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Naples Mayor Teresa Heitmann welcomes challenge to clear name

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WGCU
The Florida Ethics Commission has found probable cause that Naples Mayor Teresa Heitmann, above, misused her position "to steer City employees and City resources to investigate non-City related matters to benefit herself and another individual."

Naples' mayor says she is looking forward to clearing her name after the Florida Ethics Commission found probable cause that she misused her position "to steer city employees and city resources to investigate non-City related matters to benefit herself and another individual."

The finding by the Ethics Commission was released last week after an investigation.

Heitmann responded to WGCU in an email Monday:

"This is part of the process and I am looking forward to the opportunity to conclude the hearings and put these accusations behind me," the mayor said. "It’s been a very difficult process and I look forward to clearing my name."

The allegations against Heitmann came from a complaint filed in May 2021 by Bob Dye, the city's information technology director, who charges that the Naples mayor engaged in misconduct, ethics violations, and retaliation.

The commission's recent decision also found that Heitmann failed to disclose a gift of legal services worth more than $100.

Heitmann has declined the accusations, calling them in an email "slanderous," and that she works with the city's best interests in mind.

READ THE COMPLAINT: Allegations made against Naples Mayor Teresa Heitmann

In the complaint, Dye said that he had worked for the city for eight years and saw the Naples mayor commit the ethics violations - and at times she ordered him to bend the rules and break the law.

"I have been a witness to Mayor Heitmann's misconduct and unethical behavior," Dye wrote. "She has abused her position and office, directed me to break (Florida-in-)Sunshine laws, destroy public records, investigated[sic] political opponents' email addresses, used city resources and funds to the benefit of her friend, (and) retaliated against staff and city contractors for perceived slights."

Dye's complaint appears to be connected to Heitmann's use of city funds to hire an outside attorney in order to "formulate a legal opinion on how to sue the former city attorney because she believed that they had hacked her and a friend’s computer."

In the complaint Dye also said:

  • Heitmann ordered him to investigate two Naples Police Department officers due to her belief she was being watched
  • Claimed that city staffers had hacked her computer and that of a friend and insisted those staffers be fired
  • Demanded Dye look into her friend's computer for evidence, which he said he was uncomfortable with because it was not city property

A third alleged violation by Heitmann, that she used her position to obtain a disproportionate benefit for herself, was rejected by the commission.
ETHICS COMMISSION: Order finding probable cause

Dye could be reached for comment.

An ethics commission official, Lynn Blais, said the case is "far from over."

Blais said after the finding of probable cause the case now goes to the commission advocate, who is part of Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody's office.

Two things can happen next. One is that a stipulated agreement could be reached, which is a sort of meeting-of-the-minds to resolve all of part of the dispute. A second could be a request by Heitmann for a full evidentiary hearing, which is a type of trial in front of a judge.

Whatever the outcome, Blais said the case would go back to the ethics commission for them to either approve or deny.

A June 30, 2021, report on the issue by the Naples Daily News said the Naples ethics commission voted unanimously to dismiss a complaint filed by former Mayor Bill Barnett against Heitmann.

In the complaint, Barnett wrote Heitmann may have breached the public's trust by allegedly accusing him of running a child prostitution ring and hacking her electronic devices.

At that time Heitmann denied those allegations, which stemmed from Dye's complaint.

The newspaper report said that after the closed session, Chairman Dudley Goodlette said the commission made the determination because Barnett did not have personal knowledge of the allegations made against Heitmann.

Mike Murawski, executive director of the city commission, told the newspaper that the commission also dismissed a portion of the complaint because it determined it had no jurisdiction over an alleged false statement made by Heitmann.

In an email sent June 30, 2021, Heitmann wrote she never made the accusations against Barnett and others.

"My goal is to work for the best interest of the city with transparency," Heitmann wrote. "My character has been attacked and it's slanderous! I love Naples and our community,"

The Florida Center for Government Accountability contributed to this report. FLCGA (flcganews.org) is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to producing strong investigative journalism across the state.

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