Monday, November 5, 2018

Local News in Review - October 2018

More than a year after Hurricane Irma devastated Southwest Florida, our County and City governments are still dealing with its effects ... the County Commission continued its efforts to facilitate more affordable workforce housing and to reach agreement on whether to make the zoning changes necessary to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in the County ... and the Naples City Council decided not to appeal a court's ruling on creating an ethics panel, and they were unable to reach agreement on what to do about its fertilizer ban.

Why should you care about state and local news? Because if we voters don’t monitor our government in action and what our elected officials do and don’t do while in office, we won’t be informed enough to reward or hold them accountable come the next elections!

So with that, here’s my October 2018 Local Government News in Review:

Irma recovery

  • Collier County approves $250,000 campaign to lure visitors back after red tide. County officials will tap into an emergency advertising fund for the “Beaches Are Open” and "Return to Paradise" marketing campaigns and place ads on travel websites, with news outlets and on social media platforms. Naples Daily News, 10/9/18
  • Collier replacing Irma-damaged wall on Vanderbilt. Construction is scheduled to start this month and be completed by Jan. 10, according to County Commissioner Andy Solis, whose North Naples district includes that stretch. Naples Daily News, 10/15/18
  • Hurricane Irma destroyed almost 2,000 trees in the City of Naples — when and how will they be replaced? FEMA and insurance reimbursement won’t be enough; grants and donations are welcome. Naples Daily News, 11/1/18

Housing

  • Affordable housing proposals are moved forward by Collier County Commission. Commissioners approved, in some cases by 3-2 votes, recommendations ranging from regulatory relief to increased density, and unanimously rejected a mixed-income housing program, often called inclusionary zoning. Naples Daily News, 10/9/18
  • More or less traffic? Apartments planned for North Naples intersection worry residents. According to a traffic impact statement presented during a County Commission meeting in September, the new complex would bring 24-hour two-way volume down by more than a thousand vehicles. Naples Daily News, 10/19/18
  • Future Habitat for Humanity project to have a wall, at the request of Collier neighbors. County Commissioners unanimously approved rezoning to allow a new project off Greenway Road in East Naples after Habitat agreed to neighbors' calls for a wall to be built between them and the new housing. Naples Daily News, 11/2/18

Other County government action

  • Economic development zone proposed for Golden Gate. Commissioner Burt Saunders proposed the Innovation Zone to develop or improve local infrastructure, fund projects for industrial or manufacturing plants, lease or convey property, and provide grants to existing businesses or to attract new ones to the community. Naples Daily News, 10/3/18
  • Brent Batten: Gas pump locks proposed in Collier to prevent credit card theft. Commissioner Burt Saunders suggested the county follow Cape Coral's and Charlotte County’s lead and adopt an ordinance to deter gas pump skimmers. Naples Daily News, 10/11/18
  • Collier to reconsider allowing medical marijuana dispensaries. But with at least four votes needed to make needed amendments to the county’s land development code, and continued opposition by Commissioners Donna Fiala and Penny Taylor, it is unclear if the renewed push to will come to fruition. Naples Daily News, 10/23/18
  • Sales tax dispute fails to upend economic development deal with Chamber — for now. Commissioners voted 3-2 to strike down Commissioner Bill McDaniel’s proposal to end the agreement early, which would have saved the county $66,667. Naples Daily News, 10/23/18
  • Collier commissioners put off stormwater fee proposal until after election. County staff is working on a revamped plan to fund the $120 million in capital needs that address concerns raised by residents about the plan earlier this year. Naples Daily News, 10/25/18

Naples City Council

  • Naples City Council split on how to revise a fertilizer ban meant to stem water pollution. Councilman Gary Price wants a full blackout during the rainy season; others want to stop use during the winter. Naples Daily News, 10/15/18
  • Naples floats changes to beach boat storage program amid environmental concerns. Councilors support doubling the storage locations while halving the number of watercraft at each, keeping the same total of 31 beachfront boats. Naples Daily News, 10/15/18
  • Naples Council won't appeal ruling on creating ethics panel, will seek compromise. The council has scheduled a special meeting in November with Ethics Naples to find a compromise on some of the city's issues with the proposal. Naples Daily News, 10/17/18
  • Naples approves $207,500 to give first responders control of traffic lights. The Opticom system, which is already in place in parts of Collier County, reduces response times. FOX4now.com, 10/17/18
  • City Council considering additions to long-awaited Baker Park. They include a nearly $3 million main building, restrooms and picnic shelters. The park has an estimated completion date of October of next year. NBC-2.com, 10/31/18

City of Marco Island

  • Marco public works director accepts blame for not notifying public of roadwork. City Council Vice-Chair Charlette Roman asked for an explanation after a large throng of residents made their displeasure known when their commute times were multiplied by unforeseen challenges commuting on and off the island. Marco Eagle, 10/18/19
  • Increased testing the first step to solving Marco Island water quality issues. City Council will hold a water quality workshop after elections in November. Marco Eagle, 10/23/18
  • Marco officer promoted to supervisor after sex scandal has not performed duties. The police department has come under intense scrutiny over the past few months after multiple violations of police policy were sustained against officers after the allegations surfaced. Marco Eagle via Naples Daily News, 10/12/18
  • Marco police investigating another officer for misconduct while on duty. Two police sergeants resigned earlier this year as internal affairs investigations were launched as a result of allegations that they separately had engaged in sex on duty with the same woman. Marco Eagle, 11/2/18

Collier County Public Schools

  • Ex-treasurer of the Mason Classical Academy public charter school alleges lax financial oversight, verbal abuse. A complaint filed with the Florida Department of Education states the school’s top administrators, under the guidance of Mason Principal David Hull, “knowingly and willfully created an environment … where fraud can occur without detection.” Naples Daily News, 10/6/18



Sunday, November 4, 2018

State News in Review - October 2018

Tuesday, November 6, is Election Day! The polls will be open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. You may vote only at your assigned precinct based on your legal residence. Use the Collier Supervisor of Elections’ Precinct Finder or call (239) 252-VOTE.

With elections top-of-mind, I’ll begin with the latest on voter turnout and campaign finance that Collier voters might want to know. But elections aside, the business of government did continue in October, and there were some developments you should be aware of. Among them: Hurricane Michael made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane near Mexico Beach, FL, on October 10, affecting residents’ ability to vote and putting a strain on state reserves, and the debate over who gets to appoint Florida’s next three Supreme Court justices continued to play out.

Voter turnout


  • States’ early turnout setting records ahead of Election Day. Associated Press via Miami-Herald, 11/3/18

Voter Turnout


Campaign money


I reviewed the campaign contributions and spending reported through Saturday for each of the candidates for federal or state office on Collier voters’ ballots (summarized here). Of particular note:
  • U.S. Senate - Rick Scott's bid to unseat Democrat Bill Nelson is “this year's most expensive Senate race, as control of the chamber hangs in the balance.” (CNBC.com, 10/31/18) Nelson has raised and spent $28 and $25 million, respectively, none his own money. With one week to go, Scott had contributed more than $64 million of his own money to his race, nearly reaching the $70 million he spent to win the governor’s race in 2010. (Tampa Bay Times, 11/1/18)
  • U.S. House District 19 - Incumbent Francis Rooney has refused to debate and is barely campaigning, while challenger David Holden seems to never stop. Holden raised $.5 million to Rooney’s $.7 million, and spent $.4 million to Rooney’s $.9 million. (FEC.gov, 11/03/18)
  • Governor - Big-money donors give DeSantis slight lead in fundraising for Florida governor's race. (Naples Daily News, 10/25/18; dos.myflorida.com, 11/03/18)
  • Agriculture Commissioner - Given that this was the most contested of the three Cabinet offices during the primaries, I was surprised that it raised and spent the least of the three in this election. Nikki Fried (D): $1.0 and $1.6 million, respectively; Matt Caldwell (R): $1.8 and $1.5 million, respectively. (dos.myflorida.com, 11/03/18)
  • Chief Financial Officer - Well-connected Scott appointee/incumbent Jimmy Patronis (R) raised and spent three times his opponent, Jeremy Ring (D). Patronis: $2.4 and $2.3 million, respectively; Ring: $.8 and $.8 million, respectively. (dos.myflorida.com, 11/03/18)
  • Attorney General - This was the biggest-money Cabinet race. Ashley Moody (R): $5.2 and $4.0 million, respectively; Sean Shaw (D): $2.7 and $1.9 million, respectively. (dos.myflorida.com, 11/03/18)
  • Senate District 28; House Districts 80, 105, 106 - In their heavily Republican districts, it’s no surprise that incumbents Kathleen Passidomo, Byron Donalds and Bob Rommel raised and spent far, far more than their Democratic challengers Annisa Karim, Jennifer Boddicker and Sara McFadden, respectively. McFadden came the closest, raising 84 percent of Rommel’s $.2 million and spending 48% of his $.1 million. In District 106, with no incumbent running, Republican Ana Maria Rodriguez crushed Democrat Javier Estevez in funds raised and spent. (dos.myflorida.com, 11/03/18)

Responding to Hurricane Michael


  • Major policy issues may arise out of the storm. The state has nearly $4 billion in reserves to help address the immediate needs of communities impacted by Michael, but the Legislature likely will be asked to appropriate other funds to help with various hurricane-related issues. Herald-Tribune, 10/13/18
  • After Hurricane Michael, Florida election chiefs look at 'Plan B and Plan C' for voters. From Leon to Okaloosa, election supervisors are confident the November election will proceed with voters having access and ballots getting counted. Tallahassee Democrat via Naples Daily News, 10/17/18
  • Scott emergency order expands voting opportunities, doesn't delay election. In-person and absentee voting opportunities were expanded for residents of the eight counties hardest hit by Hurricane Michael, but the order stops short of extending the Nov. 6 general Election Day in the counties. Politico Florida, 10/18/18
    • RelatedHurricane Michael's devastation in GOP-rich FL Panhandle could affect midterm elections. Naples Daily News, 11/3/18
  • Senator Bill Nelson calls on Florida Legislature to reverse construction code law. Before visiting areas devastated by Hurricane Michael, Nelson called out the Legislature and Governor Scott for a 2017 law he says allows builders to strip international building standards from Florida codes. WFSU Public Media, 10/17/18

The battle over the State Supreme Court


As we reported in The upcoming battle over Supreme Court appointments, three of Florida’s seven state Supreme Court justices reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 this year, raising the question, “Who gets to appoint their successors: Governor Scott, as he completes his term, or the successor governor?” Scott first claimed the authority last year (see my July 2017 post Florida League of Women Voters and Common Cause sue Rick Scott) and in September 2018 ordered the Judicial Nominating Commission to start interviewing candidates. In October, the League and Common Core won their lawsuit, but a question remained.

  • Florida Supreme Court ruling raises stakes of governor’s election. The state Supreme Court said the job of replacing three retiring justices belongs not to lame-duck Gov. Rick Scott but to his successor. Miami-Herald, 10/15/18
  • Scott can’t make ‘midnight appointments,’ but can his appointees do so? All nine Judicial Nominating Commission members are Scott appointees. Florida Watchdog, 10/16/17
  • New lawsuit filed over Florida Supreme Court picks. The League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause asked the Court to block the Judicial Nominating Commission from interviewing candidates. APNews.com, 10/26/18

Public education


One of the first things the newly-elected governor will have to do is develop a state budget to submit to the Legislature by February 3 — a month ahead of the 60-day legislative session. (See Transition for new governor will be challenging, News Service of Florida via Herald-Tribune, 11/2/18). Since education is the second-biggest expenditure in the state budget (see Fiscal Analysis in Brief), expect more articles about public education in the coming months:


The environment


  • Everglades restoration must deal with rising ocean, new report says. Eighteen years into the multi-billion-dollar restoration of the Everglades, a scientific review committee has called for a broad re-examination of future projects in view of changing climate conditions in Southwest Florida. Sun-Sentinel, 10/17/18
  • U.S. Senate authorizes $1.6 billion reservoir to cut Lake O discharges; President Trump expected to sign legislation. Getting the federal money, though, could take a couple of years. TCPalm via Naples Daily News, 10/11/18
    • Related: President Trump Signs Water Resources Bill into Law. Sunshine State News, 10/23/18
    • Related: Statement by Senate President Negron on President Trump signing America’s Water Infrastructure Act. Senate Press Release, 10/23/18
  • State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples): To stop algae problem, get serious on septic tanks. “We need to do more than focus on a few large polluters,” she said. Florida Politics, 10/15/18

Other news of note


  • Mayors score a victory in court battle over the NRA-backed state law which blocks local firearm regulations. A Leon County judge is allowing a lawsuit to go forward over whether local Florida officials have the right to pass gun laws in their towns and cities. Florida Phoenix, 10/18/18
    • RelatedFlorida forces towns to pull local laws limiting guns, New York Times, 9/10/11
  • Florida opens investigation into priest sex abuse against children. Attorney General Pam Bondi encourages victims – including anyone who was victimized at any churches, youth groups, schools, and other institutions - to report the crime, no matter how long ago it occurred. Florida Phoenix, 10/4/18
  • Fakahatchee strand preserve will get $1.3 million upgrade. The Florida legislature appropriated the funds to upgrade the park’s Big Cypress Bend boardwalk along US 41 and improve access, accessibility and viewability of the natural surroundings. Marco Eagle via Naples Daily News, 10/18/18
  • Florida probably won’t get permanent Daylight Saving Time. The Florida Legislature approved it this year, but it's been met with steep opposition in Congress. Tampa Bay Times, 10/31/18



Monday, October 29, 2018

It’s time to mail your Vote By Mail ballot!

Election Day is Tuesday, November 6. The U.S. Postal Service recommends that you mail your Vote By Mail (VBM) ballot one week before the due date to account for any unforeseen events such as weather issues and to allow for timely receipt and processing by the election office, you should mail it no later than Tuesday, October 30. A postmark doesn’t count. 

Be sure to complete these steps to ensure your VBM ballot is counted:
  • Completely fill in the ovals corresponding to the candidate and/or referendums of choice. Use blue or black ink. If you make a mistake, ask for a new ballot. Do not cross out or your vote may not count.
  • Place the completed ballot in the enclosed green secrecy sleeve.
  • Place both the ballot and the secrecy sleeve in the return envelope provided.
  • Sign in the box below the voter certificate on the return envelope. The signature must reasonably match the signature of registration. Click here to learn more about the importance of updating your signature before you Vote by Mail or contact the Supervisor of Elections at (239) 252-VOTE (8683).
  • Return your Vote by Mail ballot by mail, with 71 cents postage (or two Forever Stamps), or in person to the Supervisor of Elections Main Office at 3750 Enterprise Avenue, Naples, or the Satellite Office at the North Collier Government Center, 2335 Orange Blossom Dr, Naples. Voted ballots cannot be accepted at a polling place or an early voting site.

Once you’ve mailed your ballot, you should make sure it is received. You can do that at colliervotes.com/Vote-by-Mail/Status-of-Request

If, 3-4 days after mailing, your ballot has not been received, call the Supervisor of Elections Office at (239) 252-VOTE (8683) and ask what you should do.

If you requested a VBM ballot but want to vote in person

Bring your Vote By Mail ballot with you and surrender it at the polling place so it can be cancelled. If you arrive at the polling place without your VBM ballot, you will still be permitted to vote, but you will be asked to destroy it after voting in person.

If you already returned your VBM ballot to the Supervisor of Elections office, you many not go to the polls to vote. 

Voters who vote more than once in the same election commit a felony and will be turned over to the appropriate authorities for prosecution.

For the Collier Supervisor of Elections' Vote-by-Mail Frequently-Asked-Questions, click here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Voting on the Collier County Sales Surtax

Vote Early in Collier County
October 25 - November 3
Collier County voters have the opportunity to vote for or against a County Sales Surtax (surtax) on the November ballot. How I’ll vote on this item has been the most difficult decision I faced on this ballot, and I know that others have been struggling with it as well.

In this post, I’ll share what I learned by attending presentations and Town Hall meetings starting as long ago as the Board of County Commissioners’ (BCC) Infrastructure Sales Surtax Workshop last November, and through online research. I’ll lay out the pros and cons that have been cited and my responses to each. Then I’ll share how I will vote.

The ballot language

Collier County and Municipal Infrastructure Improvements One-Cent Sales Surtax
To enhance safety, mobility, and hurricane preparedness in Collier County and its cities by constructing, repairing, and maintaining roads, bridges, signals, sidewalks, parks, evacuation shelters, governmental and emergency services facilities; acquire land and support construction for workforce housing and career and technical training, veterans’ nursing home and expand mental health facilities; shall the County levy a one-cent sales surtax beginning January 1, 2019 and automatically ending December 31, 2025, with oversight by citizen committee? Yes or No

What is a sales surtax?


The state of Florida levies a 6% sales tax on the retail sale, lease or rental of most goods, with these exceptions as to tax rate: 4% on amusement machine receipts, 5.8% on the lease or license of commercial real property, and 6.95% on electricity. (More here.)

The state permits counties to impose an additional “discretionary sales surtax” and use the funds to pay for local authorized projects.

In addition to what we usually think of as taxable, transactions that would be subject to a discretionary sales surtax include:
  • goods or services delivered into or performed in the county;
  • an admission charged for an event in the county (e.g. movie ticket);
  • commercial real property lease or rental payments; and
  • the rental of living or sleeping accommodations (transient rentals) in the county.

The surtax would not apply to certain groceries, medical products and supplies, and fuel.

Florida’s county surtax rates are capped on purchases over $5,000. For example, for a motor vehicle purchased for $20,000 in a county with a 1% surtax rate, 7% tax would be due on the first $5,000 of the purchase price and 6% tax would be due on the remaining $15,000 of the purchase price. The cap does not apply to rentals of real property, transient rentals, or services.

Collier is one of six Florida counties that does not impose a sales surtax; the others are Broward, Citrus, Lee, Martin and Okaloosa. Florida’s remaining 61 counties do. Sales taxes charged within the state range from 6% to 8% (list here).

Who proposed the Collier surtax and why?


The Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce proposed the Infrastructure Sales Surtax shortly after Hurricane Irma last year, when the effect of the county’s failure to keep up with infrastructure maintenance during the recession became apparent. An important consideration was that adding a new revenue stream would make the County less dependent on its primary source of funds — property taxes, which decline during real estate downturns.

A divided County Commission


Recognizing that this would be a tough sell, County staff proposed and the BCC debated and tweaked a list of projects that would be funded with the surtax proceeds, and committed to a date certain when the surtax would end.

The final vote to put the surtax on the ballot was 3-2. Voting yes were Commissioners Burt Saunders, Andy Solis and Penny Taylor. Voting no were Commissioners Donna Fiala and Bill McDaniel.

Solis and Saunders seemed to have been supporters of the surtax throughout the deliberations, and Fiala and McDaniel were fairly consistently opposed. Taylor says her vote was not a show of support. “What I voted for was to put the sales tax question on the ballot and let the voters decide for themselves,” she wrote at the time.

How much money will be raised and how will it be used?


The surtax is expected to raise $490 million over seven years, or roughly $70 million a year. Of that, $420 million will go to the County and $70 million will be shared by the cities of Naples, Marco Island and Everglades City (the Municipalities).

A list of the County’s tangible capital projects to be funding by the surtax is here. A map showing the location of each project is here. At a high level, the list includes:
  • $191 million for transportation projects, including improvements to sidewalks, bridges, and several key roadways;
  • $139 million for facilities and other capital projects, including the Sheriff's Facilities, Big Corkscrew Regional Park, and hurricane resiliency projects; and
  • $90 million for community priorities, including a career and technical training center, mental health and addiction treatment facility, and a workforce housing land trust fund.

A list of the specific projects to be funded by the Municipalities with their share of the surtax has not been provided.

How can we be sure the money will be spent as promised?


According to the ordinance adopted by the BCC, upon voter approval, the County will establish a seven-member Citizen Oversight Committee to review the expenditure of the surtax proceeds. One member would be appointed from each County District and two would be appointed at-large. The Committee would serve as an ad hoc advisory and reporting body to the County and its members would be subject to the sunshine laws.

However since there is no list of projects to be funded with the Municipalities’ $70 million, it is unclear how the Committee will conduct its work with respect to the expenditure of those funds.

How can we be sure the tax will sunset as promised after seven years?


This is a question I have heard often and reveals a real distrust of government. The fact is that County does not have the legal authority to extend the surtax beyond the December 31, 2025, expiration included in the ballot language without voter approval.

What does a yes vote mean?


If you vote yes, you are voting to authorize the County to collect one cent for every dollar you spend on items subject to Florida sales surtax with the exceptions and limitations described above. This would raise the sales tax rate in Collier County from 6% to 7%, which is a one percentage point increase in the tax rate and a 16.67 percent increase in the amount of tax collected.

The surtax would go into effect on January 1, 2019, and remain in effect until the sooner of the year a total of $490 million is collected or December 31, 2025 (seven years).

Reasons to vote yes — and my comments


“Most of the infrastructure projects are sorely needed and the County says it cannot fund them without a new source of funds.”
  • I agree that most of the projects are needed. The transportation projects and many of the facilities projects are past due, and I’d really like to see the new mental health facility built near the David Lawrence Center. The question is how to fund them, how to prioritize them, and whether just one funding source — this surtax — is the best way to go.
“The surtax will allow the projects to be completed earlier than the County could do otherwise.”
  • I’m not sure why that’s so. For example, if the County borrowed the funds, why couldn’t the projects be completed on the same timeline as with the surtax?
“The County estimates that 30 percent of the surtax would by paid by tourists, visitors, and individuals who work in Collier County but don’t live here.”
  • The estimate is derived from information from the State Department of Revenue and the Bureau of Economic and Business Research. One can always challenge assumptions behind estimates. I can’t imagine how we’ll ever know how close to accurate this estimate turns out to be.
“The surtax avoids the additional interest expenses associated with borrowing the money, which the County estimates will exceed $100 million, and which would have to be paid for by Collier County taxpayers.”
  • I don’t know how the estimate was calculated. Clearly debt has a cost, but that’s not enough for me to rule out the option of borrowing for the truly critical infrastructure projects.
“The surtax is a more stable funding source than property taxes because it is not linked to property values which rise and fall with the economy.”
  • Somewhat true. But during an economic downturn, people spend less on all kinds of things, which would similarly depress sales tax and surtax revenue as well.

Reasons to vote no — and my comments


“Sales taxes are regressive, hitting hardest those who can least afford it.”
  • Florida has the third most unfair state and local tax system in the country, according to a 2018 study by The Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy. The 20% of residents who earn the least (i.e. those earning less than $18,700) already pay 12.7% of their family income on state and local taxes. The top 20% pay 5.6% of their income or less.
“The surtax will hit small businesses particularly hard because the $5,000 cap does not apply to commercial rent or lease payments.”
  • This is particularly concerning to me. On the one hand, Collier County wants to encourage entrepreneurship and diversify the economy, even as it’s facing an affordable housing crisis. It seems to me that this surtax would be a double-whammy to small businesses: they would pay it on what their family buys AND on the rent they pay to locate their business here. How much of the latter they could recoup from their customers is highly questionable.
“The Municipalities haven’t told the public how they would spend their $70 million share.”
  • This troubles me. Did the Municipalities even ask to share in the surtax? The City of Marco Island doesn’t even have a City Manager! And without a list of projects, how can the citizen oversight of spending be accomplished?
“Not all projects on the County’s list are equally important.”
  • True ... and some I don’t agree with at all. Further, as much as I’d like to see a new VA Nursing Home in Collier County ($40 million - see here), I don’t support raising taxes today in hopes that the federal government chooses to locate one here in the future. (The federal VA typically requires the state to kick in 35 percent of construction costs. See “VA nursing home would be built with Collier County sales tax increase,” Naples Daily News, 1/23/18.)

Supporters


The Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce proposed the surtax a year ago and is its greatest supporter. They established a PAC to advocate for its passage, and say, “A YES vote takes care of our citizens in a timely manner, addresses critical infrastructure needs, keeps property taxes low and spreads the cost among all users -– including visitors, tourists and workers.”

In addition, these community leaders, among others whose opinions I greatly respect, have published commentaries or letters in support of the surtax:

  • J. Dudley Goodlette, Chairman, One Collier and former state representative, here.
  • Michael Dalby, President and CEO, Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, here.
  • Mike Reagen, former president and CEO, Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, here.
  • Alan Horton, former editor and publisher, Naples Daily News, here.

And the Naples Daily News endorsed the surtax with A qualified ‘yes’ vote on Collier sales tax referendum, 10/20/18.

How I will vote


In writing this post, I’ve come to realize that I’ve been struggling between wanting to vote no and feeling like I should vote yes. The “should” comes from both the importance of and need for the projects and the tremendous respect I have for the people who support the surtax. They clearly believe it is in the best interest of the community. But I’ve listened with an open mind to the arguments for and against. And for the reasons shared above in response to the pros and cons, I will vote NO on the sales surtax.



Sunday, October 21, 2018

Voting for Collier County Judge

Collier voters have the opportunity to vote for one of two candidates for County Judge in the upcoming election: Blake Adams or Jim Moon.

In this post, I’ll explain what a county judge does, share what I learned about the candidates through online research, in meetings with both candidates, and from conversations with community leaders and members of the legal community, and then say how I will vote.

What does a county judge do?

The Florida court system has four levels: the Florida Supreme Court, District courts of Appeal, Circuit Courts, and County Courts. For more, see The Florida Courts website

County courts are sometimes referred to as "the people's courts" because a large part of their work involves voluminous citizen disputes, such as traffic offenses, less serious criminal matters (misdemeanors), and relatively small monetary disputes.

County judges hear criminal misdemeanors (crimes that have possible sentences of less than one year in jail) and civil cases where the amount in dispute is $15,000 or less. They:
  • preside over trials and hearings,
  • make decisions on the acceptability of testimony and evidence in court,
  • ensure that jurors understand the law, and
  • when a jury is not required, decide the case based on applicable law and the judge’s knowledge of the law.

Each of Florida’s 67 counties has a county court. The number of judges in each county court varies with the population and caseload of the county. Collier has six. For purposes of the ballot, each position is referred to as a County Judge Group numbered between 1 and 6. A judge’s term of office is six years.

Collier County judges

In 2018, three of Collier County’s six judgeships were up for election: Groups 1, 2 and 6. The candidates for the Group 1 (incumbent Michael Brown) and Group 6 (Tamara Lynne Nicola) seats were unopposed, so they were automatically elected.

Five candidates ran for the Group 2 seat in the August primary. Blake Adams and Jim Moon were the top two vote-getters, receiving 25 percent and 24 percent of the votes, respectively. So they are facing off in the general election.

How can we make informed decisions?

Voters are limited in what they can learn because judicial candidates are prohibited from making making predictions and promises about issues that could arise once they are on the court. That’s because their job is to make impartial decisions that relate to the law on the cases before them.

To be eligible for the office of county judge, a person must have earned a law degree from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association and be a member of The Florida Bar for at least five years. S/he must also live in the geographic area s/he will serve when they take office, in our case, Collier County.

In response to the question “What makes someone a ‘good judge’?”, the Florida Bar Association’s Guide for Florida Voters says:

Judges must be impartial, fair and understand the law. All judges may deal with cases that are either civil or criminal in nature. Knowledge in one particular area is not more important than the other. Judges should be selected based on their legal abilities, temperament and commitment to follow the law and decide cases consistent with a judge’s duty to uphold the law regardless of his or her personal view.

Blake Adams

Adams
Blake Adams (blakeadamsforjudge.com) is Collier County Deputy Chief in the Law Offices of Kathleen A. Smith, Public Defender 20th Judicial Circuit. He was admitted to the Florida Bar in 2010; Bar profile here. He has a BA from William Jewell College, a private college in Liberty, Mo., and an MBA and JD from the University of Tulsa. During law school, he studied in Dublin, Ireland, for two summers and earned a comparative and international law certificate.

Prior to earning the latter two degrees, Adams spent ten years in retail banking, investments and mortgages, and owned and managed rental properties. According to his website, this experience “provides him with an immense understanding of issues that could come before him as a county court judge, including but not limited to contract, property, monetary, and account disputes,” as well as “practical experience to … preside over landlord-tenant cases.”

Adams began his career as an attorney with Florida’s 20th Judicial Circuit, first as a Staff Attorney (a.k.a trial court law clerk), working with 30 different circuit judges, writing more than 900 proposed court orders, appellate opinions, and legal memoranda, and teaching law student interns how to improve their legal research and writing skills, how to interact with other attorneys and judges, and practical legal concepts not taught in the traditional law school setting.

Since 2014, as an attorney for the Law Offices of Kathleen A. Smith, Public Defender, he has gained courtroom and trial experience, and in 2017, he was promoted to Deputy Chief of the Collier County Office. In that role, he supervises and trains attorneys practicing in county court, juvenile court, and the law student interns. He also represents people in felony circuit court and is the lead defense attorney for the Rapid Response Squad—a group consisting of members from the State Attorney's Office, Collier County Sheriff's Office, David Lawrence Center, and other organizations that attempts to identify frequently incarcerated individuals with severe mental illnesses and obtain treatment for them in order to stop recidivism and make the community safer.

His volunteer activities have included Habitat for Humanity of Collier County; volunteer judge for Collier County Teen Court; courthouse panelist for Youth Leadership Collier; and volunteer for Ave Maria School of Law mock trials. He currently serves on the Criminal Justice Academic Advisory Board of Lely High School.

Jim Moon

Moon
James Moon (moonforjudge.com) practices law in the areas of civil, business, and commercial litigation as a partner in the Fort Myers and New York offices of Quintairos Prieto, Wood & Boyer, P.A., “the largest minority and women owned law firm in the country.” He was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1999; Bar profile here, Disclosure Statement here. According to his professional bio, he has a BS from Eastern Michigan University, an MA (with honors) from Saginaw Valley State University, in Saginaw, Michigan, and a JD from Thomas M. Cooley Law School at Western Michigan University. He also has a ML (cum laude) in international taxation and financial services from Saint Thomas University School of Law in Miami Gardens, FL, and a Graduate Certificate in Anti-Money Laundering, and is a Supreme Court certified mediator.

Moon’s early career in the law was as a certified intern in the Ingram County, MI, Prosecutor’s Office and then for two years with the Florida State Attorney’s Office. In 1998, he went into private practice, first with others, then on his own, until in 2006, he joined the firm that, after a number of mergers, is now Quintairos Prieto, Wood & Boyer, P.A

He estimates that his practice has been about 80 percent civil litigation, 10 percent probate litigation and 10 percent criminal matters, but says that as his practice grew, he shifted from predominantly criminal work to handling a greater percentage of civil work. Today his practice areas include banking, civil trial, commercial litigation, insurance, and litigation/trial advocacy/advocacy.

His community activities have included: City of Naples Code Board; Coll ier County Tax Abatement Board; Junior Achievement volunteer lecturer; Volunteer Judge Ave Maria Law School and Collier County High School Moot Court Programs; FGCU and Big Brothers/Big Sisters mentor; Humane Society; Drug Free Collier; and NAMI. He served in the U.S. Army National Guard as an infantryman during the first Gulf War.

Comparing experience

Knowledge of the law and legal experience are obviously important considerations in evaluating the two candidates. Adams has been a member of the Florida Bar for 8 years; Moon for 20 years. But as one person I spoke with said, there are good and bad lawyers, and bad lawyers don’t get better by being a lawyer longer. (This was not a judgment about either candidate, but rather pointing out that the candidate with more years of experience isn't necessarily the better candidate.)  The type of experience they’ve had differs as well. But as noted in the Florida Bar Guide, “Knowledge in one particular area is not more important than the other.”

So I turned to the candidates’ endorsements for indications of legal abilities, temperament, fairness, impartiality and knowledge of the law.

Endorsements

Adams’ Endorsements page lists endorsements by three elected officials.

  • Steve Russell, State Attorney — 20th Judicial Circuit, wrote, “His honesty, integrity and respect for those involved with the courts, combined with his experience and demeanor, are the reasons why I endorse Blake for Collier County Judge.”
  • Bill Barnett, Mayor - City of Naples, wrote, “I know that Blake cares deeply about our community, and it’s his dedication to fairness, combined with his integrity and experience in handling many cases in our local courts, that have earned my endorsement of Blake Adams for Collier County Judge.”
  • Kathy Smith, Public Defender—20th Judicial Circuit is listed on the website but without a comment.

For more on Adams’ endorsements, click here.

Moon’s website lists endorsements by three elected Naples City Council members: Linda Penniman, Reg Buxton and Terry Hutchison, but does not include any quotes from them.

It should be noted that in 2016, Moon ran unsuccessfully for one of three seats on the Naples City Council, coming in fourth among six candidates behind Ellen Siegel, Buxton and Hutchison. In 2018, Moon had initially filed to run as one of five candidates (including Penniman and Hutchison) for three City Council seats on the ballot; he subsequently withdrew to seek this judgeship.

For more on Moon’s endorsements, click here.

How I will vote

I enjoyed and learned a lot from my meetings with each candidate. Both spoke of their commitment to public service and wanting to give back to the community. Both would bring different but valuable experiences and insights to the position, and I commend both for their willingness to serve.

I like Adams’ passion for teaching, mentoring and helping younger attorneys, his experience outside the legal profession in the financial sector and managing rental properties, and his involvement with the Rapid Response Squad, about which I have heard great things. Based on those qualities and experiences, I will vote for Blake Adams for County Judge.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Voting on the judicial merit retentions

Early Voting in Collier County
October 25 - November 3
All Florida voters have the opportunity to vote for or against the retention of one Florida Supreme Court justice, and Collier County voters will vote on the retention of four judges of the 14-county Second District Court of Appeal this year. This type of vote is called a merit retention vote.

In this post, I’ll explain what a merit retention vote is, provide some information about the justice/judges who are on our ballot and how to learn more, and how I plan to vote.

What is a merit retention vote?

In Florida, State Supreme Court and District Courts of Appeal judges are appointed by the governor. But as explained by the Florida Bar:
Newly appointed justices and appeals court judges serve an initial term of at least one year and are then subject to the first merit retention reviews of their performances in the next general election. [Thereafter, they] face the voters in merit retention elections every six years.

Only those judges receiving approval from a majority of the voters in the general election may continue in office for another six-year term. If voters choose not to retain a judge, a vacancy would be created and would be filled through the merit selection process, in which the governor would appoint one from three to six nominees submitted by a judicial nominating commission. Terms are staggered so that not all of the appellate judges face the voters in the same election.

How can we make informed decisions, and who is on the ballot?

Many say that the lawyers who present their clients’ cases to the justices and judges on a daily basis are probably in the best position to know if they should be retained. So every two years, the Florida Bar Association asks its in-state members to rate those up for retention of whom they have direct knowledge. The Florida Bar’s press release announcing the 2018 merit retention poll results is here.

The names of the justice and judges on our ballot, the percent of Florida Bar poll votes in support of their retention, and when and by whom they were appointed to their current position are below. Candidates’ bios are on the Florida Bar website here.

Supreme Court justice:
  • Alan Lawson (87 percent) - appointed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott in 2016
Second District Appeal Court judges
  • Anthony K. Black (90 percent) - appointed by Republican Gov. Charlie Crist in 2010
  • Darryl C. Casanueva (90 percent) - appointed by Democrat Gov. Lawton Chiles in 1998
  • Edward C. LaRose (90 percent) - appointed by Republican Gov. Jeb Bush in 2005
  • Susan H. Rothstein-Youakim (86 percent) - appointed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott in 2016

Based on those results, I see no reason to oppose retention of any of them.

In addition to reviewing the Bar poll results, I did a Google search on each of the candidates. I found only references of note related to Justice Lawson, facing his first merit retention vote, and Judge LaRose, who has been in his current position since 2005. 

Re: Justice Alan Lawson
  • At the time of his appointment, the Miami-Herald wrote that Scott “chose a conservative appellate judge” to leave his “mark on a moderate court that has been responsible for some of the sharpest defeats of his political career.” Lawson replaced a “liberal jurist” who had reached the mandatory retirement age of 70.
  • “Since his appointment," according to Florida Today, "Lawson has become known for his narrow view of the highest court's jurisdiction, meaning it has taken fewer cases. That allowed the rulings of lower courts to stand. He was the only dissenter in a Court of Appeal 2012 decision that allowed a child to have two legally recognized mothers. He wrote that the court's decision was akin to striking down laws prohibiting same-sex marriage, bigamy, polygamy and incest.” See also Ballotpedia and Orlando Weekly.

Re: Judge Edward LaRose

  • “Judge LaRose has been a supporter of collaborative practice as a private, more humane way to go through divorce and other family law matters… In discussions with Judge LaRose, I have learned that he believes most families should try to resolve issues related to divorce outside of court, and that they should only resort to a judge imposed decision as a last resort.” Family Diplomacy: A Collaborative Law Firm, 7/25/17.

Click Here
According to a no-longer-available article in the Palm Beach Post I cited in a 2016 post, “No judge has ever been denied another six-year term since the system was implemented in 1976 after three elected justices were investigated, and two resigned, when an investigation found they allowed political cronies to influence their decision. Occasionally - most recently in 2012 when tea party activists targeted three high court justices - opposition has surfaced.” My research did not reveal any that occurred since then. 

For more information about Florida’s judicial merit retention process, including a Guide for Florida Voters: Answers to Your Questions about Florida Judges, Judicial Elections and Merit Retention and other voter resources, visit The Vote’s In Your Court. 


How I will vote

Despite the controversy and ill-will stirred up by the confirmation hearings of Judge (now Justice) Kavanaugh, merit retention should not be based on partisan ideology or disagreement with particular opinions. In Florida, the Governor appoints appellate justices/judges, and elections matter. Merit retention allows voters to consider whether the justices are ethical, impartial and qualified and should remain on the bench. Tampa Bay Times editorial, 10/11/18

In view of the strong support shown in the Bar’s merit retention poll, I will VOTE YES for the retention of Supreme Court Justice Lawson and the four Second District Appeals Court judges on my ballot.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Voting in the Collier Mosquito Control District elections

Early Voting in Collier County
October 25 - November 3
If you live in the Collier Mosquito Control District (map here), you have choices for two of its Board seats on your ballot: Seat 1 and Seat 2. In this post, I’ll review what the CMCD is and does, share what I’ve learned about the candidates, and tell you who I’ll vote for and why. Some of the material in this post has been repeated/updated from a similar post I wrote before the 2016 elections, when — unlike this year — there was controversy related to the use of the insecticide naled in aerial spraying to control against Zika-transmitting mosquitoes. See “Residents speak out against naled at mosquito control meeting,” Naples Daily News, 9/28/16.

The Collier Mosquito Control District (CMCD)

The mission of the Collier Mosquito Control District is “to suppress both disease-carrying and pestiferous mosquito populations by and through the safest and most economical means available, consistent with the highest level of safety and minimal adverse impact on humans, wildlife, the environment, and non-target organisms.”

It is governed by a five-member Board of Commissioners who are elected in nonpartisan elections to four-year terms and paid a salary of $400/month. Meetings are held monthly and are open to the public.

The District spends about $7 million annually, funded primarily by local ad valorem (property) taxes. It employs an Executive Director with a MS in Human Anatomy and Physiology Instruction (here), 29 full-time employees and one part-time employee (leadership team here), and it owns and operates eight aircraft and 17 vehicles. Its 2017 audited financial statements are here and its 2017 Annual Report is here.

The Board’s role, it seems to me, is to represent the interests of the community and provide appropriate oversight by reviewing the District's mission periodically, ensuring that the Executive Director and staff are fulfilling that mission, setting the millage rate, approving the budget, and overseeing the expenditure of taxpayer money. A science background or expertise is not necessary.

The candidates - Seat 1

Victor Dotres (candidate’s statement)
Dotres, 44, is a Miami native who has lived in Southwest Florida since 2001. He has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting and Art Education from the University of Florida. An 18-year Collier County Public School teacher, Dotres is currently a technology teacher at Estates Elementary and coach of Corkscrew Middle's girls soccer team. He is also a Red Cross Disaster Relief Volunteer and a 2nd Degree member of the Knights of Columbus.

Dotres ran for the District 3 Collier County school board seat earlier this year but dropped out of the race and endorsed Jen Mitchell. He ran for the Florida House in 2016 but dropped out of that race after a 2011 disciplinary incident came to light. He ran for the Lee County School Board in 2010. (Naples Daily News)

Dotres’ campaign website is at vote4voctor.com; his Facebook page is here. He raised $1250 ($1000 his own contribution) and spent $452 for this campaign.

John Johnson (candidate’s statement)
Johnson has been a full time resident of Collier County for over 30 years. He is currently employed by the Collier County Growth Management Division as an Investigator for Code Enforcement. He previously served as an elected CMCD Commissioner from 2000 - 2016. After losing election to a fifth term in 2016 to a challenger (who has since resigned from the Board) over the naled issue, he is seeking to return to the Board.

Johnson takes pride in the CMCD, its people and its accomplishments. “The passionate experience practiced daily by this small group of people who all wear many hats while protecting and serving the residents and visitors of one of the largest Mosquito Control Districts is truly remarkable,” he wrote. “I plan to continue to insure this level of excellence as I represent the people of Collier County by serving on the Board of Commissioners for Collier Mosquito Control.”

Johnson has no campaign website; his 2016 campaign Facebook page, where he explained his position on the use of naled, is here. He has neither raised nor spent any money for this campaign.


Dennis G.E. Sanders (candidate’s statement)
Sanders has been a Naples resident since 2013. He is the founder and president of Proxy, llc, “an independent destination service consultant for domestic and international clients.” His community involvement includes: ambassador for the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, member of The Rotary Club of Naples, Board Member of the Volunteer’s Board of the American Cancer Society in Naples, director with Guardian Ad litem, member of the Marco-Naples Reserve Officer’s Association Number 27, and member of the Board of Trustees of Unity of Naples Church.

Sanders says his goals as a CMCD Board member are to “help insure that residents of the county are protected against Mosquitoes and their relatives; stay within the financial boundary allotted to the board; stay above board and respond to any and all questions brought to the board by residents; make sure all chemicals used by the CMCD are environmentally friendly; and help keep Collier County Healthy.” (sic)

He has no campaign website; his Facebook page is here. He has neither raised nor spent any money for this campaign.

The candidates - Seat 2

Sandra Lee Buxton (candidate’s statement)
Buxton has been a Naples resident for 30 years. She is currently the editor of Life in Naples Magazine, and has had fifteen years of experience as an owner in local print media. She also had a 30 year career in healthcare administration, having earned RN, BSN, MA degrees and a license as a Healthcare Risk Manager. She was named a Woman of Initiative in 2012 by the Community Foundation’s Women’s Foundation of Collier County; her campaign website includes an extensive list of community activities.

Buxton is running to “continue ((her)) service to the Naples and Collier Community.” She says, “With the recognition that mosquito’s bring disease and are a serious health concern, I will use my healthcare background in collaboration with other team members in evaluating risks and benefits to the methodology of control. As a Licensed Healthcare Risk Manager I am aware of the importance of following defined protocols established by State and Federal guidelines.” (sic)

Buxton’s campaign website is here; her Facebook page is here. She has raised $200 and spent none of it on this campaign.

John E Shuey (candidate’s statement)
Shuey, an 11-year Florida resident, is retired from a career in sales and marketing and several years as a small business owner. He has, since February 2018, served on the Libertarian Party of Florida State Executive Committee, representing Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties.

He has no campaign website; his Facebook page is here. He has neither raised nor spent any money for this campaign.

How I will vote

For Seat 1: John Johnson — Collier County is fortunate to have as dedicated a public servant as Johnson. He will bring unparalleled knowledge and experience to the Board.

For Seat 2: Sandra Lee Buxton — Buxton has a demonstrated history of commitment to serving Collier County. Her healthcare and business backgrounds will be important additions to the Board.

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I hope this post helps you understand what the Collier Mosquito Control District is and who the candidates are. I also hope it helps you think more critically about how you will vote than you might have without it.

Stay tuned next for my posts about the the judicial merit retention decisions, County Judges candidates, and the proposed Collier Sales Surtax.