BONITA SPRINGS — Martha Simons has become the second Bonita Springs council member to come under scrutiny of the State Attorney’s Office.
Samantha Syoen, spokeswoman for the prosecutors’ office, confirmed that the councilwoman is under review but declined to comment further.
Simons couldn’t be reached for comment.
Jude Reichenthal, a former city volunteer, filed a complaint against Simons in August, alleging that she didn’t turn over a year’s worth of e-mails he had requested and that she also didn’t disclose the recipients of some of her outgoing e-mails, which were subject to disclosure.
State public records laws dictate that public officials’ communications are subject to review by any member of the public.
Neither City Manager Gary Price, nor City Clerk Dianne Lynn, who is also the public records custodian, were aware of Reichenthal’s complaint or the state’s review.
“I really am surprised,” Price said. “I was not familiar with this.”
He declined to comment further except to say the city has tried to meet all of Reichenthal’s requests.
City Attorney Audrey Vance was unavailable for comment Friday.
Reichenthal headed the city’s now-defunct Communications Advisory Board.
In March after it became clear the board would be disbanded, Reichenthal asked for copies of council members’ e-mails during the time the board was operating — two years’ worth.
Reichenthal has said he believed he would find evidence of ulterior motives for abolishing the board. Instead, he said he found problems in the city’s handling of public records.
Reichenthal said he filed complaints against Simons, Janet Martin and Mayor Ben Nelson in May after he believed they didn’t provide all of the messages in violation of public records law.
The State Attorney’s Office only investigated Martin and charged her in August. Last week, Martin pleaded no contest and paid a $250 fine after the prosecutor found her actions were unintentional. Martin deleted some messages, which were later retrieved.
In August, Reichenthal filed a separate complaint against Simons.
He said he isn’t seeking revenge for actions against the communications board.
“I’m after them for abusing the public trust,” Reichenthal said, and “for being only in favor of development interest when most of the people in Bonita are retired and they are against more development.”
Reichenthal has made about a dozen requests for records since March, according to Lynn.
While Reichenthal maintains the city has a flagrant disregard for the public records law, the city said it does its best to provide information as quickly as possible.
“I think if you ask people who have made public records requests if they’ve been responded to timely, I think 99.99 percent of them will say yes,” Lynn said.
Following the investigation into Martin, the city addressed its e-mail policy, asking officials, staff and volunteers to forward city-related messages from private addresses to the city server. It also reiterated Lynn’s role as public records custodian.
Lynn said she intends to recommend a public records seminar for all Bonita Springs boards and committees and will suggest they all be provided government e-mail accounts.
As for Reichenthal, he said a top-to-bottom modernization is in order.
All public records should be accessible on the Internet, he said, and he envisions a centralized resource for all Florida government agencies.