May 20, 2020

MARATHON — A second state ethics complaint has been filed against Marathon City Councilman Mark Senmartin by fellow Councilman Dan Zieg, this time regarding taxpayer funds used for a trip to New York City for the Marathon High School drama club, of which Senmartin’s son is a member.

Mark Senmartin

Marathon City Clerk Diane Clavier said the complaint was not provided to the city and therefore could not be obtained through a public records request. Senmartin said that Clavier, who is Zieg’s girlfriend, had notarized the complaint, which was received by the state on April 30.

An email from Zieg on March 31 for public records from the Monroe County School District related to the Marathon High School drama club’s field trip precipitated the complaint.

Zieg’s email to school district Finance Director Beverly Anders requested “all financials regarding the recent MHS Drama club to New York, including donations and expenditures.”

Senmartin’s son, who participates in the high school’s drama club, was one of 16 students who took part in a cultural trip in February to see Broadway shows and participate in drama workshops. Zieg’s complaint said Senmartin directly benefited by receiving a check for $450 for hotel charges and Broadway shows that the city funded.

The city’s donation reimbursed each student $450 to cover part of their expenses. Additionally, before the trip, students and family members bagged groceries in exchange for donations and served smoothies at the Marathon Seafood Festival to raise funds.

Dan Zieg

According to Monroe Schools Superintendent Mark Porter, student names were released in response to Zieg’s public records request as “directory information under the current school board policy concerning student data. … In this case, it was solely directory information and therefore permissible.” According to district rules, “directory information” may be provided without prior permission of the parents or the eligible student.

Historically, the city of Marathon supported area nonprofits with $100,000 of taxpayer funds annually. In more recent years, especially after Hurricane Irma in 2017, the city stopped the process. But last year, at a Sept. 12 budget meeting, Zieg proposed donating $25,000 to the Guidance/Care Clinic and it passed unanimously. No documentation for the grant was provided, nor were there any guidelines as to how it could be spent. At the time, Senmartin said he would rather see those funds support the Marathon Recreation Center or the drama club at the local high school.

At the following budget meeting on Sept. 19, Senmartin proposed the city donate $15,000 to the Marathon Recreation Center, which provides daycare and activities for Marathon children, and $10,000 for the drama club field trip, which the council approved. Zieg said that request did not go through two budget hearings like his donation request did, which follows the pertinent laws.

Senmartin said the center had 60 children in attendance every day and payment was by honor system. The cost was $25 per child, Senmartin said, but added that without the funding, staff would have needed to raise the price to $70 to cover operating costs.

Zieg said the ethics complaint is “nothing personal,” while Senmartin call it “another senseless attack.”

“There’s legislation … against personally benefiting monetarily.” Zieg said. “He’s the one who took the money. I talked to a couple of attorneys who were surprised [City Attorney David] Migut allowed his [donation] proposal to happen at that time.”

This is not the first spat between Zieg and Senmartin.

In Nov. 25, 2019, Clavier was caught on a video camera removing a political sign from Senmartin’s business property that said “Drop Dan Zieg,” which related to the city’s election. The video showed Clavier placing the sign in a vehicle driven by Zieg. A few days later, Senmartin asked for the return of his sign, and when the pair ignored his request, he suggested compensation of $25 for the sign and an apology. After no response, he pursued charges for petit theft. The case has not been heard in courts due to COVID-19 guidelines halting court procedures.

Zieg called that a “bogus offer.” He said Clavier offered $25 to compensate for the sign, but as for the $25 and the apology, Zieg said he and Clavier were out of town and did not hear of the request until it had been rescinded.

Soon after, on Dec. 2, Zieg filed his first ethics complaint against Senmartin for allegedly trying to extort money when he filed a trademark application for the city seal in an effort to protect its usage. Senmartin asked for the cost of the trademark application, plus a $1.

Senmartin said he sees this second ethics complaint as intimidation to drop the charges related to the theft.

“I offered an easy deal [the $25 and apology]; Zieg decided to move forward. I’m taking the high road and turning the other cheek,” Senmartin said.

As far as serving the community, Senmartin and Zieg will continue to encounter each other at council meetings for the next year and a half. Then, Senmartin will term out, although he can run again after a three-year hiatus, according to city rules.

jzima@keysnews.com