"What I hope the message this will send to anyone is to do your due diligence...," Gina Downs said. "I'm not going to tell (the Ethics Commission) what to do, it's up to them. But I hope it's an eye-opener to any elected official."
NAPLES — A Collier County resident says she's submitted a complaint to the Florida Commission on Ethics that targets Collier Commissioner Tom Henning.
Gina Downs, a longtime Collier County resident and former commission candidate, says she sent the complaint form — as well as a binder filled with detailed information — by FedEx to the state agency on March 28. While Downs' name is the only one listed on the complaint, longtime resident John Barlow also worked on the complaint and backed the decision to submit it to the state's Ethics Commission.
An Ethics Commission official wouldn't confirm whether the agency received the complaint, but said Henning will receive a certified letter if a complaint has been filed.
Henning said late this week he hasn't received such a letter.
The complaint — a copy of which Downs and Barlow provided to the Daily News — addresses potential discrepancies on financial disclosure forms Henning has filed since becoming a county commissioner. The state requires elected officials to fill out the financial report annually.
The pair assert Henning didn't disclose all of his property and income, and that the forms include mathematical errors. Specifically the complaint alleges:
■ In June 2005, Henning purchased property at 15013 Summit Place Circle, Golden Gate Estates. He then sold the property to Tuscany Preserve Development in 2006, making a $71,000 profit. Neither the property nor the gain were included on the corresponding year's financial disclosure form;
■ In March 2003, Henning sold property at 1680 40th Terrace SW, Golden Gate, to Deonaire Interprises Inc. The profit of the sale was $286,500. The profit before or after improvements wasn't listed on the 2003 form, but there is an asset listed on the form in the amount of $292,000 and an income of $16,400;
■ In 2007, Henning purchased a property at 1233 18th St. N. in Immokalee, which was put in a trust in June 2010. The asset was listed in the 2008 financial disclosure, but was not listed on the 2009 or 2010 form. Henning abstained from a 2011 vote on the Immokalee Master Plan, which sets goals for the community's growth and development, because of his interest in the property — but no form was filed declaring what the business association was which led Henning to abstain;
■ In March 2005, Henning purchased property at 12268 First St. in Fort Myers as a rental property. The rental income was listed on the financial disclosure form from 2005 through 2009, but wasn't listed in 2010;
■ In March 1996, Henning purchased property at 2151 42nd St. SW, Golden Gate, and sold it in 2002. The $40,500 profit wasn't listed on the 2002 form;
■ In October 2006, Henning purchased a parcel, which has no site address on the Collier County Property Appraiser's website. The property was deeded to the Rogers Trust in 2010 and wasn't listed on the financial disclosure forms.
The complaint also contends Henning made mathematical errors totaling $439,629 since 2000.
Henning declined to comment on the specifics of the complaint, but did say he plans to seek damages and attorney costs from Downs if the complaint is filed.
Bruce Anderson, an associate professor of political science at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, said elected officials absolutely must disclose capital gains made through the sale of property and what property they could receive through a trust.
"It exposes a conflict of interest," he said. "If I get money from a trust that comes from a factory that makes widgets, and the county needs widgets and I throw my votes behind the factory and no one knows I am part of a trust, that is a conflict."
Disclosure forms, Anderson said, make elected officials less likely to vote on something that would financially benefit them. And while Anderson said Henning deserves credit for announcing a potential conflict with the Immokalee property, the possibility of discrepancies on Henning's disclosure forms does raise some concerns.
"The problem is, even if he is as honest as the day is long, you can never really know if he is benefiting from anything because he is not disclosing everything," Anderson said. "It raises questions."
Henning said recently he thinks the complaint is an election ploy. Both Downs and Barlow have contributed to the campaign of Bill McDaniel, Henning's challenger in the August Republican primary. Downs ran in 2010 for the District 2 commission seat now held by Georgia Hiller.
"It's disheartening Bill McDaniel is using the same tactics that we see in national campaigns instead of focusing on serving the people," Henning said.
McDaniel said the complaint was nothing but a rumor to him until contacted by reporters.
"I am not behind it," he said. "Yes, Ms. Downs and Mr. Barlow are supporters of mine. But this wasn't me and it wasn't my campaign."
Both Downs and Barlow said there were no political motivations to file the complaint in advance of the August primary. Instead, both said the complaint is a genuine look into what they think is wrongdoing by a public official.
"It was a happenstance of an investigation, rather than a targeted one," Barlow said. "You have to draw your own conclusion. I have consistently contributed to local candidates I feel represent the best thing (for Collier County)."
Downs said she didn't know how the Ethics Commission will handle the complaint, but does hope it sends a message to Henning and other elected officials.
"What I hope the message this will send to anyone is to do your due diligence. The first time I was faced with (a financial disclosure form) as a candidate I was sweating bullets. We don't have that many assets, but we were calling our accountants ... to make sure everything was right," Downs said. "I'm not going to tell (the Ethics Commission) what to do, it's up to them. But I hope it's an eye-opener to any elected official."