- Advocate's Recommendation: Frank Mann (.pdf)
- Ethics Complaint against Frank Mann (.pdf)
- Order for Supplemental Investigation of Facts: Frank Mann (.pdf)
- Order to Investigate: Frank Mann (.pdf)
- Public Report: Frank Mann (.pdf)
- Report of Investigation: Frank Mann (.pdf)
- Response to Advocate's Recommendation: Frank Mann (.pdf)
- Response to Complaint: Frank Mann (.pdf)
LEE COUNTY — Lee County Commissioner Frank Mann was the subject of a secret, 20 month-long state ethics investigation, according to documents recently made public, and no violations were found.
It had been suggested that Mann, who joined the county commission in November, 2006, cast several votes that benefited a tenant, and thereby himself, amounting to four ethics violations.
The advocate for the Florida Commission on Ethics suggested two of those allegations be dropped and find violations in the remaining two. However the ethics commission dismissed all complaints as of Dec. 3.
“This was personally the most agonizing experience I’ve had in my public career,” said Mann, who has began a political career in 1968. “The resolution came just before Christmas and that was the best gift I ever had.”
The investigation stemmed from a Fort Myers man, Eric Neidigh, who filed a complaint with the state in March, 2009.
He suggested Mann was in violation by having a tenant, Southwest Florida Addiction Services, that received funding from the county and voting on issues that benefited the agency.
“The commissioner failed to disclose his ownership and benefit from his direct voting of the monies to SWFAS, before his vote,” Neidigh wrote in his complaint.
A vote on April 3, 2007 led to approval of $2 million contribution from the county for the construction of an outpatient and detoxification facility, which would eventually lead to the tenant leaving Mann’s building. Others included vote to extend Southwest Florida Addiction Services’ contract with the county, one to approve a $350,000 grant and a $270,000 low income housing agreement.
As the complaint turned into an investigation, Mann sent a letter to Philip Claypool, the commission’s executive director, in response.
He pointed out that the landlord/tenant relationship had been in place for 20 years, 18 of which were before Mann joined the Lee County Commission.
Rent had not been increased since Mann joined the board and in fact the agency had been building a new facility for the operations at Mann’s property. The agency had moved out by the time the complaint was filed.
“There is no possible way to demonstrate that I, at any time while a public official, received a ‘special benefit’ through my relationship with SWFAS through misuse of my office, or a vote on any issue relating to SWFAS,” Mann wrote.
But Florida statute section 112.313(7) states no public officer can have a contractual relationship with any entity that does business with the agency of which the officer is a member. The ethics commission’s advocate agreed Mann violated that section.
Additionally, section 112.3143, which says no public officer can vote on a measure that would result in the officer’s special and personal gain or loss, also seemed a sticking point for Mann who stood to loose financially with the vote to contribute $2 million for the new facility.
However the advocate, while suggesting the commission still find a violation, said no further action should be taken because it did not serve the public good.
The advocate found no probable cause for two other allegations pertaining to section 112.3143 saying that there was no evidence that Mann received private gain from votes he had made.
Still the ethics commission disagreed with its advocate.
“Under the circumstances presented, including the fact that the respondent’s landlord-tenant relationship with SWFAS pre-dated his service on the County Commission, any conflict was negated, and further finds that the circumstances presented did not demonstrate a special private gain or loss,” the ethics commission report said.
With that, Mann’s “agonizing nightmare” and a “black cloud” that hung over him for 20 months came to an end.
He’d spent countless hours talking with the investigator, his attorney, traveling to Tallahassee twice, appearing before the ethics commission and spending about $6,400 out of his pocket to defend himself. The biggest blow was to have his character questioned, Mann said.
When the complaint was dismissed, Mann was overcome with emotion.
“That was like the greatest load ever carried in m y life being suddenly lifted with my back,” he said.
The County Commission on Tuesday unanimously agreed to pay for Mann’s expenses during the investigation, something typically done when no violations are found.