Marathon City Councilman Dan Zieg has filed a second ethics complaint against Marathon City Councilman Mark Senmartin. The latest was received on April 30 by the state Commission on Ethics and involves a $10,000 donation from the City of Marathon, proposed by Senmartin, to send 16 Marathon High School theater students* to New York City in February for three days of drama workshops and Broadway shows. The students, including Senmartin’s son Dante, were accompanied by five adult chaperones.
Zieg wrote in the complaint that “the motion and subsequent donation by the city directly benefited Senmartin and his family monetarily by a check of $450 and majority funding of hotel charges and Broadway shows.”
Zieg told the Keys Weekly, “I can’t remember who I heard it from, but (Senmartin) complained how expensive the trip was and how much he (Senmartin) was going to pay. That is a very clear and direct ethics violation to introduce legislation for your own or your family’s benefit.”
In a prepared statement for the Keys Weekly, Senmartin wrote, “I am disappointed that once again Councilman Zieg has chosen to continue his personal vendetta against me using taxpayer dollars and involving a City of Marathon employee. This is the second time Mr. Zieg has filed an ethics complaint and his fourth attack on me personally. It’s clear he has personal issues with me and that’s fine. But using the systems designed for important oversight of taxpayer money, to promote his personal agenda, is just wrong. Also, at some point the question of the City Clerk, Diane Clavier’s involvement in all of these incidents must, at a minimum, be addressed.”
A rough accounting of the trip shows it cost about $35,000. The students volunteered bagging groceries and serving smoothies at the Marathon Seafood Festival for tips. The remainder of the funds came from the city, various organizations such as churches and service clubs, and parent donations. The students, including Dante Senmartin, bought their own round-trip airline ticket costing about $300 and made a $200 down payment. A full accounting has not been provided by the Monroe County School District and the trip estimate is based on emails* from the trip coordinator to parents.
In his ethics complaint, Zieg included the minutes of the meeting when Senmartin requested the donation to the nonprofit as well as three pages of documentation from Marathon High School’s accounting system.
According to the Monroe County School District, Zieg made the public records request on March 31. The data the school district released includes the drama sponsor’s name, the name of the hotels and charges, the amounts of deposit and reimbursement, and all 16 students’ names including Dante Senmartin.
“I’m concerned that we inappropriately released student names as part of that data request. We should not be doing that,” said Monroe County School District Superintendent Mark Porter.
Senmartin and Zieg have a contentious history. The city’s support of the New York City trip grew out of the city’s budget hearings in September 2019. The first $25,000 of city money went to the Guidance Care Clinic of the Middle Keys to help with building renovations. That was proposed by Zieg, who at the time was running for re-election, at the council meeting on Sept. 10. He said the money would be a good-faith gesture from the city to an institution that serves its populace. At the final budget hearing, on Sept. 19, Senmartin came back with a nonprofit funding request of his own for $25,000 — $10,000 for the Marathon High School drama club and $15,000 for the Marathon Rec Center. Both motions passed unanimously.
The only documentation provided in either scenario came from Senmartin. He provided an open (with no addressee) solicitation letter signed by the head of the drama club outlining plans for a student field trip to New York City in 2020.
At the time, the Keys Weekly asked city officials if there are any “strings” attached to the funds, i.e., requirements for how the nonprofits should spend the money once it was awarded. There was no response.
Zieg is open about his friendship with the founder of Guidance Care, Monroe County Commissioner David Rice.
“I believe (Rice) has donated some and in times when he and I visit socially I had mentioned that I would take it before City Manager Chuck (Lindsey) and then (Lindsey) suggested I bring it up at the council meeting,” Zieg wrote in an email on Sept. 16.
Senmartin also acknowledged at the time that one of his children is currently active in the drama club, and both children previously attended the after-school program at the Marathon Rec Center. On Sept. 24, Senmartin explained his reasons for supporting the Marathon High School drama club and Marathon Rec Center.
“I know the Marathon Rec Center has a $12,000 funding shortfall. Ask me if I want to support kids and the answer is yes; it’s a no-brainer.”
To read more about the donations, click here.
Three months later, the two Marathon City councilmen crossed swords again, in December 2019. Fifteen days after Zieg was reelected to office, on Nov. 20, Zieg signed a notarized ethics violation alleging that Senmartin lied on a trademark for the City of Marathon seal, and that he attempted to extort money from the City of Marathon. On Nov. 25, cameras outside Senmartin’s business captured Marathon City Clerk Diane Clavier, who is in a relationship with Zieg, removing a sign that read “Drop Dan Zieg” and putting it in a car with Zieg behind the wheel. Between Nov. 27-29, Senmartin asked for the sign’s return and ended up pressing charges. On Dec. 2, Senmartin received the notice of the first ethics violation filed by Zieg.
Zieg and Clavier were charged with second-degree misdemeanors and have asked the judge to dismiss the case. The courts have yet to hear the motion.
The first ethics violation allegation has not been resolved. Senmartin said his unscripted remarks were taken out of context by Clavier in the ethics complaint and that he was exonerated by the minutes that she herself took of the meeting, and introduced into the record as part of the ethics violation.
To read more about the sign theft and the first ethics complaint, click here.
“It’s a small town, and my job as a city councilman is to help as many people as possible, especially the kids,” said Senmartin. “That money that went to the Rec Center and to the high school drama club helped probably about a hundred kids and by extension their families.”
Senmartin said he would reimburse the money. “The money doesn’t matter. If that’s what deemed necessary (pay the money back) I will,” said Senmartin.
Senmartin also calls attention to the city clerk’s role in the second ethics complaint, which she notarized, and the sign theft, for which she was suspended one week.
“I do not even interact with her when it comes to city business,” Senmartin said. “That presents a whole other problem because it makes it harder for me to do my job effectively without the clerk’s participation.”
The Keys Weekly asked Marathon Mayor Steve Cook whether the acrimonious back-and-forth affects Zieg’s and Senmartin’s job performance.
“I don’t know how to answer that. I see the same thing happening in Washington, D.C.,” Cook said. “I think this town is fairly used to bad blood. I don’t like it, it stinks, but we get our work done.”
Cook said the council needs to revisit its nonprofit donation policy. He said he doesn’t like the previous method of asking nonprofits to apply, and then ranking them for funding. He said he also doesn’t want to make equal amount donations across the board because the impact to each organization is diluted. And he said that he questions whether or not it is the role of city government to give away taxpayer money to nonprofits at all.
“I don’t know what to do about it. I asked that we all (the council) play nice,” Cook said. Senmartin has a year and a half left on his term and Zieg has two and a half years. At that point, both will have “termed out” and need to take at least a one-year hiatus before running for council again.
* Rachel Matthis, daughter of editor and reporter Sara Matthis, also traveled to New York City as part of the drama club. She volunteered at the Marathon Seafood Festival for tips for the drama club. Her family paid $200 as a down payment, purchased the airline ticket for about $300 and her father’s business, Island Service, made a $500 donation. Rachel took her own spending money and paid out-of-pocket for two Broadway shows costing between $100 and $150 each. Before departing, she received a check cut by Marathon High School for $450 as partial reimbursement of her expenses.