The mayor of Southwest Florida’s largest city is accused of trying to make backdoor deals.
Cape Coral Mayor Joe Coviello is facing a civil infraction for violating the state’s Sunshine Law.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement launched an investigation after a series of events in December 2019 and found two violations of law.
The Sunshine Law, in part, bans government officials from discussing anything that would affect the public without community members having the opportunity to be present.
According to an FDLE report, Coviello offered to help out Councilwoman Marilyn Stout’s charity if she voted with him to fire the former city manager. On another occasion, Coviello had a phone conversation with Councilwoman Jessica Cosden about an upcoming vote to fill a vacant council seat.
“I think it is a concern, the fact that this state agency investigated and found that there could be a violation,” said Virginia Hemrick with the First Amendment Foundation.
Hemrick said the Sunshine Law is meant to hold public officials accountable. While it’s rare for an elected leader to face a penalty, it’s a definite violation of public trust.
“It’s serious business … and it’s depriving the public of their right to access meetings,” Hemrick said.
Coviello is not facing a criminal charge for the violation. Instead, he faces a civil infraction that carries a consequence of a fine up to $500.
As of publication, Coviello had not returned WINK News’ request for an interview.
“The filing is being reviewed and considered. The matter is non-criminal and is considered a suspected infraction. If an oversight occurred in the manner of a discussion(s) with other members of City Council it is Mayor Coviello’s intention to respond in a responsible manner,” said John Potanovic, an attorney for Coviello.
A hearing for the infraction is scheduled in Lee County on Oct. 6.