Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Ethics Commission Revelation Irks Citizens

Two members of the public waited patiently to address their city council on Tuesday, January 21. They were there to discuss revelations regarding possible ethical violations by a member of the council. Their words were stifled by Council Chairman Eric Brechnitz who would not allow them to speak to the issue they desired but restricted their comments to “policy” issues not on the agenda that evening.

The issue that was the focus of their attention revolved around a website which many believe did considerable harm to at least two candidates running for city council in 2018. In addition to the candidates, sitting members of the then council, several other members of the public and media outlets, including this one, were also attacked.

In addition to that, the site impugned the professional reputation of then-Police Chief Al Schettino and the Marco Police Department. During that time period, the department was embroiled in an embarrassing scandal involving three of its members that had been found to be engaging in a consensual and illicit relationship with a female member of the community while on duty.

The subsequent results of the Internal Affairs Investigations initiated by then Chief Schettino culminated with two of those officers resigning rather than have the investigations continue. A third officer is continuing to fight his dismissal from the department and is in arbitration regarding the charges and the action of dismissal brought by the city.

At a previous public city council meeting, Councilman Larry Honig defended himself from the dais. Honig denied any involvement in the operation of the site or the content being posted on it. He did admit to owning that domain name and several others. “I own the domain, but I am not responsible for the website or the content,” Honig stated.

The issue itself was thought to be dead until the Florida Elections Commission ruled on a complaint by local resident Regina Dayton. They found her complaint to lack “legal sufficiency,” in December of 2019. However, as part of their investigation of the complaint, Councilor Honig was required to respond to several inquiries of the Commission. As part of those responses, Honig admitted to owning, operating and being the sole “contributor” to that website, hence contradicting his previous public claims denying involvement in the site or its content.

As Dayton began her address to council during “citizens’ comments,” she was shut down by Chairman Brechnitz on several occasions. The Chairman used the rationale that he did not want her comments to result in an attack on “any” councilor. Brechnitz was one of those who successfully ran during the 2018 election.

Also running during that election were Victor Rios, Sam Young, Dr. Gerald Swiacki and Jim Richards in addition to Brechnitz. The website in question viciously attacked Swiacki and Richards throughout the election cycle.

After attempting to make her point several times and being stopped, Dayton finally explained her desire to see the City Council consider “a vote of no confidence to demonstrate the collective consciousness of our community, because I felt the silence on this matter or a no vote would condone with a deafening roar what I considered to be immoral or inexcusable conduct.”

Dayton concluded her remarks by saying, “I think we are at a juncture in local politics where political discourse has to be returned to some sense of decency, personal kindness and professional integrity demanded from our elected officials.”

Ray Seward, another Marco resident, rose to speak to the same issue before the City Council. “I’m not here to attack anyone, but I was attacked by one individual on this council. I was slandered and I was lied to,” Seward stated. Chairman Brechnitz would once again suppress any further comments and suggested if Seward had a problem with Honig’s alleged activities that Seward avail himself of the legal process.

After the meeting, Seward shook his head in disbelief as he left council chambers. “A councilor can attack you using his disgusting website late at night from the shadows to malign you and lie about it. When we come forward in public we are chastised for confronting him as we expose his unethical actions and we are the ones that are wrong? There is something very corrupt in this process. I’ve never really understood the ‘good old boy’ reference until tonight,” said Seward.

Later in the evening, it would be Councilman Howard Reed who admitted he was disturbed by the revelations found in the FEC report. Reed would go on to state he was prepared to speak about this very issue and offer a motion that would have “called upon council to take a stand on honesty.”

In the end, he chose to not bring forward a motion, but you could hear a pin drop within chambers as he spoke. Instead, the councilor explained he would “come down on the side of unity,” recognizing the good that had been done recently by the council as a whole.

It appeared that Reed could count the votes and his motion would fail. Others would sit quietly and not comment on the issue.

The website in question is no longer in operation as of this writing.

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