Key West Commissioner Harry Bethel: "The Walshes give money during campaigns, so does Pritam Singh, so do all developers," he said. "But with all this going on, I simply chose to return the money."
Like, hey, yeah, guess so. Already under investigation for an alleged ethics violation, Commissioner Harry Bethel, who is not seeking re-election to the City Commission but is running for the Utility Board, decided to come down from his mountain vacation long enough to give back a campaign donation of $1500 from the family of developers who had recently asked that the city annex Wisteria Island so they could build about 150 plus homes there. Without annexation, under Monroe County's current rules, the developers could build two homes.
While the now withdrawn annexation request was was an issue before the Commission, Bethel along with Commissioners Danny Kolhage and Clayton Lopez just happened to have attended a dinner on Sunset Key with a vice president of the Walsh family companies.
By way of background, in many places there would be nothing wrong with several legislators meeting and talking with others and among themselves including discussing how they might vote on a piece of legislation. In Washington, DC it's done all the time. But that is not supposed to be the way it's done in Key West. Commissioners here are not supposed to have a meeting where pending matters are discussed unless the public is given notice of the meeting so members of the public can attend. That is, as we understand it, the gist of the Sunshine Law. There are also ethical issues with accepting (if it happens) something of value from a person interested in seeing a piece of legislation pass. So, in Key West, we are supposed to have open and ethical government.
But whether there are violations of the Sunshine Law or other ethical proscriptions depend upon what happened at a particular meeting and, of course, what was discussed. That is what no one seems to know, except those who were present on Sunset Key. And that is what the investigation is theoretically about.
What do you suppose these Commissioners were talking about? They certainly are friends (from time to time at least in the political realm). It is hard to serve on a political body for as long as these folks have and not like, or at least respect, each other even if your views are miles apart. So we think these Commissioners should tell the public in some detail just what went on at the dinner.
It would certainly be nice to know that, in fact, these Commissioners had only come for chicken and camaraderie and to listen to the sound of the ocean. After all, it is nice out there on Sunset Key. We've been there. Of course, never have we been in such august political company.
As for giving back the campaign contribution, that was certainly the right thing to do. Unfortunately the damage is done in political terms. The trouble is that the contribution now makes Utility Board candidate Bethel look bad politically. Now the savvy voters may well question whether Bethel should be their choice in the election; not because he returned the money, but because he got himself into the sticky wicket in the first place by attending the dinner on Wisteria Island.
It is ironic, sometimes, how the money every candidate needs to raise to run for office can, when obtained, be an unexpected political blunder that raises questions about the candidate's worthiness for office and provides grist for his opponents. But that's politics and what makes it exciting.