BELLEAIR — Tom Olson, the chair of the town’s Finance Committee, is suggesting that one of the commissioners may be in a position of a conflict of interest and he’s asking the town attorney to make sure commissioners are protected from such a scenario.
Olson, who made it clear he was speaking as a private citizen and not as the chair of the Finance Board, said he is concerned that one of the commissioners appears to be in a situation that could give rise to a conflict.
“We have one commissioner who is hyperactive and does a lot for this community who may be in that position,” he said.
It was obvious that Olson was talking about Commissioner Karla Rettstatt, who on the night of the meeting of April 3, was acting as deputy mayor in the absence of Mayor Gary Katica.
Rettstatt is employed by the Doyle family at the Pelican Golf Club. The Doyles have had extensive dealing with the town in the past including currently finalizing a sharing agreement with the town for a service vehicle.
Olson, reading from the definition of conflict of interest, said the rules were clear.
“People can’t accept money from anyone doing business with the town; they cannot disclose sensitive information and they can’t be employed by anyone doing business with the town,” he said.
If any of the criteria held true then the person in question must recuse themselves from any voting on issues pertaining to the person doing business with the town.
“I question to what extent the town attorney is protecting commissioners from a conflict of interest situation,” he said.
Town Attorney David Ottinger said he is aware of the issue and has been involved in the past.
“In the 13 years of my tenure here every mayor and commissioners has asked me when they are concerned with even the appearances of conflict of interest,” he said.
Olson asked Ottinger if anyone has recused themselves or if he has suggested someone recuse themselves, Ottinger said no.
Commissioner Tom Shelly noted that commissioners are required to go to ethics classes every year so they are well aware of the Conflict of Interest issues.
Olson continued to voice his concerns.
“I am concerned that a commissioner is employed by someone who does business with the town and is also involved in the Belleair Community Foundation.”
Rettstatt is the founder of the BCF and continues to be actively involved, often speaking of potential BCF intentions during Commission meetings.
After listening to Olson voice his concerns, Rettstatt adamantly denied any conflict of interest in what she is doing.
“I have called David (Ottinger) every time there is a question about that,” she said. “I do not believe that my employment constitutes a conflict.”
“I need employment, it is close to home and I enjoy what I do. As for the BCF, I get nothing from it, not a dime; it all goes for the good of the community,” Rettstatt said.
“If people don’t like what I am doing for them they can vote me out of office or if for some reason I am told to quit my job over this, then I will resign my seat here immediately,” she said.
Olson said he brought the issue up because he was concerned about lawsuits over it. He didn’t specify what, if anything, he intended to do next.
Police make arrests
Police Chief Rick Doyle, in his regular report, told commissioners of two arrests that were made snuffing out possible crimes in the town.
He said in late March a Pinellas Sheriff's Office deputy operating out of Belleair Bluffs pulled over two teenage cyclists. It was after dark, and the deputy was concerned because the bikes had no working lights.
Soon after he was joined by a Belleair officer and they discovered a loaded gun in the backpack of one of the cyclists, a 16-year-old.
“Who knows what their intentions were as they headed into our town,” said Doyle.
The young men were arrested and brought to the juvenile facility. Doyle said they were laughing, telling the officers they would be out before morning.
However, that didn’t happen because Doyle said they were charged with conspiracy to commit armed burglary, which means they can be held for at least 30 days.
It turns out the gun was stolen from a resident of the Bluffs who has since had the gun returned to him.
After each election Belleair officials must decide the line of succession if anything ever happens to the mayor or if the mayor can’t perform the necessary duties.
Commissioners voted to establish the line of succession after Mayor Gary Katica. Karla Rettstatt was again elected deputy mayor and remains next in line. After that it is Tom Shelly, Michael Wilkinson and Tom Kurey.
Shelly and Wilkinson were tied and it took the third tie breaker to decide the outcome.
Earlier in the meeting Shelly was sworn in by Judge Dee Anna Farnell. Last week, Kurey was sworn in but Shelly was out of town. Both men were elected unopposed in the March election.