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COLLIER COUNTY — Collier commissioners Jim Coletta and Donna Fiala are standing by comments they made earlier this week suggesting that commissioners' votes on the Immokalee Area Master Plan had been bought.
An angry Commissioner Georgia Hiller demanded Wednesday that Fiala retract statements — she called them "malicious defamation" — made during a rancorous meeting Tuesday, when commissioners voted 3-2 to delay a final vote on the master plan. The master plan needs four votes to win approval. Commissioner Tom Henning and Hiller oppose it.
Hiller also chastised Coletta for his comments and called on the Daily News for a retraction for tying her and Henning to Fiala's and Coletta's statements.
A vote on the plan is set for Sept. 25. In the aftermath of this week's rancor, Fiala said the plan stands "zero" chance of winning adoption; Coletta said he wants to stay positive.
On Tuesday, Coletta made the motion to delay the vote instead of letting it fail: "This sells you short, all for business," Coletta told master plan supporters. "They are trying to pay back a debt."
On Thursday, Coletta said: "The only way I would retract that statement is if Tom Henning changed his mind and voted for the master plan."
If that were to happen Sept. 25, Coletta said, that would prove him wrong about Henning's motivations and he would have "no problem" apologizing.
"I don't have a good feeling about that (Henning switching his vote)," Coletta said.
Hiller's demand for a retraction from Fiala stems from Fiala repeating a rumor she heard from Immokalee residents that "some people in Immokalee bought and paid for" the master plan votes.
As for whether she would back off the statement: "I think maybe as soon as she (Hiller) retracts all the statements and accusations she's made about us, I would think about it," Fiala said Thursday.
She referred to statements Hiller has made calling sitting commissioners corrupt and saying they spend money "like drunken sailors."
Neither Fiala nor Coletta named any private citizen or commissioners Tuesday, but Coletta said Thursday his statement was aimed mostly at Henning's campaign contributions from opponents of the master plan.
Coletta said that while he is unaware of any campaign contributions Hiller has gotten from master plan opponents, Hiller still has political debt to pay back.
"I'll leave that to your imagination," Coletta said, pointing out Hiller's support of Republican commission candidate Tim Nance, who defeated Coletta in the August primary, and faces Democrat John Lundin in the Nov. 6 election.
As for her statement that votes had been "bought and sold," Fiala said she didn't know what the rumor-tellers meant by "bought and sold" and she wouldn't name names Thursday when asked to whom the statement was aimed.
"I have to be very careful about what I say," Fiala said, citing threats of a defamation lawsuit.
In a statement Wednesday, Naples Daily News Managing Editor Jeff Bruce said the Daily News stood by the newspaper's coverage of Tuesday's meeting.
Neither Hiller nor Henning could be reached for comment Thursday by phone or e-mail.