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Reporting from Bar Harbor, Maine:
NAPLES — John Lundin said he was going to file a complaint against two Collier County Commissioners for a possible Sunshine Law violation and he followed through on it.
Lundin, a Naples liberal activist, gave a statement to the Collier County Sheriff’s Office late Thursday that Commissioners Jim Coletta and Donna Fiala may have violated the law governing elected officials when they were at The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, on Saturday, July 17.
The basis of his complaint were two photographs taken by the Naples Daily News, one of Fiala and the second of Coletta. In the Coletta photograph, Lundin said a woman standing a few feet away from him, and whose back was turned, was Fiala. He said the two commissioners may have been in earshot of each other and potentially talking to others about Jackson.
“We did take a statement from him and some other evidence, the photographs from the Naples Daily News website,” said sheriff’s spokeswoman Michelle Batten. “So now our detectives are looking at the sufficiency of the evidence to see if we can move forward.”
She was unable to say how long the investigation could take.
“It takes as long as it takes,” Batten said. “If we decide the evidence is sufficient, we would forward that evidence to the State Attorney’s Office.”
Violations of the Sunshine Law could result in civil or criminal charges, she said.
Lundin contacted Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation in Tallahassee, who informed him it is not a violation of the law for two commissioners to travel together, socialize, or receive information from Jackson officials on the trip as long as they did not discuss the project among themselves. Petersen said Lundin would need to have anecdotal evidence that the two commissioners discussed the project among themselves to prove a Sunshine Law violation.
Lundlin raised his complaint at the board meeting Tuesday, during a public hearing on the Jackson project, which prompted Chairman Fred Coyle to cut him off, tell him he was making false accusations and order a recess. Coyle later gave Lundin another 1 (1/2) minutes to finish his statements.
Mike Hyde, vice president of advancement for Jackson, said the woman in the photograph was a supporter from Arizona. Jackson was hosting a scientific and fundraising program July 16 and 17.
The trip by both commissioners was approved in advance by County Attorney Jeff Klatzkow, who also was in the photograph with Coletta.
Chuck Hewett, chief operating officer for Jackson, said Tuesday that both commissioners went to great lengths to avoid Sunshine law issues during the trip. He said Coletta watched a presentation, attended by Fiala in the lab’s auditorium, by a video link in another room.
Connect with health-care reporter Liz Freeman at www.naplesnews.com/staff/liz_freeman