obstructionism. Anything he has ever done was for his own personal gain and ego. This is ridiculous and I will file charges against him if his latest "frivolous" action costs the city any money at all. He is a weasel!!

ezeee writes:

Fossel, that is quite a conspiracy theory you have come up with. Good grief man did you read what you wrote before you blogged it? Again, what does the EMC have to do with Track K?

My money says this complaint goes nowhere.

Fossil writes:

ezeee, I have enjoyed this conversation. It is clear to me however, that you will always have one more question. Reminds me of a kid always asking why? Ethics is about right and wrong. You must have a basis to grasp it. Without that understanding you will always choose the wrong path because it is the easier one or the most profitable one. You need to deal with that.

sailingalong writes:

John Arceri's e-mails clearly state that the purpose of the LCEC takeover movement he started was not necessarily to actually takeover LCEC but to gain leverage on them. He then got LCEC to give his private company UTE a letter of intent to do business with UTE. Arceri, since resigned, Lasarus, Eliot, and Patterson, are all members of this hostile takeover committee as well as the owners of UTE. UTE used this letter as part of their package to apply for a $2,400,0000 grant.

Any place else in the counry, including Chicago, this would stink. This island is so corrupted by these good old boys that the power brokers can't see anything wrong with this.

As long as these people can continue to take advantage of us they will. Isn't it time to make a stand?

liberator100 writes:

sailinalong;
you are obviously a very, very sick and delusional person. Get medical assistance immediately. How often do you dream of Arceri?
Is this a recurring problem or only happens when you smoke funny stuff? Who took advantage of you?When? How?

lauralbi1 writes:

sailingalong: This is a Public forum subject to the laws that apply to Slander. Lawsuits have been filed as a result of comments and conclusions expressed on this web site in the past. I encourage you, as a fellow citizen and blogger, to continue to express your opinions. But when you make accusations, as you have above, without factual back-up, you leave yourself open to serious consequences. In the future, I would encourage you to stick with the facts.
As an example, please xpand on your "leverage" quote above and how it applied to undetrgrounding and rates.
Ed Issler

happy6 writes:

hey ed....please call arceri and have him fill out his form to get his sewer connection...like everyone else on the street has...he's the only one that seems to be dragging his feet...BUT MAYBE...he gets a special deal if he waits longer than the period allotted for the city contractor to do the work....he seems to know how to work the system...kinda like you and monte.

dc5799 writes:

Ed,
Do you think we should sue the city,council members to pay back all the attorney fees it has cost us the citizen's because they can not admit to ever being wrong about anything. Somewhat like yourself Ed

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