Marco Island City Councilor Victor Rios said he was simply helping out a constituent when he provided him with a prefabricated letter to the editor criticizing two other councilors.
Rios emailed Joseph Shady – Marco resident and vice president of the Belize Condominium Association, the same association of which Rios is president – with instructions to copy and paste a prefabricated letter to the editor and submit it to the Naples Daily News, Marco Eagle and another local newspaper.
Rios accidentally sent the email to Marco Eagle editor Bill Green instead of Shady.
The letter criticizes councilors Bob Brown and Joe Batte for not offering opinions on the city manager semi-finalists and therefore “not living up to their swearing to serve the citizens of Marco Island.”
Upon realizing his mistake, Rios asked Green to disregard the email, and said he was just trying to help Shady.
“He asked me for help and also to send him the emails of the editors for the three papers that publish in Marco Island. Unfortunately, in the process of doing that, I placed your e-mail also in the ‘To’ section,” he wrote. “I appreciate your destroying that e-mail. I am sure Mr. Shady will be sending you an email on that subject.”
Shady did later submit a letter to the editor about Brown and Batte, but said he penned it himself.
“I was not interested in using the letter (Rios) sent me because I didn’t know some of the information he put in there,” he said. “His letter caused me to go review the tape (of the meeting) and make my own comments, but that letter he sent me were his words, not mine.”
However, Rios said he didn’t write the letter he sent Shady; another citizen, whose name Rios wouldn’t disclose, wrote it and gave him permission to share it.
A public records request did not reveal who sent Rios the letter.
According to Rios, the author of the letter also said other residents could submit it under their own names, which he said is a “pretty common” practice.
“It’s not unusual to see three different people write almost the same letter, and that’s because it originated from somewhere,” he said. “I didn’t compose this letter, but I didn’t see anything offensive in it. You should have seen some of the letters I got. Some were very nasty."
Shady said this isn’t the first time Rios has asked him to write a letter to the editor, but he couldn’t recall if Rios had ever sent him a pre-written letter.
Yet Rios said he has never solicited letters to the editor, nor has he sent a pre-written letter to a citizen until now. What he does do, he said, is help people submit their own letters.
"If my taxpayers ask me how to send a letter to the editor, I help them," Rios said. "I admit that I provided the letter because I was asked how to send a letter to the editor. I do that all the time. I’m not going to deny it. The truth is the truth."
Rios said he received an upwards of 50 phone calls from citizens who were upset with Brown and Batte. According to Rios, Shady was one of the people who reached out, but he asked for help writing a letter, not just submitting one, which is why Rios emailed him the pre-written letter.
"There's nothing unethical or illegal about it," Rios said. "I'm sure Mr. Brown and Mr. Batte will be upset, but that's the way the cookie crumbles."
City attorney Alan Gabriel agreed that Rios's actions do not present a legal problem unless his letters "contain content involving an item currently under consideration by City Council or an item likely to come before the council in the foreseeable future and the letter discloses the positions of the members of the council on said item."
Rios said it's unfortunate that a mistake could become a news story.
"I'm sorry that my name is going to be associated with this," he said, "but I'm a big boy and I can take the punches when they come."