- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—Marco Island City Councilman Joe Batte sent several emails instructing city employees to do his bidding in the past year, including adding police patrols near his house and directing other workers to clean up his neighborhood, according to correspondence obtained by the Naples Daily News.

While Batte declined to discuss those emails, he apologized Monday for his handling of a complaint he filed with Marco police about a neighbor’s rental property. His actions in that case and others raise questions about whether Batte violated the City Charter’s prohibition against council members giving orders to city staff.

“The police don’t take orders from any city councilor,” Batte wrote in his apology addressed to Marco residents and City Council.

show the influence he enjoys over the Marco Island Police Department, and his willingness to mobilize the department for his personal interests. They also demonstrate the councilman’s brashness in dealing with city employees and communicating with his constituents.

In a Feb. 19 email, Batte threatened Chief of Police Al Schettino with litigation after the department warned Batte about a parking violation at his residence.

“Tonight, my vehicles will be parked as they were last night,” Batte wrote in an email addressed solely to the chief. “I will welcome a citation, so I can take appropriate evidence to court & get this right once & for all!”

Last Nov. 5, one day after being re-elected to his second term, Batte emailed Police Captain Dave Baer and wrote, “Please have Code get this dump landscaped,” in reference to the code enforcement office and an apparently foreclosed home near Batte’s residence on Marquesas Court. “I am tired of looking at it!”

By the end of the day, Baer responded that the issue would be dealt with that week.

While out of town on June 25, Batte told Schettino in an email to “continue” patrolling Batte’s residence, namely with rides past the councilman’s house and “perhaps a quick walk around periodically.”

The patrol order was passed down through the police department within a few hours, according to emails.

Reached by phone Monday, Batte declined to discuss whether he considers his emails a violation of the City Charter.

“I’m not going to discuss that with you,” Batte, 74, said.

Batte emailed the Daily News his written apology, referring to issues discussed last week during a City Council meeting. The owners of a rental house across the water from Batte’s home called for an investigation into Batte’s actions after they complained that the councilman was misusing his office when calling police on their home.

The Daily News reported last week that a report shows a Marco police sergeant was ordered by Schettino and Baer to issue a citation in response to Batte’s March 10 complaint after the officer argued it was unwarranted.

* Marco sergeant feared retaliation in councilman, rental owner dispute

* Marco manager reviewing police handling of councilman’s complaint against neighbor’s property

* Marco councilman Joe Batte accused of sending police to neighbor rental property

* Marco officer forced to issue citation after councilman complains privately to superior

Batte sent several emails about that property to police.

“I have reread the emails that I sent, and it is embarrassing to know that I allowed my emotions to do the talking. I ask your forgiveness,” Batte wrote in his apology Monday.

“My actions in calling the police are the actions any citizen should take, and I will continue to take such action, when I believe an ordinance has been violated,” Batte wrote. “And I will be forceful about it, as any citizen should be. “

Batte’s apology did not reference other emails obtained by the Daily News that show instances of his contact with police.

City Manager Roger Hernstadt said last week his office is reviewing the police department’s handling of the March 10 incident.

Schettino, Hernstadt and Baer didn’t return calls or messages seeking comment Monday. City Council Chairman Larry Sacher declined comment, and other councilmen didn’t return messages.

Emails show Batte frequently alerted police supervisors about violations he perceives around his neighborhood. In the past year, he’s emailed complaints to Schettino or Baer at least nine times. The incidents range from noise complaints to what the councilman claimed were parking violations.

On July 4, Batte emailed Baer about a property on Marquesas Court that he said was overcrowded.

“Let’s get the word to them or else they will be back next year w/ [sic] more abuses!” Batte wrote.

Baer responded that the department would “watch” the home “prior to and after” 2 a.m. that day.

Batte’s correspondence with police came during a monthslong back-and-forth between City Council and Marco residents about a controversial ordinance that would have placed stricter regulations on the island’s rental properties. Batte voted in favor of the restrictions.

The issue is now delayed until a March referendum.

On Jan. 4, Batte emailed Schettino, Baer and Hernstadt about a noise complaint he called in the night before on a rental property on Waterleaf Court. Batte later that week demanded documentation from the police department and code enforcement staff regarding the incident.

“I will accept a written summary but better yet, copy of the correspondence!” Batte wrote to Hernstadt and Schettino. “We are going to get his [sic] right no matter how painful! This is what you all get paid for!”

Batte has consistently voiced his disapproval for rental properties, which he calls “flophouses.” In some cases, he uses dismissive and insulting language when responding to constituents who email the councilman about the rental ordinance.

On May 19, Batte replied to a frustrated resident’s email and wrote, “Come see me & you can take my seat on Council, but I doubt you would be up to that. Big talk, little action!”

Batte emailed police supervisors and Hernstadt in December and July to urge enforcing the island’s anti-fireworks code on New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July.

On January 1, Batte emailed an island resident expressing his skepticism of the city’s enforcement, and appeared to call out his fellow councilmen for not standing with him.

“I am sick of paying top salaries and getting ‘retirement’ services!” Batte wrote. “This s– will end! Hopefully the gutless wonders who serve w/ [sic] me will have the guts to back me up!”

Six months later, Batte again sent an email about fireworks, addressed to Baer.

“I would hope that there is a plan in place this year to prevent this & insure [sic] the safety & peacefulness of our people!” Batte wrote on July 1. “I would hope that there is a proactive strategy & PR effort to warn wrongdoers about this … ahead of time! I trust that my ‘Hopes’ will be considered!”

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(c)2015 the Naples Daily News (Naples, Fla.)

Visit the Naples Daily News (Naples, Fla.) at www.naplesnews.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Topics: t000002899,t000164927,t000183207,t000156697


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