The fate of Immokalee Master Plan: Henning wants to reconsider but may not vote

In this 2012 file photo, Collier County Commissioner Tom Henning listens to discussion surrounding the Immokalee Area Master Plan on Tuesday, September 11, 2012 in Naples.

Photo by DANIA MAXWELL, NAPLES DAILY NEWS // Buy this photo

In this 2012 file photo, Collier County Commissioner Tom Henning listens to discussion surrounding the Immokalee Area Master Plan on Tuesday, September 11, 2012 in Naples.

What: The Immokalee Area Master Plan amendment votes at the Collier County commission meeting

When: The meeting starts at 9 a.m. today. Commissioner Tom Henning’s request to reconsider the vote on the master plan will be heard in the morning. The Immokalee Area Master Plan amendment, if heard, will be sometime after 1 p.m. today.

Where: Meetings are held in the commission’s meeting room on the third floor of the county government center, 3299 Tamiami Trail E.

It's the end of the line for the Immokalee Area Master Plan amendment.

Whether up, down or possibly no vote at all, Tuesday will be the last opportunity for Collier County Commissioners to vote on the plan, which lays out how and when growth should occur in the community. It is due to the state by Thursday.

But before a decision can even take place, Commissioner Tom Henning wants to change his vote from the last meeting on Sept. 11 to continue the master plan vote to today's commission meeting.

What's the fate of the Immokalee Master Plan amendment?

The master plan amendment would need a supermajority approval from the commissioners. This means four of the five would need to approve it. Commissioner Georgia Hiller has voted against the amendment every time it has come before the board, saying she has serious concerns about some of the items contained in it. Commissioners Jim Coletta, Donna Fiala and Fred Coyle have been supportive of the plan.

That leaves Henning as the swing vote. In December, Henning abstained from voting on the master plan amendment. The reason for his abstention, he said, was because he owned property in the Immokalee urban area, which could be affected by the plan.

Henning has since resolved his conflict and was set to vote on the master plan two weeks ago when it was continued to the Sept. 25 meeting.

But now Henning is asking to reconsider his decision to continue the master plan.

What does Henning want to do?

Henning is asking his fellow commissioners to reconsider their decision to continue the vote on the Immokalee Area Master Plan amendment because he would like to change his vote. Henning was one of three commissioners — along with Coletta and Fiala — who voted to continue the vote on the master plan amendment to Sept. 25.

It will take a majority of commissioners — or three of the five — to approve Henning's motion to reconsider the vote.

What does that mean if the commission reconsiders its vote?

If the commission reconsiders its vote, the Immokalee Area Master Plan amendment will be placed on a future agenda, according to Mike Sheffield, assistant to the county manager.

This would mean that commissioners would not vote on the amendment before the Sept. 27 deadline imposed by the state and would essentially require Immokalee to start the process of getting state approval all over again.

If a majority of commissioners do not agree to consider the vote, the master plan amendment will be presented to the commissioners for a vote some time after 1 p.m. today.

Why does Henning want to do this?

In an email last week to County Manager Leo Ochs, Henning wrote it would be "impossible" for him to vote on the Immokalee master plan after reading a Naples Daily News article in which Coletta said, "The only way I would retract that statement is if Tom Henning changed his mind and voted for the master plan.

The statement Coletta was referring to was one he made at the Sept. 11 meeting when he told master plan supporters, "This sells you short, all for business. They are trying to pay back a debt." Coletta said his comments referred to Henning's campaign contributions from opponents of the master plan.

If commissioners hear the presentation, could Henning just abstain again?

He could. Commissioners are allowed to abstain from voting if they believe there is a conflict of interest.

However, Henning has said he believed that his previous conflict, over owning property in Immokalee, has been resolved.

The state of Florida requires elected or appointed officials to abstain from voting on a measure which "ensures to his or her special private gain or loss." The official can also not vote on matters which would mean a gain or loss of a relative, business associate or an organization to whom he or she is retained.

Where does that leave Henning?

Carla Miller, president of City Ethics — a Jacksonville-based nonprofit that specializes in resources for local government ethics programs, said the situation is out of the realm of ethics laws and now all about politics.

"If you removed yourself from every decision because someone contributed to your campaign, you would not vote on anything," she said. "I would say rely on your county attorney for interpretation on Florida law and, as for the politics, deal with it the best you can. There are no laws on how to deal with this."

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