BELLEAIR — Tempers flared at the Belleair commission meeting Sept. 3 with an advisory board member calling for the resignation of the town attorney over an ethics dispute.
The heated discussion stems from allegations that two commissioners, Tom Kurey and Karla Rettstatt, have conflicts of interest.
In recent weeks, some residents have been critical of Kurey for selling a house overlooking the Pelican Golf Club to Daniel Doyle Sr. for $1.65 million. The sale took place a day after the Doyles went before the commission seeking approval for the latest phase of improvements to the club, which they own. Kurey voted in favor of the project.
Prior to the vote, Kurey said, he spoke to Town Attorney David Ottinger, who indicated he did not have a voting conflict, and took the extra step of contacting the Florida Commission on Ethics, who confirmed he did not have a conflict.
Tom Olson, chairman of the finance board, said he spoke to Ottinger in April about his concerns regarding conflicts of interest. At the time, he was referring to Rettstatt working for the Pelican Golf Club, calling it a conflict of interest.
“That didn’t go anywhere, obviously,” he said at the Sept. 3 meeting.
He said he was tired of Ottinger’s lack of assistance to the town.
“You have failed as town attorney to preview these things and these problems both for Commissioner Rettstatt and Commissioner Kurey,” he said. “And I think of terms of protecting the town along with the citizenry, and I personally want to ask for your resignation,” he said.
Ottinger said Kurey could not have followed the law more thoroughly and got an appropriate opinion from the Florida Ethics Commission.
“He got that opinion. He followed it. He was obligated under Florida law to vote at that meeting. A lot of people don’t understand that Florida has a voting requirement,” Ottinger said. “That if you are present at a meeting you shall cast a vote unless there is a conflict of interest.”
Ottinger also took exception to criticism of his role in alleged conflicts of interest, saying he has served in his position for 13 years — while the mayor and one commissioner have held office the whole time and two other commissioners have been in office most of that time.
Ottinger said he was accused by another critic of being an advocate for the owners of the golf course as opposed to the town.
“That was rather hurtful. Maybe you don’t agree with my advice, but don't question my loyalty to the town,” he said.
Referring to the controversy, Kurey said the past month has been difficult for him and his wife, although he did “everything by the book.”
"I love Belleair. I have always tried to do the best I could for this town. I think I have done a lot of wonderful things. If people ever have a question I just wish they would have come and talked to me,” he said.
He took issue of people convicting him instead of asking questions to the town attorney.
“I’m owed more than that,” he said.
Rettstatt said she has not voted on anything related to the Pelican Golf Club since she has been employed by the operation.
“To see people do this to me personally, without asking or even checking of records, doing a records request to see what my voting record is, is really disappointing. I have done nothing to anyone or anything. I have not taken a dime,” she said.
She also said she never hid the fact she was employed by the club.
“Tom (Kurey), I’m sorry you had to go through this," she said.
Dan Hartshorne, who also sits on the Finance Committee, said he was disappointed in Kurey, Ottinger and Rettstatt.
“If we don’t address this sea of mendacity that we are floating on in this town, we will never have the unity we all seek,” he said.
Some residents also defended city officials, including Tom DuPont, president of what is known as the residential planned development, which has 600 homes.
“It’s hardly wrongdoing when you check with the people who are responsible for the enforcement of legal laws and you found you have no conflict,” DuPont said.
Mayor Gary Katica called Kurey a fine commissioner.
“One of things you learn in politics is perception is reality. And it is what people perceive and that’s the calls I have been getting. And personally I have been your mayor for 13 years and two years as a commissioner, and it bothers me to read about us in the paper in a derogatory way, and I don’t care how else you would interpret it,” Katica said. “I don’t know what the answer is, but that’s the way I feel.”
Commissioner Michael Wilkinson said he thinks everybody on the dais is doing the best they can for the town, but also praised residents.
“I appreciate everyone coming tonight and voicing their opinions,” he said.