Bonita Springs fire commission candidate apologizes for 'erroneous' statements

Robert Sharkey, a candidate for Seat 1 on the Bonita Springs Fire District Board of Commissioners, apologized in a written statement on Thursday for e-mails he sent containing false information about his opponent, Ed FitzGerald.

The e-mails, sent on Aug. 22, accused incumbent Fire Commissioner FitzGerald of traveling to Paris, France with other fire officials on taxpayers’ money and convincing other fire commissioners to reimburse a three-week class at Harvard, also with district money.

On Thursday, Sharkey admitted those statements were “erroneous.”

According to fire district documents, FitzGerald was never reimbursed for the Harvard class, though he did make that request. FitzGerald said he paid about $11,000 for the class out of pocket.

District officials said there has never even been a discussion of sending fire officials to France.

Debbi Redfield, a spokeswoman with the fire district, said Sharkey never sought from fire officials public records to back his claims.

On Tuesday, legal counsel for the fire district sent a letter to Sharkey demanding a public retraction of the statements.

FitzGerald filed a complaint against Sharkey with the Lee County Elections Commissions, arguing his opponents maliciously spread false statements about him. FitzGerald said he thought Sharkey should be removed from the race.

In his written statement, Sharkey reported that he had received the false information from what he thought to be a reliable source, and that he sent e-mails to a “small and internal group of current and prospective supporters” without intending for the information to be spread.

“I did not willfully issue the statements contained in the e-mails with knowledge of their falsity,” Sharkey’s wrote in his statement. “Accordingly, I hereby retract the statements made in those e-mails and apologize to those who may have been offended by my remarks.”

The statement does not mention FitzGerald or other fire officials mentioned in the e-mails by name.

Sharkey declined to answer questions from the Daily News after he release his statement, but said he sent the retraction to people who received the original e-mails and to legal counsel for the Bonita Springs Fire District.

On Thursday afternoon, FitzGerald said he had not received an apology or retraction from Sharkey. After hearing the contents of the statement sent to the Daily News, he called it “unacceptable.”

FitzGerald said Sharkey had good reason to doubt his information.

Bonita Fire Commissioner Wayne Edsall said Sharkey had approached him about the information in the e-mail before it was sent. Edsall said that he advised Sharkey that the information was false.

Connect with Aaron Hale at http://www.naplesnews.com/staff/aaron-hale

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