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Friday, July 20, 2007

Your City Employees at Work

Introduction
A source sent to us a handwritten note suggesting a questionable practice by a City of Marco Island employee. The following details our findings.

Case Details
The City employee referenced in the handwritten note is Laura Litzen, City Clerk for the City of Marco Island. The allegation is that Ms. Litzen, acting as a real estate agent, sold a property to a husband and wife that since then have gained employment with the City. The note suggests that such is an ethics violation and a conflict of interest.

Facts

1. Ms. Litzen is the City Clerk and Human Resource Director for the City of Marco Island.

2. Ms. Litzen has been employed by the City of Marco Island since 3-16-1998.

3. Ms. Litzen works in Department 512.

4. Ms. Litzen is a licensed real estate agent.

5. Ms. Litzen is the agent of record for the sale of the real property located at 365 Rookery Ct., Marco Island Florida.

6. Closing of the sale of the property at 365 Rookery Ct. occurred on 7-31-2006.

7. The market value of this real property is $828,620.

8. The buyers of this property on this date were Deborah McCabe and Jeffrey McCabe.

9. The law firm involved in this real estate transaction is Rhodes, Tucker & Garretson.

10. Mrs. McCabe is employed by the City of Marco Island as an Administrative Assistant.

11. Mrs. McCabe works in Department 512.

12. Mrs. McCabe has been employed by the City of Marco Island since 5-30-2006.

13. Mr. McCabe is employed by the City of Marco Island as a Computer Support Specialist.

14. Mr. McCabe has been employed by the City of Marco Island since 2-12-2007.

15. Mr. McCabe works in Department 513.

Laws & Regulations
Florida Statute
112.311
(5) It is hereby declared to be the policy of the state that no officer or employee of a state agency or of a county, city, or other political subdivision of the state, and no member of the Legislature or legislative employee, shall have any interest, financial or otherwise, direct or indirect; engage in any business transaction or professional activity; or incur any obligation of any nature which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his or her duties in the public interest. To implement this policy and strengthen the faith and confidence of the people of the state in their government, there is enacted a code of ethics setting forth standards of conduct required of state, county, and city officers and employees, and of officers and employees of other political subdivisions of the state, in the performance of their official duties. It is the intent of the Legislature that this code shall serve not only as a guide for the official conduct of public servants in this s
tate, but also as a basis for discipline of those who violate the provisions of this part.

Opinion
Florida has rather broad conflict of interest statutes. Any government employee can have any employment outside of their governmental positions and such would not be construed as a
conflict of interest with one exception: if that employment is with an organization that is providing a good or service and said employee is a decision maker in obtaining such goods or services.

Reviewing the Florida statutes and the mock cases found at the state’s ethics web site (http://www.ethics.state.fl.us/) supports this contention.

The fact that there are employees of the City that were hired before and after the sale of the real property does not appear to violate the state’s broad ethics laws. The fact that one employee appears to be a subordinate of the other employee also does not appear to violate the state’s ethic laws.

There is no evidence to suggest that the sale-employment was a quid pro quo. There is no evidence to suggest that the City Clerk influenced the appraised value of the house for the purpose of the sale.

What is of interest is that the appraised value of the property is $880,000 to $1,200,000, but the purchase price was $640,000. Although a seeming anomaly, there does not appear to be any reason to suspect that the City Clerk, or the employer-employee relationship with the McCabes has any bearing on this matter.

(click image to enlarge)

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