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.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Voting on the Proposed Amendments

Election Day
November 6, 2018
Florida voters are faced with decisions about 12 proposed amendments to the state Constitution next month. Three were put on the ballot by the Florida Legislature, two by citizen initiative, and seven by the Florida Constitution Revision Commission.

In this post, I’ll briefly explain each amendment, identify supporters and opponents (click on a name to read stated reasons), and provide links to more information. For each I’ll also share how I plan to vote and why. 

My two primary sources were the Florida Division of Elections for bill texts and analyses, and the League of Women Voters of Florida, for interpretations, supporters and opponents. I also relied on news articles I've clipped over the course of the past year and recent Google searches.

Proposed by the Legislature

Each of the three Legislative Joint Resolutions would reduce the amount of future revenue that might otherwise be available to meet state and local needs. I believe a primary responsibility of government is to ensure that there is adequate funding to provide the rights, services and infrastructure required by the Constitution or state law. To do so while maintaining a balanced budget as also required by the Constitution, the Legislature must have the flexibility to raise taxes or eliminate exemptions or tax credits. Therefore, I OPPOSE AMENDMENTS 1, 2 AND 5.

Amendment 1 - Increased Homestead Property Tax Exemption would increase the homestead exemption by $25,000 for homes valued at more than $100,000, thereby increasing to $75,000 from the current $50,000 the amount a homeowner can deduct from the valuation of their home in the calculation of property taxes. The Legislature’s staff estimates it would result in a loss of property tax revenue to Florida’s cities, counties and other taxing authorities (but not school districts) of about $645 million in the first year alone. This could result in cuts to services or require higher local taxes to make up for it. For the full text, click here; for the Legislative Staff Analysis, click here.


Amendment 2 - Limitations on Property Tax Assessments would make permanent what currently is a temporary cap of 10 percent on annual property value increases for vacation homes, apartments and commercial property, effectively limiting increases on tax bills. The current cap on these non-homestead properties expires in 2019. The Legislature’s Revenue Estimating Conference estimates it would result in a loss of property tax revenue to Florida’s cities, counties and other taxing authorities (but not school districts) of about $688 million in the first year alone. For the full text, click here; for the Legislative Staff Analysis, click here.

Supporters include Florida Association of Realtors, Florida TaxWatch and Florida Chamber of Commerce. Opponents include the League of Women Voters of Florida.

Amendment 5 - Supermajority Vote Required to Impose, Authorize, or Raise State Taxes or Fees would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to approve any new or increased taxes or fees, and to eliminate existing tax credits or deductions, rather than a simple majority as under current law for nearly every bill related to taxes or fees. In addition, while bills in the Legislature often contain multiple provisions, this amendment requires that any tax or fee increase must stand by itself in a separate bill. For the full text, click here; for the Legislative Staff Analysis, click here.

Supporters include Florida Tax Watch and Florida Chamber of Commerce. Opponents include League of Women Voters of Florida, Florida Policy Institute, Progress Florida, and Southern Poverty Law Center.

Citizen Initiatives

The groups sponsoring these two proposals met the requirement to obtain more than 766,200 validated signatures of Florida voters in order to appear on the ballot.

Amendment 3 - Voter Control of Gambling in Florida, sponsored by Voters In Charge, would require approval of any new casino gambling through a citizen-initiative constitutional amendment. It defines casino gambling as games such as slot machines, blackjack, roulette, craps and keno, as well as an array of electronic and video games of chance. It would effectively stop the Legislature from passing laws to allow casino gambling, and stop both the Legislature and the Constitution Revision Commission from placing their own casino amendments on the ballot. Supporters include Disney Worldwide Services, the Seminole Tribe of Florida, League of Women Voters of Florida, and the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Opponents are pari-mutuel operators who want the opportunity to have slot machines and games like blackjack and roulette. For the full text, click here; for the Substantive Analysis by the Financial Impact Estimating Conference, click here.

The League of Women Voters of Florida, in explaining its support, says this amendment allows Florida voters to make any decisions regarding increases in casino gambling. But I agree with the Naples Daily News editorial which points out that “Two important principles we embrace seemingly come into conflict in this amendment: home rule and the right of residents to decide their destiny by voting…. Where this amendment fails is that it doesn’t give local control over whether there are casinos to local voters.” As much as I would not like a gambling operation to set up in my community, I don’t want to give up local control over that decision. I OPPOSE AMENDMENT 3.

Amendment 4 - Voting Restoration Amendment, sponsored by Floridians for a Fair Democracy, Inc., would allow people convicted of a felony who have completed their entire sentence to earn back the right to vote -- except for those convicted of murder or felony sex offenses. It would take away from the Governor and Cabinet, acting as the State Board of Clemency, the power to determine and control the rights restoration process. For the full text, click here; for the Substantive Analysis by the Financial Impact Estimating Conference, click here.

By way of background: During former Gov. Charlie Crist’s four-year term (2007-2010), the Clemency Board returned the right to vote to more than 150,000 former felons. In 2011, newly elected Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet enacted stricter rules. They include a mandatory wait of five to seven years before ex-felons can apply to have their rights restored. Then there is another wait to appear before the Clemency Board, which meets just four times a year. Since the new rules went into effect, the Clemency Board has restored rights to about 3,000 of the 30,000 felons who’ve applied, and there is a backlog or more than 10,000 clemency applications. An estimated 1.5 million Floridians have been permanently disenfranchised because of felony convictions. That’s the highest number in the nation, and it accounts for nearly 10 percent of the total adult population in Florida. And it is widely recognized that those rules disproportionately affect African-Americans. (Miami-Herald; Brennan Center for Justice; Florida Phoenix and NYTimes)

Supporters include Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, and League of Women Voters of Florida. The only opponent of record is Floridians for a Sensible Voting Rights Policy. While it is important to protect the integrity of our elections, we must be careful not to undermine free and fair access to the ballot in the name of preventing voter fraud. Once a former felon has completed the sentence imposed by the courts, h/she should have her/his voting rights restored. I SUPPORT AMENDMENT 4.

Proposed by the Constitution Revision Commission

Unlike amendments put on the ballot by any other means, amendments by the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) were not constrained to just one subject per amendment. Six of its amendments bundled two, three or even four substantive changes into a single amendment. Last month, the state Supreme Court threw Amendment 8 off the ballot, saying it misled voters by not clearly stating its true purpose and never mentioning charter schools by name. (Tampa Bay Times). That leaves five bundled amendments along with two single-subject CRC proposals for voters to decide.

Amendment 6 - Rights of Crime Victims; Judges would vastly expand the scope of victim’s rights under the state Constitution; increase the mandatory retirement age for judges from 70 to 75; and require courts and judges to interpret laws and rules for themselves rather than rely on interpretations by government agencies. For the full text, click here.

The most weighty and controversial of the three changes is the first part, which “will either be the greatest expansion of victims’ rights in Florida history or upend the criminal justice system as we know it, depending on who you ask,” according to The Florida Times-Union. It would add five pages of victim’s rights to the state Constitution.

Supporters include 37 Florida sheriffs, Marsy’s Law for Florida, and a long list of elected state officials including Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo and Collier Sheriff Kevin Rambosk. Opponents include Florida Public Defender Association, ACLU of Florida and League of Women Voters of Florida. I share opponents’ concern that this amendment would upset the balance between the rights of victims and people accused of crimes by permanently deleting the part of the Constitution that ensures balancing the rights of all involved in a criminal case. I OPPOSE AMENDMENT 6.

Amendment 7 - First Responder and Military Member Survivor Benefits; Public Colleges and Universities would create a supermajority requirement for universities to impose new or increase existing student fees; enshrine in the Constitution guidelines for the State College System; and mandate that employers or the state pay a death benefit to first responders and members of the military killed in the line of duty. For the full text, click here.

The third part is the most significant. Florida law already provides death benefits to survivors of law enforcement officers, corrections officers, firefighters and members of the National Guard. This amendment would make the law more permanent by enshrining the requirement in the Constitution. It addition, it would broaden the group of people covered by adding paramedics, emergency medical technicians and members of the U.S. military who are residents of Florida or stationed here. An analysis by the state Department of Management Services could not determine how much the additional military benefits would cost but noted that Florida has more than 90,000 men and women on active duty or in the reserves.

Supporters include the Association of Florida Colleges (because of the amendment’s second part). Opponents include League of Women Voters of Florida. To me, this is a classic case of an unfunded mandate. It not only provides no funding source, but the state entity charged with estimating its cost was unable to do so. I OPPOSE AMENDMENT 7.

Amendment 9 - Prohibits Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling; Prohibits Vaping in Enclosed Indoor Workplaces would prohibit oil drilling beneath waters controlled by Florida; and prohibit the use of e-cigarettes, also known as vaping, at indoor workplaces. For the full text, click here.

The more significant part of the amendment is the ban on offshore drilling. State law has prohibited offshore oil and gas drilling since 1988, but a constitutional amendment would give the ban more permanence. The amendment defines “state waters” as about nine miles off the western and southern coastlines and at least three miles off the eastern coastline, and also includes bays, estuaries and other waters under Florida’s jurisdiction.

Supporters include Rethink Energy Florida, Everglades Coalition, Florida Wildlife Federation, National Wildlife Federation, and League of Women Voters of Florida. Opponents include Florida Petroleum Council, Associated Industries of Florida, Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association, and Florida Chamber of Commerce.

I support protecting the environment and Florida's tourism industry by prohibiting offshore drilling. I also share the LWV’s belief that voter rejection of this amendment would signal the Legislature and federal government that Floridians don’t care about offshore drilling. I SUPPORT AMENDMENT 9.

Amendment 10 - State and Local Government Structure and Operation would:
  1. require the Legislature to hold its session in early January in even-numbered years;
  2. create an Office of Domestic Security and Counterterrorism within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement;
  3. mandate the existence of a state Department of Veterans’ Affairs; and
  4. require all counties to elect a sheriff, tax collector, property appraiser, supervisor of elections and Clerk of Circuit Court.

Full text here.

Part 4 is the most controversial part of the amendment. It would make the five local constitutional offices — sheriff, tax collector, supervisor of elections, clerk of the court and property appraiser — mandatory, require elections for the offices in all 67 counties, and prohibit charter counties from abolishing or modifying those offices.

The primary supporters are the CRC members who proposed it and several Central Florida public officials. Opponents include League of Women Voters of Florida.

Most of the provisions already are current practices, but Part 4 is a clear effort to restrict the powers of local government – specifically those that operate under voter-approved county charters. Voters in eight of Florida’s 67 counties have approved charters that changed or eliminated at least one constitutional office. Miami-Dade, for example, does not elect a sheriff. These offices would have to be restored if this amendment passes. I believe voters in counties and municipalities should be able to choose their form of government, and this amendment takes away local control. Therefore, I OPPOSE AMENDMENT 10.

Amendment 11 - Property Rights; Removal of Obsolete Provision; Criminal Statutes would repeal the state’s ability to prohibit non-citizens from buying, owning and selling property; delete obsolete language having to do with high-speed rail in Florida; and delete a provision that forces the state to prosecute criminal suspects under the law they were originally charged under, even if the Legislature changes that law. Full text here; CRC Judicial Committee Analysis here.

The most substantive part of this bundled amendment is Part 3. The Constitution currently contains a “Savings Clause” dating to 1885 that prevents the Legislature from making changes to substantive criminal laws, including sentencing laws, retroactive. It requires the statute in effect at the time of a crime to govern the sentence an offender receives for commission of that crime. For example, in 2014, the Legislature amended drug sentencing laws. A defendant who committed certain drug offenses on June 30, 2014, would serve five times longer in prison than a defendant who committed that same offense one day later. A repeal of the Savings Clause will allow to the Legislature to retroactively apply lesser sentencing to prisoners currently in prison. As a result, the Legislature would be allowed to apply new sentencing guidelines to prisoners currently incarcerated, allowing an earlier release and possibly reduce expenses to the state. (CRC Judicial Committee Analysis)

Supporters include State Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who has been a leading voice calling for reform of the criminal justice system, and Sandy D’Alemberte, a former president of the American Bar Association and Florida State University, who said that changing the savings clause would be the most progressive reform to Florida’s criminal justice system since the establishment of public defenders to represent poor defendants. (Florida Times-Union) Given the condition of Florida’s prisons (e.g. see here), I SUPPORT AMENDMENT 11.

Amendment 12 - Lobbying and Abuse of Office by Public Officers would expand ethics rules for on lobbying for compensation by former public officers, notably by expanding from two to six years the time that many officials would have to wait before they could do so. Full text here.

It has been called “one of the most complex questions on the ballot” (LWVF), with a number of different elements for voters to consider. The one that generates the most headlines is the six-year ban. The current ban on lobbying after leaving office is two years, and applies only to the government body or agency that person belonged to.

Supporters include Integrity Florida. Opponents include the Florida Chamber. The Florida LWV takes no position because, they say, although there is need for lobbying reform, “six years might be onerous, and this amendment does not address the real issue regarding lobbying, which is the impact of money in political campaigns.” I agree with the Naples Daily News Editorial Board that “This amendment alone won’t clean up all that can be addressed to improve government ethics in the state. Campaign finance reform to control the influence of money on political campaigns and the meting out of harsher, quicker and more frequent penalties by the Florida Ethics Commission also would help. Amendment 12 is an improvement, however.” I SUPPORT AMENDMENT 12.

Amendment 13 - Ends Dog Racing would phase out commercial dog racing in connection with wagering, but not affect other gaming activities. Full text here.

Florida has 12 of the nation’s 18 dog-racing tracks. Dog racing – usually greyhounds – is one of several “pari-mutuel” wagering sports in Florida. (Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering)

“The state’s 12 dog tracks took in $240 million in bets during the year that ended in June 2016, half the amount wagered a decade before,” according to the Florida Times-Union. “The state says it now spends more money regulating the greyhound industry than it receives in tax revenue from the races. But dogs still race in Florida because the tracks must exist if pari-mutuel companies want to keep open their more-lucrative poker rooms. Under state law, only pari-mutuel facilities like horse tracks, jai alai frontons and greyhound kennel clubs can operate card rooms. If greyhound tracks stop their races, the card rooms would have to close.”

Supporters include Grey2KUSA, the Humane Society of the United States, and League of Women Voters of Florida. Opponents include Florida Greyhound Association and the NRA. I agree with the Naples Daily News that “the state shouldn’t force a business to operate in ways that have proven unprofitable.” I SUPPORT AMENDMENT 13.

To summarize how I will vote

Amendment 1 - NO
Amendment 2 - NO
Amendment 3 - NO
Amendment 4 - YES
Amendment 5 - NO
Amendment 6 - NO
Amendment 7 - NO
Amendment 9 - YES
Amendment 10 - NO
Amendment 11 - YES
Amendment 12 - YES
Amendment 13 - YES

I hope my research helped you understand what each of the amendments would mean, and who stands to benefit if each is passed. I also hope helps you think more critically about how you will vote than you might have without it.

Stay tuned next for my posts about the candidates for the Collier Mosquito Control Commission Board, the judicial candidates, and the proposed Collier Sales Surtax.



Sunday, October 7, 2018

Local News in Review - September 2018

Highlights of local news in September include adoption of next year’s local government budgets and millage rates, and action (or lack thereof) on growth-related and other governmental projects. In addition, the Naples City Council hired a new City Manager to replace retiring Bill Moss (it took two tries) and the Marco City Council made progress toward hiring an Interim Manager (but isn’t there yet). In this post, I’ll share links to these and other stories about September’s local government activities.

I’ll also share articles I found helpful in considering how I’ll vote in the November elections, including several that were either for or against the proposed local sales surtax, and guest commentaries by the candidates running from Congressional District 19 (includes western Collier County), State Senate District 28 (includes all of Collier County), and State House Districts 80 (northern and central Collier County) and 106 (coastal Collier County).

Finally, there are some general interest articles related to the continuing Irma recovery, the environment, Collier schools, and more. Happy reading!

Local budgets and taxes
  • Collier County approves $1.2 billion budget, up 2 percent, keeps tax rate steady. The tax bill for a home will increase only if the property value increased, with a maximum increase of 3 percent for property with a homestead exemption and 10 percent without. Naples Daily News, 9/20/18
  • Collier County School Board approves $1.1 billion budget and tax rate. The new tax rate means the owner of a home valued last year at $400,000, with a homestead exemption, will pay about $15 more next year than she paid this year. Naples Daily News, 9/11/18
  • Marco Island City Council approves budget at roll-back rate. The proposed $25.7 million general fund budget includes a three percent raise for all employees, but for Councilors Bob Brown and Howard Reed, that was not enough. Marco Eagle, 9/24/18
  • Stormwater fee plan put off a year after Collier residents oppose it at hearing. After about four hours of public testimony, county commissioners agreed with residents that the plan needed to be put off and evaluated once more. Naples Daily News, 9/6/18
  • Collier commissioners reject proposed tax to fix rural roads. Naples Daily News, 9/11/18

County projects
  • Commissioners unanimously approve $70 million bond issue to fund amateur sports complex near Collier Blvd and I-75. BCC Meeting Recap, 9/11/18. See also Naples Daily News, 6/12/18
  • Vanderbilt Drive utilities work in North Naples delayed further until September 2019. The county plans to hold a public meeting on the project later this year, once many of the homeowners return for the winter. Naples Daily News, 8/30/18
  • Changes to rural growth plan advanced by Collier County commissioners. They voted unanimously to allow planners to draft amendments to the Rural Fringe Mixed Use District to allow increased density in rural villages, and to allow employment centers, such as medical manufacturing or technology businesses, to stand alone, not be tied to a village center. Naples Daily News, 9/26/18

Local elections: candidate commentaries
  • Out-of-control spending in the swamp of Washington. By Francis Rooney, Congressional District 19, Republican candidate, incumbent, via Naples Daily News, 10/3/18
  • Time for responsible budgeting, watchful Congress. By David Holden, Congressional District 19, Democratic candidate, via Naples Daily News, 10/3/18
  • Civic work helps shape legislative agenda. By Kathleen Passidomo, Florida Senate District 28, Republican candidate, incumbent, via Naples Daily News, 10/1/18
  • Protecting environment preserves our way of life. By Annisa Karim, Florida Senate District 28, Democratic candidate, via Naples Daily News, 9/30/18
  • State is great but still work to do. By Bob Rommel, Florida House District 106, Republican candidate, incumbent, via Naples Daily News, 9/27/18
  • Red tide solutions must be explored. By Sara McFadden, Florida House District 106, Democratic candidate, via Naples Daily News, 9/26/18
  • When it comes to Floridians’ education, one size doesn’t fit all. By Byron Donalds, Florida House District 80, Republican candidate, incumbent, via Naples Daily News, 10/5/18
  • Water quality, education among issues deserving action. By Jennifer Boddicker, Florida House District 80, Democratic candidate, via Naples Daily News, 10/4/18

County sales surtax referendum
  • Voting on a penny. Collier voters to decide on more than just elected officials in November. Florida Weekly , 9/13/18
  • Commentary: Sales tax an investment in Collier’s future. The question before us is how, as a community, do we want to pay for these critical infrastructure improvements. By Garrett Richter, Naples banker and former state senator, via Naples Daily News, 9/29/18
  • Commentary: Local businesswoman takes to YouTube to oppose Collier sales tax. I don’t have a website, Facebook page or Instagram and I have no budget, but my sister made a quick 8 minute video explaining her reasons for opposing the sales tax. Email from Kristine Meek to Sparker's Soapbox, 9/13/18
  • Brent Batten: Naples Chamber invests in PAC to promote sales tax on social media. Local leaders, including former state Rep. Dudley Goodlette and Ed Morton, the former CEO of the NCH Healthcare System, have recorded short videos extolling the benefits of the proposed tax. Naples Daily News, 9/29/18

Local elections - other
  • Editorial: Perils of voting too early in Nov. 6 election. We will not acquiesce to those who want our editorial board to make all recommendations in time for them to return their ballot in early October. Naples Daily News, 9/4/18
  • Collier elections officials increase cybersecurity ahead of midterm elections. They plan to check for vulnerabilities in the system, have invested in a monitoring system that helps identify malicious activity on the network, and plan to replace outdated equipment and add training for information technology staffers. Naples Daily News, 9/21/18

Red tide, fertilizer and Irma recovery
  • City of Naples weakened a seasonal ban on fertilizer as red tide bloom was forming. Councilwoman Linda Penniman, who voted against removing the fertilizer black-out period, said she "strongly supports" implementing higher standards. Naples Daily News, 9/7/18
  • Editorial: Red tide drifts back, keep focus on fertilizer. We applaud local elected leaders who pressed for a review of what’s contributing locally to our polluted waters. Naples Daily News, 9/20/18
  • Not enough backup power added after Irma to avert sewage overflow repeats in Collier County and elsewhere. The modest increase does not ensure there won’t be a repeat of last year’s toxic overflows, or an even more severe public health crisis, in the event of another monster storm or statewide power outage. Naples Daily News, 9/7/18
  • Collier still working to clear hurricane debris from waterways. Irma struck Florida more than a year ago, but cleanup efforts still are ongoing, in part because of funding, evaluations and higher-priority cleanup work closer to residents. Naples Daily News, 9/22/18
  • With Irma debris gone, counties, cities grapple with financial fallout. For Collier officials, Irma brought home the need to begin building a dedicated reserve fund for debris removal efforts for future storms. Naples Daily News, 9/11/18

City of Naples
  • Council finalizes contract with new city manager. Charles Chapman, the current Hendry County administrator, will be paid an annual salary of $200,000 plus a monthly housing allowance of $1,000. Naples Daily News, 9/24/18
  • Related: Naples' top choice for city manager turns down job. Naples Daily News, 9/19/18
  • Naples' Eighth Street project could reduce crashes, but also yards, royal palm trees. The Eighth Street Beautification Project would extend from Fifth Avenue South up to Seventh Avenue North and cost $7 million. Naples Daily News, 8/31/18
  • Judge rules that Naples ethics referendum can appear before voters. If City Council decides not to appeal, or if the appellate court upholds Hayes’ ruling, then the city will have to host a special election, which will most likely occur in early spring, at a cost to the city of $35,000 to $40,000. Naples Daily News, 10/05/18

City of Marco Island
  • Wrong advertisement forces restart of Assisted Living Facility ordinance. City Council will need to rehear the first reading of the ordinance amending the land development code to remove the density parameters for assisted living facilities and allow for conditional approval of certain facilities. Naples Daily News, 9/17/18
  • Related: Marco Council supports changes LDC code change that would aid assisted living facility buildout. Naples Daily News, 9/10/18
  • Marco Island begins interim city manager interviews. The two candidates heard so far declared they were ready to embrace the challenges that await. Marco Eagle, 10/1/18
  • City of Marco Island, police union negotiations progressing despite scheduling error. The vast majority of officers earn well below the minimum sustainable wage for Collier County, which stands at $66,000 for a family of four. Marco Eagle, 9/13/18
  • City Council seeks discussion with county about second ambulance. Chairman Jared Grifoni made the suggestion in noting that the city and county were going to have a joint meeting in the future, which was to include discussion about the city's certificate of public convenience and necessity. Marco Eagle, 9/14/18

Collier Schools
  • Editorial kudos to CCPS for recent parents survey results. The school district received an A grade from 59 percent of responding parents, with 86 percent agree or strongly agree that their child’s school provides a rigorous learning environment. Naples Daily News, 8/31/18
  • Collier students are being sent to alternative schools for discipline in record numbers. State law mandates students who make a threat or bring a weapon to school must be expelled from their regular school for a minimum of one year. However the law gives superintendents the flexibility to send the student to a disciplinary program. Naples Daily News, 9/21/18
  • Editorial kick: outgoing School Board members Donalds and Lichter. Suggestions of lying and collusion were unwarranted. We reiterate our hope that the newly configured board proceeds as planned. Naples Daily News, 9/14/18
  • Ex-treasurer of Mason Classical charter school alleges lax financial oversight, verbal abuse. But the complaint filed with the FDOE does not allege any fraud has occurred. Naples Daily News, 10/6/18

That’s it for now. In the coming days and weeks, I’ll be writing about the offices, candidates, amendments and referendum on Collier voters’ November ballot and sharing how I plan to vote. Stay tuned — and don’t be in a rush to complete your mail ballot. Anything can happen between now and Election Day!