Sunday, September 16, 2018

Get Ready to Vote in the November Elections

Election Day - November 6
November 6, Election Day, is just 50 days away! Vote-by-mail ballots will go out to Collier voters who requested them beginning October 2, and early voting begins on October 25. We’ve just been through the primaries so we know the drill. But it’s time to get ready once again.

As I’ve done in the past, I’ll research the candidates and issues, and share what I learn in a series of “Get Ready to Vote” posts. Just before the start of early voting, I’ll share how I’ll vote, and why. This is the first in that series, and I'll start with the basics.

What will be on the ballot?

The Collier Supervisor of Elections and Florida Division of Elections websites tell us which offices will be on the ballot. Those listed below with an asterisk will on the ballot only of those who live in the districts; the rest will be on the ballot of all Collier voters.

  • U.S. Senate
  • U.S. House of Representatives* (Districts 19 and 25)

  • Governor
  • Attorney General
  • Chief Financial Officer
  • Commissioner of Agriculture
  • State Senate (District 28)
  • State House (Districts 80, 105, 106)*
  • State Attorney, 20th Circuit
  • Supreme Court (1 justice)
  • 2nd District Court of Appeal (4 judges)

  • County Commission* (District 4)
  • Collier Mosquito Control District (2 seats)
  • Greater Naples Fire & Rescue District* (2 seats)
  • North Collier Fire & Rescue District* (3 seats)
  • County Court (1 judge)

  • City of Marco Island City Council* (3 seats)

Things to do right now

  • Request a vote-by-mail (VBM) ballot. This will be a very lengthy and complicated ballot, and it will take time and care to complete it fully and correctly. Why not do as I do, and request a VBM ballot to complete at home, whether you'll be out of town or not?  
  • Check the status of your VBM ballot. If you’ve already requested one, make sure the Supervisor of Elections has the request, and the correct address to send it to. The postal service will not forward your vote-by-mail ballot, even if you’ve arranged for mail forwarding. You MUST give the Supervisor of Elections the address to which your ballot should be mailed. 
  • Review your voter registration; make needed changes. Make sure the Supervisor of Elections has your current address, and confirm exactly how you signed your name (e.g. with or without middle initial).
  • Update your signature. According to the Supervisor of Elections website, “When voting in person, by provisional ballot, or by Vote-by-Mail ballot, Florida election law requires each voter to sign a Voter’s Certificate. While an exact match of a voter’s signature is not required, the signature must reasonably match the signature of record. All voters should consider periodically updating their signature on file with our office.” Better safe than sorry. Learn how here.
All the above can be done online or by phone (239–252-VOTE) (8683). In addition:
  • Attend information sessions and forums. Put dates of upcoming information sessions and candidate forums on your calendar, and plan to attend. Check the Dates & Events tab on my website for presentations I will be giving about the candidates and ballot questions to various community groups. Also listed, sponsored by other organizations, are sales surtax and constitutional amendment information sessions and forums for candidates running for the U.S. Senate, Florida House and Senate, and the fire districts.
  • Seek out opportunities to meet candidates for whom forums are not being held. As of now, there are very few scheduled debates between candidates for the offices on our ballots, which is truly unfortunate. All candidates should be willing to meet with voters if asked. Contact them through their campaign offices and request meetings.

That’s it for now. I look forward to becoming a more informed voter and sharing what I learn. It’s in all of our best interests to participate in an informed way in the election process and to take full advantage of our right to vote. After all -- democracy is not a spectator sport!

Monday, September 3, 2018

Local News in Review - August 2018

While most of August’s local news was about the primary elections, there were other hot topics as well: the proposed stormwater utility fee for residents of unincorporated Collier County, and the new safety measures put in place at Collier County Public Schools in the wake of the Parkland and other mass school shootings. I’ll begin with these two issues, then share other news local residents should know.

But first, a clarification about terminology I used in my Recap and reflections on the August primaries. In reporting voter participation in various ballot questions, I used the terms “closed to Republicans” and “closed to Democrats” without defining them. A race that is “closed to Republicans” is a closed primary in which only Republicans can vote. A race that is “closed to Democrats” is one in which only Democrats can vote. Thank you to the readers who alerted me so I could explain.

Proposed stormwater utility fee

County commissioners will vote on a proposed new fee following a final Public Hearing this Thursday, September 6, beginning at 5:05 PM in Commission Chambers (directions). Click here for the meeting agenda and related materials.

Learn more, including the proposed fee to be charged for your property, at
  • Brent Batten: Stormwater fee brings flash flood of opposition from Golden Gate Estates. An oft-voiced complaint is that people weren’t adequately notified about the fee. They also fault the methodology that counts gravel and shell driveways the same as paved areas, and point out that the plan does not give credit for the fact that large lots tend to absorb water before it runs off into the county drainage system. Naples Daily News, 8/23/18
  • Brent Batten: Stormwater tax passes easily — in Texas. In Collier, maybe not so much. Some residents of Collier County are finding that the stormwater fee, while technically not a tax, would increase the amount they pay to the county annually by 10 percent or more. Bill McDaniel is the only one of the five Collier County commissioners who has not gone along with the stormwater fee so far. Naples Daily News, 8/28/18
  • Brent Batten: Add a stormwater fee in Collier? What a difference a year makes. A year ago, Hurricane Harvey dumped up to 18 inches of rain on parts of Southwest Florida, filling swales and flooding low-lying streets. An already taxed drainage system was unable to shunt the water along, creating a backlog that lingered for weeks. Naples Daily News, 8/25/18

New school safety measures at Collier County Public Schools

  • New focus on mental health at CCPS after year tainted by Parkland, Irma. More than $1 million will be spent to add seven school psychologists and eight social workers to the district’s mental health staff, for a total of 31 psychologists and 16 social workers. Some mental health employees will receive school crisis intervention and trauma care training, at a total cost of $25,000, and teachers will receive training in suicide prevention and youth mental health assistance. Naples Daily News, 8/13/18
  • Collier Schools’ doors will be locked for safety. As of August 10, the front doors at all 50 CCPS campuses were locked and visitors must show a valid photo ID in order to enter. CCPS, 8/8/18
  • Collier, Lee school districts ban backpacks at sports events. Collier School Board member Erick Carter said, “I welcome feedback from parents as to what their thoughts are." Naples Daily News, 8/29/18
  • Florida law requiring schools inquire about students' mental health raises privacy concerns. The law, passed in the wake of the mass shooting on Feb. 14, does not explain or detail what mental health services parents should report on new student registration forms. Naples Daily News, 8/22/18
  • For more about CCPS safety programs, visit the District’s Keep Collier Safe website here.

Other County news

  • With new hospitals proposed for SW Florida, state hearings on need set for January. Ave Maria-based Braden Clinic was given preliminary approval to build a 25-bed hospital at its clinic site. At stake is a shake-up of patient market share that has been the status quo for many years. Naples Daily News, 8/10/18
  • Scammers trick Collier Mosquito Control District out of almost $100,000. CMCD staff is trained on cybersecurity issues, and they followed correct procedures. They were also insured for the loss, so the money has already been replaced. Naples Daily News, 8/10/18
  • Michael Reagen appointed to vacant seat on Collier Mosquito Control District Board of Commissioners. The seat was vacated earlier this year when David Chapman resigned from the elected position. Reagen will serve the District’s Seat 5 position through December 2020. CMCD News Release, 8/15/18
  • Controversial fire fee draws more candidates to North Collier Fire District races. Often, fire board members run unopposed or have only one opponent, but the fire fee referendum has spurred more competition in the November races. Naples Daily News, 8/18/18
  • At red tide forum, scientists tried to answer residents' questions. More than 300 people attended a Public Information Meeting hosted by Commissioner Penny Taylor and the County. Naples Daily News, 8/30/18; recording here; materials here

City of Naples

  • Ethics Naples: Commentary: Unjust criticism of Naples mayor, attorney, council by Naples Daily News. There’s a difference between the Ethics Naples’ executive director’s “right” to speak as an individual and his “responsibility” as an appointed member of a city advisory board. By Bill Barnett, Naples mayor, via Naples Daily News, 8/11/18
  • Ethics Naples: Judge says council has right to question ethics referendum's legality. Judge Hayes is expected to make a decision in the coming weeks regarding the referendum’s legality. Naples Daily News, 8/21/18
  • Naples council selects six finalists to interview for city manager job. A tour, public reception and formal interviews are scheduled. The council is expected to make a decision Sept. 14. Naples Daily News, 8/15/18
  • New traffic control system aims to make driving in Naples less of a headache. City council agreed to spend nearly $58,000 on software, training and license to operate the 20 new traffic signal controllers received from the Florida Department of Transportation. Naples Daily News, 8/16/18

City of Marco Island

  • Marco Island may have new city manager by Sept. 4. "This council and the community desperately needs (sic) a qualified, professional city manager to make our government effective, performance-based and citizen-oriented," Vice-Chair Charlotte Roman said. Marco Eagle, 8/9/18
  • Related Editorial: Instability at top should concern Marco voters. Marco council will interview five finalists to fill the vacant city manager position in September. Each got three votes for consideration, but it takes five votes to hire anyone. Naples Daily News, 8/21/18
  • City council considering audit of purchasing contracts after employee's mishaps. “It’s the city manager’s job to deal with city employee issues,” Vice-Chair Roman said. “However, the council has an oversight role for the stewardship of the taxpayers’ money.” Marco Eagle, 8/10/18
  • Marco Planning Board opposes changes to land development code for assisted living facilities. Staff expressed concern that the large facilities were not anticipated and may have unintended consequences for the health, safety, and welfare of the community during an emergency evacuation. Marco Eagle, 8/10/18

Collier County Public Schools

  • Editorial kudos to CCPS Superintendent Kamela Patton. She continues to excel, earning a well-deserved high rating in her annual evaluation by the School Board. Naples Daily News, 8/3/18
  • Editorial: CCPS budget tentatively approved 3-2. We applaud the district’s administration for putting money away annually toward a new high school in 2023 that could be built without having to borrow, meanwhile working to become debt-free. Naples Daily News, 8/6/18
  • CCPS to receive $1 million from the United Arab Emirates for Hurricane Irma recovery. The funding comes from $10 million the UAE is dedicating to Florida as part of a tradition of helping communities in the U.S. that are devastated by natural disasters. Naples Daily News, 8/8/18
  • Federal-state conflict on medical marijuana confuses Florida schools. Collier County is one of six Florida school districts that are complying with federal law, which still classifies all marijuana, medicinal or recreational, as an illegal drug. USA Today, 8/11/18

That’s it for August’s local news. The General Elections are about ten weeks away. Between now and the October 25 start of Early Voting, I’ll review the local and state elections, proposed constitutional amendments and referenda that will be on Collier voters’ ballots. There’s a lot to cover, so I’ll be starting soon!

Saturday, September 1, 2018

State News in Review - August 2018

While much of the media attention in August was on the elections, two important statewide issues also received considerable press: the two-pronged environmental disaster of red tide and a massive, toxic algae bloom, and an increasing number of challenges to the “bundled” constitutional amendments headed to Florida voters’ November ballot.

Amendment 8, which would allow charter school organizers to bypass local school boards, received the most attention, following the filing last month of a lawsuit by the League of Women Voters of Florida that calls the amendment “intentionally misleading.” The proposal was sponsored by Erika Donalds, a member of the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) and charter school activist who serves on the Collier County School Board.

I’ll begin this post with those issues, then share some other news I think Florida voters should be aware of.

The environment

  • Governor Rick Scott declares state of emergency for red tide outbreak in Southwest Florida. The declaration comes a month after he declared a state of emergency for Lee and six other counties due to blue-green algae outbreaks caused by Lake Okeechobee water discharges. Naples Daily News, 8/14/18
  • Scott activates emergency bridge loan program to assist small businesses impacted by blue-green algae and red tide. The interest-free loans provide cash flow for up to 180 days until a business secures other financial resources. Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, 8/14/18
  • Congressman Francis Rooney asks SBA for disaster declaration, aid to businesses in Lee County. His appeal follows Gov. Scott’s request to the Small Business Association for an “economic injury disaster declaration” to help Florida businesses impacted by the algal blooms. News-Press, 8/24/18
  • Florida commits up to $1 million to Everglades Foundation algae removal prize. The state will provide technical expertise and funding for testing submissions to the competition seeking cost-effective solutions for preventing algal blooms. TCPalm via Naples Daily News, 8/25/18
  • State to give another $3 million to counties impacted by toxic algal bloom. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection earlier this month set aside a different $3 million for the counties impacted by red tide and another $3 million for counties impacted by the toxic blue-green algae that's plaguing the historic Everglades drainage system. Naples Daily News, 8/31/18

Who’s to blame?

  • As bouts with killer algae rose, Florida gutted its water quality monitoring network. Over the last decade, the state fought federal efforts to protect water, shrunk its own environmental and water-management agencies, and cut funding to an algae task force. Miami-Herald, 8/7/18
  • Dead in the Water. In the last seven years under Gov. Rick Scott and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, the state hobbled water quality management mechanisms that had been helping Lake Okeechobee. Florida Sportsman, 8/22/18
  • Editorial: State Health Department is failing us. When it finally said something about the massive blue-green algae blooms and the spread of red tide, its best statement was there is no evidence that acute exposure to the toxins has long-term health impacts. Naples Daily News, 8/22/18

Challenges to proposed amendments

Several of the CRC’s proposed amendments are facing legal challenges stemming from the fact that they are really multiple, separate amendments rolled into one. The practice is alternatively referred to as “log-rolling” or “bundling. ”See Constitution Revision Commission proposes eight initiatives for voters in November. Tallahassee Democrat, 4/18/18

A number of prominent Florida figures have spoken out against the CRC’s amendments and/or publicly sided with the various legal challenges:
  • Save My Constitution launches to oppose proposed amendments in Florida. The group, including Republican former lieutenant governors Jeff Kottkamp and Jennifer Carroll, Republican former U.S. Reps. Sandy Adams and Connie Mack and a host of former state legislators will lead a movement to encourage Floridians to vote no on all CRC amendments and urge the Legislature to place an initiative on the 2020 ballot to either restructure or abolish the CRC. The Florida Daily, 8/21/18
  • Former Florida chief justice Anstead challenges Amendment 8, five others as unconstitutionally bundled. “This is logrolling and a form of issue gerrymandering that violates the First Amendment right of the voter to vote for or against specific independent and unrelated proposals to amend the constitution without paying the price of supporting a measure the voter opposes or opposing a measure the voter supports." Tampa Bay Times, 8/13/18
The news stories linked below explain the challenged amendments and status of the challenges.

Amendment 6 - Rights of Crime Victims; Judges (here)

  • Leon County judge throws Amendment 6 off Florida ballot. Tampa Bay Times, 8/27/18

Amendment 8 - School Board Term Limits and Duties; Public Schools (here)

  • League of Women Voters sues over education amendment. Florida Politics, 7/12/18; see also LWVF, “Don’t Take the Bait” Website
  • Former Florida Supreme Court chief justice Wells: Amendment 8 ‘misleading,’ ‘deceptive’. Tampa Bay Times, 7/27/18
  • Charter schools oversight at heart of lawsuit against Amendment 8., 8/11/18
  • Florida Amendment 8 challenge stems from policy disagreement, not wording problems, secretary of state argues. Tampa Bay Times, 8/13/18
  • As fight over education amendment rages in court, its creator Erika Donalds says '8IsGreat'. WLRN Miami, 8/16/18
  • Judge orders Amendment 8 be removed from Florida ballot. Tampa Bay Times, 8/20/18
  • Supreme Court will weigh Amendment 8 case. News Service of Florida via Florida Politics, 8/22/18
  • Pro-Amendment 8 committee adds $100K as Florida Supreme Court considers its fate. Florida Politics, 8/25/18
  • Groups file legal briefs to support education measure under challenge. The Urban Leagues of both Miami and Central Florida, along with the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools and the Florida Charter School Alliance, have filed briefs in support of Amendment 8. Florida Politics, 8/28/18

Amendment 10 - State and Local Government Structure and Operation (here)

  • Judge denies challenge to Florida constitutional amendment. Miami Herald, 8/10/18

Amendment 13 - Ends Dog Racing (here)

  • Florida Supreme Court to decide whether dog racing ban will be on November ballot. News Service of Florida via Palm Beach Post, 8/8/18

Other state government news

  • Supreme Court should hold state responsible for high quality public schools, plaintiffs argue. Urging the Supreme Court not to fall for the state's effort to evade constitutional responsibility for an "efficient" and "high quality" public school system, lawyers representing Citizens for Strong Schools argue that the constitutional terms are not vague, regardless of what lower courts have ruled. Tampa Bay Times, 8/9/18
  • Florida the only state that’s not in compliance with federal education standards. The current version of the state’s ESSA plan excludes critical protections for English learners, students with disabilities, students of color, and low-income students. Miami Herald, 8/27/18
  • Florida legislators, governor clash over school security. House Speaker-elect Jose Oliva and incoming Senate President-elect Bill Galvano, both Republicans, are rejecting Gov. Scott’s push to redirect $58 million so school districts can hire more campus police officers. Naples Herald via Naples Daily News, 8/24/18
  • Pam Bondi files 57-page brief supporting ban on smokable med pot. Pointing in part to smoking-related health effects, the Attorney General's office argues that an appeals court should uphold a decision by the Legislature to ban smoking medical marijuana. News Service of Florida via Tampa Bay Times, 8/6/18
  • Florida promises to reimburse motorists after toll troubles. Gov. Rick Scott has come under fire for the problems, especially after it was reported he attended a fundraiser in Texas this year where one of the hosts was a major shareholder of the company. Naples Daily News, 8/16/18
  • Stand your ground law should be reviewed by Legislature, Florida’s black leaders say. The debate over the controversial law was reignited last month after a heated argument outside a Clearwater convenience store left a black man mortally wounded, his white killer free to go home and civil-rights activists up in arms. Miami-Herald, 8/27/18
  • Florida Influencers: Medicaid expansion should be top health care priority for Tallahassee. Florida is one of 17 states that has not expanded Medicaid, which provides health coverage for low-income Americans. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 12.5 percent of Floridians lack health insurance, the third-highest rate in the nation. Miami-Herald, 8/27/18

That’s it for August top stories about state government. My next post will summarize local news of note. Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Recap and reflections on the August primaries

The August elections are behind us, and I assume you've seen the results. In this post, I’ll just recap the races and issues that were on Collier voters’ ballots and link to related news articles for color and background. Then I’ll share my thoughts about voter participation and look ahead to the November elections.

The results: Statewide races
  • U.S. Senate, Republican primary: Rick Scott. The increasingly bitter — and expensive — showdown with Bill Nelson could play a decisive role in which party controls the Senate. Herald-Tribune, 8/28/18
  • U.S. House, District 19, Democratic primary: David Holden. He has the “unenviable task” of trying to unseat Francis Rooney. Naples Daily News via News-Press, 8/28/18
  • Governor, Republican primary: Ron DeSantis. A presidential endorsement propelled him to victory, drawing to a close a contest that pitted the Trump-backed candidate against a longtime Florida politician who made his Sunshine State credentials the central part of his campaign. Sun Sentinel, 8/28/18
  • Governor, Democrat primary: Andrew Gillum. He shocked Florida’s political class and became the first black nominee for governor in the nation’s largest swing state, fueled by grassroots energy and big donor dollars. Politico Florida, 8/28/18
  • Attorney General, Republican primary: Ashley Moody. The election was filled with drama and nastiness on both sides. Naples Daily News via News-Press, 8/28/18
  • Attorney General, Democratic primary: Sean Shaw. He captured the Democratic nomination for state Attorney General in a historic fashion — by having his only same-party opponent knocked off the primary ballot. Florida Politics, 8/28/18
  • Commissioner of Agriculture, Republican primary: Matt Caldwell. He has no intention of moderating his conservative, pro-gun, pro-Trump campaign in the race to the November general election. Naples Daily News via News-Press, 8/28/18
  • Commissioner of Agriculture, Democrat primary: Nikki Fried. “Extreme conservatism … is not what the rest of the state of Florida is looking for," Fried said. Naples Daily News via News-Press, 8/28/18
  • State Attorney, 20th Judicial Circuit, Republican primary: Amira Fox. The victory all but assures her of becoming the third state attorney for the 20th Judicial Circuit; she faces a write-in candidate in November. News-Press via Naples Daily News, 8/29/18
  • Florida House, District 105, Democratic primary: Javier Estevez. In a District that includes parts of Miami-Dade, Broward and Collier counties, Estevez, with 51.64 percent of the vote, defeated primary opponent Ross Hancock. Florida Politics, 8/29/18
  • Circuit Judge, 20th Judicial Circuit, Group 8, Nonpartisan: John Owen McGowan. He won the open judge seat, beating James Chandler by 15.6 percentage points. Charlotte Sun, 8/29/18
For an insider recap from Marc Caputo and Matt Dixon at Politico Florida, click here — it’s worth the read!

The results: Local races
  • Collier County Commission, District 2, Universal primary: Andy Solis (R). With no opponent, Solis won a four-year term by defeating primary challenger Brad Schiffer. Naples Daily News, 8/28/18
  • Collier County Commission, District 4, Republican primary: Penny Taylor. Incumbent Taylor, seeking a second term, will face Democrat Gary Petit-Dor in November. Naples Daily News, 8/28/18
  • Collier County Clerk of Courts, Universal primary: Crystal K. Kinzel (R). She “easily defeated” challenger Don Berry to retain the Clerk of Court’s post she was appointed to two months ago. Naples Daily News, 8/28/18
  • Collier County School Board, District 3, Nonpartisan: Jen Mitchell. One of her biggest priorities will be to figure out a better way to attract and retain good teachers. Naples Daily News, 8/28/18
  • Collier County School Board, District 5, Nonpartisan: Roy M. Terry. He hopes to expand the district’s trade and vocational training programs and increase the school from seven to eight period blocks to allow students to take more elective classes. Naples Daily News, 8/28/18
  • Circuit Judge, 20th Judicial Circuit, Group 8, Nonpartisan: John Owen McGowan. The Naples-based defense attorney who focuses primarily on criminal and civil litigation held endorsements from State Attorney Stephen Russell and the sheriffs of Lee, Hendry and Glades counties. Charlotte Sun, 8/29/18
  • Collier County Judge, Group 2, Nonpartisan: Blake Adams and James Moon. The top-two vote-getters face a runoff election in November.

The results: Referenda
  • North Collier Fire Fee: No. Residents of Bentley Village, who rallied against the fee, celebrated a hard-fought victory. Naples Daily News, 8/28/18
  • Immokalee Fire Fee: No. Firefighters, the Fire Chief said, are questioning how they can serve a community that doesn't appear to want them anymore. He warns that layoffs and cuts in services won't be far off. Naples Daily News, 8/28/18
  • Marco Island EMS: No. Added taxation and uncertainty over the city government’s ability to take on additional responsibility seemed to doom the measure, which proponents said was necessary to ensure a second ambulance stationed on Marco Island at all times. Naples Daily News, 8/28/18

My thoughts about voter participation
For purposes of Sparker's Soapbox, I’m more interested in voter turnout than I am in who wins. And before I dug into the numbers, I was feeling pretty good about the results. The Naples Daily News reported “voters exceed primary turnout predictions,” and statewide turnout was the “highest for a midterm primary since 2002.” (Voter turnout is defined as ballots cast divided by eligible voters as of the bookclosing date.)

But here are the unofficial voter turnout figures as of today: Collier County: 33.6 percent; Florida: 27.4 percent. They may be near-records, and it’s certainly better than 2014, but it’s still pathetic.

In addition to voter turnout, I look at “voter participation,” which I define as ballots cast divided by eligible voters on a race-by-race basis. For example, in a closed Republican primary, I look at the bookclosing number of registered Republicans in the district. Just as I found in 2014 (see Reflections on Tuesday's Elections), voter participation is even more disappointing than voter turnout, because of under-voting.

Under-votes reflect the fact that not everyone who casts a ballot votes in every race on her/his ballot. Reasons might include not wanting to make an uneducated choice, not liking any of the choices, or simply “ballot fatigue” resulting from a lengthy ballot.

As in 2014, Republican turnout is better than that of Democrats, and participation of those who are neither is lower than both, bringing down countywide results. Participation in school board and judge races is among the lowest in the primaries. 

While I am dismayed by these results, it makes me more determined than ever to keep doing what I’m doing in Sparker's Soapbox. I just wish more voters were regular readers.

In the coming days, there will be more analyses of the results of these races, and predictions for November. I’ll share the particularly interesting ones in upcoming Month-in-Review posts.

Looking ahead to November
I wrote previously that, while I understood Vote By Mail voters’ reasons for wanting to mail their ballots as soon as they received them, I cautioned against it. I said there were often last minute developments that might affect how one might vote, and I urged waiting as long as possible.

These were some late-breaking developments that might have affected voters’ decisions in these primary elections:
  • School Board candidate Mary Ellen Cash was fired from Collier district in 2012; job performance, behavior cited. Naples Daily News, 7/25/18
  • State Attorney candidate Chris Crowley turns himself in, accused of violating campaign laws. Naples Daily News, 8/6/18
  • Palm Beach billionaire’s past legal fights haunt bid for governor. Politico Florida, 8/17/18
  • Florida judge orders Democrat Ryan Torrens, candidate for Attorney General, to be removed from ballot. Orlando Sentinel, 8/27/18
On November 6, we'll have the opportunity to vote for a U.S. Senator and Congressmen, Governor and Cabinet, State Senators and State Representatives, State Attorney, Public Defender, County Commissioner, members of Fire District Boards and other local bodies, and judges. We'll also vote on a number of proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution and a County sales surtax. 

Many of the races will be very expensive and in some cases nasty, and a lot of dirt is likely to be dished. As I did this time, I’ll likely hold off on mailing my ballot until the last minute.

Between now and then, I’ll research the races that will be on our ballot. I will again ask: Who are the candidates? What are their educational background, work experience, history of community service, and sources of campaign funds? Most importantly, why are they running, can they win, and what will they do if elected? I'll also research the proposed amendments and sales tax. And I’ll share what I learn on Sparker's Soapbox

Stay tuned -- and help spread the word.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

A few last words before voting

August 28, 2018
Primary Elections in Florida
I published my tentative voting decisions a few weeks ago, but have been monitoring the news daily. So far, I’m still comfortable with all but one of them: the Democrat I would vote for for Governor, which I’ll discuss below.

In this post, I’ll share links to the Naples Daily News’ endorsements, which I always consider before voting in local elections because (1) I respect the Editorial Board’s apparent open-mindedness in considering all the candidates; (2) they hold one-on-one interviews with each of the candidates; and (3) at least two members (Allen Bartlett and Brent Batten) have the historical knowledge and perspective needed to evaluate and place campaign trail claims and accusations in context. I am pleased that in these elections, there is not a single case in which their endorsements differ from my tentative choices.

Next, I’ll share some recent articles you might want to consider before casting your vote. Since I have not written about the local referenda (Marco Island Ambulance, North Naples Fire Fee, and Immokalee Fire Fee), I’ve included articles and pro/con commentaries about each.

Finally, I’ll share my current thinking about the Democratic gubernatorial race.

The Naples Daily News endorsements
  • For State Attorney: Amira Fox — “It should speak volumes to voters that [retiring incumbent Steve] Russell, a virtually unchallenged fixture as state attorney for 15 years, chose Fox in 2014 as chief assistant.“
  • For County Commissioner District 2: Andy Solis — “For heightening Collier’s efforts to locally address mental health-related issues that the state has shortchanged, Solis earns the nod over Brad Schiffer, a candidate who is laser-focused on growth-related and quality of life issues.”
  • For County Commissioner District 4: Penny Taylor — “Taylor has a superior grasp of issues and potential solutions facing both her district and Collier County as a whole, making her the clear choice for Republican voters in District 4.”
  • For Clerk of Courts: Crystal Kinzel —  "As chief deputy clerk since 2016 and the office’s finance director before that, no one is more qualified to step in now than Kinzel.”
  • For School Board District 3: Jen Mitchell — “Mitchell comes well-prepared to step into the role of a board member and is so well-versed in issues facing the district that it’s almost as if she is an incumbent facing re-election.”
  • The institutional knowledge Roy Terry brings to the Collier County School Board makes him an exceptional choice for re-election.... Terry has demonstrated a steady hand as board chairman the past two years and importantly can ensure there’s stability on the board after four years of recurring divisiveness.
  • On Marco Island Ambulance Referendum: Vote NO — “The unknown city manager and November election should give Marco voters pause. We … urge city leaders to then immediately resume negotiations with Collier officials to direct additional tax dollars toward an enhanced EMS presence on Marco Island.”
  • On North Collier Fire Fee Referendum: Vote NO — “We recommend rejecting the referendum based on its rushed timing, insufficient dialogue, regressive nature of the proposed fee and a failure so far to convince citizens that the agency has a financial fire to extinguish.”
  • On Immokalee Fire Fee Referendum: Vote NO — “Before enacting a new fee, today’s chiefs and elected Immokalee fire board must show they are better stewards of taxpayer dollars than was demonstrated through bad purchases in the past.”

Note: The Daily News does not endorse in judicial races because candidates can’t discuss issues, only their backgrounds. It also is not endorsing in this year’s party primaries but will evaluate the winners prior to the general election. Read about their endorsement process here.

News articles of interest
  • Governor race
    • An anomaly or a tide turning? Conventional wisdom shifting as primary election nears. New public opinion polls released this week showed Putnam just two points behind DeSantis, within the margin of error. Florida Phoenix, 8/16/18
    • An overview of Florida's GOP gubernatorial race between Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis. "Trump tweeted his support of an undistinguished Congressman ... and the Republican faithful salivated on cue." Naples Daily News, 8/17/18
    • Palm Beach billionaire’s past legal fights haunt bid for governor. Liked by some and loathed by others, Jeff Greene is invariably described as a headstrong micromanager, a self-assured self-made man who doesn’t hesitate to use the courts and his $3.3 billion net worth to get his way. Politico Florida, 8/17/18
  • Attorney General race
    • Look how negative the GOP race for Florida attorney general has become. In the increasingly bitter primary, Ashley Moody and Frank White have both put out new attack ads against each other – Moody using Florida sheriffs to question White's qualifications, and White continuing his attacks on Moody for having sued Donald Trump over a Tampa real estate deal. Tampa Bay Times, 8/8/18
    • Dems vow to ‘fight’ if elected attorney general. Shaw and Torrens have taken different approaches to the campaign, while sharing stances on issues ranging from opioid manufacturers to their opposition to the state’s “stand your ground” self-defense law. Gainesville Sun, 8/14/18
  • State Attorney race
    • Emails outline concerns about state attorney candidate Chris Crowley's past job performance. Crowley was fired in 2014 as an assistant state attorney for the 20th Judicial Circuit. Naples Daily News, 8/2/18
    • State Attorney candidate Chris Crowley turns himself in, accused of violating campaign laws. He faces third-degree felony charges. Naples Daily News, 8/6/18
  • BCC District 2 race
  • BCC District 4 race
  • Clerk of Courts race
    • Two GOP candidates square off to replace Dwight Brock as Collier clerk, comptroller. Naples Daily News, 8/5/18
  • School Board District 5 race
    • School Board candidate Mary Ellen Cash was fired from Collier district in 2012; job performance, behavior cited. Cash said she was not fired and had left the district in 2013. Naples Daily News, 7/25/18
  • Marco Island Ambulance referendum (website)
    • Commentary: One of the most consequential decisions in our city’s history. There are five reasons to vote “yes,” and five reasons to vote “no.” You decide. By Larry Honig, Marco Island City Council member, via Naples Daily News, 7/14/18
    • Editorial: The known and unknown questions on Marco referendum. Voters won’t know before election day if they will get a reduction in county property taxes if they agree to pay higher city taxes to launch their own ambulance service. Naples Daily News, 7/24/18
    • Commentary: Marco Island’s quest for ambulance transport. It is imperative that Marco Island residents understand the full concept of our quest to have our own license to transport patients. By Bob Brown, Marco Island Councilman, via Naples Daily News, 8/15/18
    • Commentary: Tober cites reasons Collier EMS serves Marco well. It doesn’t appear to be motivated by sound medical practices, and may be unsafe. By Robert B. Tober, M.D., Medical director, Collier County Emergency Medical Services, via Naples Daily News, 8/16/18
  • North Naples Fire Fee referendum (website)
    • Brent Batten: Retirees rise up against fire fee. The proposal would lower the property tax and in its place institute a fire assessment fee, resulting in a lower bill for some but a higher bill for others. Naples Daily News, 7/14/17
    • Commentary: Learning more about North Collier fire fee referendum. During the last 10 years, demand for services has increased by more than 62 percent. However, the district’s taxable revenue is nearly the same as it was in 2007. By Norman Feder, Vice Chairman, North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District Board of Commissioners, via Naples Daily News, 7/22/18
    • Commentary: Much more to learn about North Collier fire fee referendum. “Unfair, regressive, arbitrary and subjective” perfectly describes the proposed new “assessment.” Stephen Demidovich, Chairman, No Blank Check PAC, via Naples Daily News, 7/29/18
    • Commentary: Commitment to public safety behind fire fee proposal. If there isn’t additional funding through the non-ad valorem assessment fee, the level of fire and rescue services will be negatively impacted. By James M. Cunningham, Fire chief, North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District, via Naples Daily News, 8/17/18
  • Immokalee Fire Fee referendum (website)
    • Brent Batten: Immokalee fire fee faces foes in churches, businesses. Unlike the proposed change in the North Naples Fire fee, the Immokalee proposal would make no exemptions. Naples Daily News, 7/26/18
    • Brent Batten: Governments walk a fine line between advocacy and information. The Immokalee fire district’s website paints a bleak picture of the future if the addition of a fire service fee does not pass, including laying off firefighters and closing a station. Naples Daily News, 7/28/18

My thinking about the Democratic candidates for governor

I had tentatively decided to support Jeff Greene, writing that “I like his rags-to-riches story as well as his positions on the issues I care about. But it’s his personal wealth that gets him my vote. The Florida governor’s race is going to be one of the most expensive in the country, and as much as I wish it weren’t necessary, Greene is willing and able to spend what it takes to win, and to help other Democrats up and down the ticket.”

But a recent Politico Florida article — Palm Beach billionaire’s past legal fights haunt bid for governor) — has me questioning Greene’s character. If I were to change my mind, I would likely vote for Philip Levine. (See In Florida governor’s race, are Jeff Greene and Phil Levine one in the same?, Tampa Bay Times, 7/30/18.) But for now, the jury's still out.

* * * * * * *

If you have any questions about when, where or what to bring with you to vote, don’t hesitate to call the Collier Supervisor of Elections Office at 239-252-VOTE, or visit their website at Similarly, if you are a Vote-By-Mail voter, be sure to confirm that your ballot was/is received and counted by calling the Supervisor of Elections or checking the website.


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Sunday, August 5, 2018

Local News in Review - July 2018

Here’s my latest review of news about our local elected officials, governing bodies and upcoming elections.

Top stories

  • School Board candidate Mary Ellen Cash was fired from Collier district in 2012; job performance, behavior cited. Cash is running against Darlene Alvarez and board incumbent Roy Terry in District 5. Naples Daily News, 7/25/18
  • Editorial: Newspaper endorsements waning, Daily News continues. Our editorial board has decided to stick with tradition, but on a more limited basis than previously. Naples Daily News, 7/21/18
  • Commissioners vote to keep property tax rate unchanged as values rise 5.6 percent. The levy won't be officially set until the county holds two public hearings in September. Naples Daily News, 7/10/18

Growth and development

  • Editorial: Midyear report: How are we doing on managing growth? If “growth” makes your blood pressure rise, there’s still time to get involved and have your say. Naples Daily News, 7/3/18
  • Editorial: Midyear report: Catching up on infrastructure and community priorities. A Nov. 6 vote on a list of infrastructure and community projects that would be paid for with a one percent local sales tax is tentatively set. Naples Daily News, 7/11/18;
    • Related: Commentary: Why not use road impact fees, gas taxes instead of extra sales tax? By Thaddeus Cohen, Collier County Growth Management Department, via Naples Daily News, 6/30/18
  • Commentary: New roads, MPO and Rural Lands West. With Ave Maria only one-third built out, what's the hurry for a new town next door? By Bonnie Michaels, League of Women Voters, Collier County, via Naples Daily News, 7/3/18
  • Commentary: Are we planning for the right future in Collier County? Citizens over 65 are the largest voting bloc in the county, but their needs apparently aren’t being considered in proportion to their numbers. By Doug Hartman, Chairman, Collier senior advisory committee, via Naples Daily News, 7/16/18
  • Brent Batten: Don't make Bonita's flooding Collier's problem, commissioner warns. District 2 Commissioner Andy Solis wants the Board to oppose diversion of water from Bonita Springs “until a cooperative and coordinated review is completed with Collier County.” Naples Daily News, 7/7/18

Environmental protection

  • Editorial: Midyear report: Slow path on environmental protection. We’re encouraged by some movement, yet the lingering question is whether it’s fast enough. Naples Daily News, 7/4/18
  • Collier County land preservation program moving too slowly for some conservationists. The expiration of the tax to pay for Conservation Collier purchases has complicated new acquisitions. Naples Daily News, 7/10/18
    • Related: Editorial: Commissioners right to continue Conservation Collier acquisitions. Naples Daily News, 7/19/18


  • Editorial: Midyear report: How are we doing on attainable housing? The framework of a community housing plan is in place, but providing enough safe, decent places to live within a price range that’s affordable to the workforce and seniors in Collier County remains a work in progress. Naples Daily News, 7/7/18
  • Commentary: Shift affordable housing focus to economic diversity. County leaders should focus on housing, but focus it where the jobs are, where people can have shorter commutes and not clog up arterial roads. By Jacob Winge, Director, East Naples Civic Association, via Naples Daily News, 7/21/18
  • Editorial: Avoid East Naples for housing? The next time you hear someone say there already is too much housing for the workforce, families and seniors in East Naples, ask, “Do you mean the part of East Naples where you live?” Naples Daily News, 7/28/18

Fees and taxes

  • Commentary: Learning more about North Collier fire fee referendum. By Norman Feder, Vice chairman, North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District board of commissioners, via Naples Daily News, 7/22/18
  • Brent Batten: Retirees rise up against fire fee. North Collier Fire District proposal on the August ballot would result in a lower bill for some but a higher bill for others. Naples Daily News, 7/14/17
  • Brent Batten: Immokalee fire fee faces foes in churches, businesses. Unlike the proposed change in the North Naples Fire fee, the Immokalee proposal would make no exemptions. Naples Daily News, 7/26/18

Other County news

  • Collier County reinvests in business accelerators after disputes, changes. But some question whether taxpayers' money should be used to support them. Naples Daily News, 7/7/18
  • Innovation Zone OK'd by Collier Commission to spur economic development in East Naples. The county hopes to create higher-paying jobs outside its three primary industries: agriculture, hospitality and construction/real estate. Naples Daily News, 7/10/18
  • Collier on the brink of learning how much is here in the arts and what it can do. County commissioners offered matching funds up to $50,000 for a consultant to help it develop an arts and culture strategic plan. Naples Daily News, 7/7/18
  • Brent Batten: Collier hires firm to sell naming rights, starting with amateur sports complex. Commissioners approved a contract for $150,000 — an amount that could grow significantly over five years — to market naming rights for county facilities. Naples Daily News, 7/12/18
  • Editorial kudo to Commissioner Bill McDaniel. He urged the Commission to do away with its 60-day summer break, noting that important business takes place during that time and that commissioners represent a permanent population of 360,000 people. Naples Daily News, 7/13/18
  • Editorial kudo to Collier Board of County Commissioners. Their decision in early July to accept and distribute more than $3 million of federal grants will benefit projects by Habitat for Humanity, Youth Haven and the Shelter for Abused Women and Children. Naples Daily News, 7/27/18

City of Naples

  • City Council accuses Ethics Naples executive director of violating city's code of ethics. The allegations are the latest in a series of battles between the city and the Ethics Naples PAC. Judge Hayes is scheduled to hear the case Aug. 21. Naples Daily News, 7/25/18
    • Related : Editorial kick to Naples mayor and city attorney. Naples Daily News, 7/27/18

City of Marco Island

  • FDOT has schedule for repairing Jolley Bridge streetlights. State official credits Commissioner Donna Fiala’s advocacy for keeping the issue top-of-mind. Marco Eagle, 7/24/18
  • Editorial: The known and unknown questions on Marco referendum. Voters won’t know before election day if they will get a reduction in county property taxes if they agree to pay higher city taxes to launch their own ambulance service. Naples Daily News, 7/24/18
  • Commentary: One of the most consequential decisions in our city’s history. By Larry Honig, Marco Island City Council member, via Naples Daily News, 7/14/18
  • Commentary: Local control – the choice is yours. By Jared Grifoni, Chairman, Marco Island City Council, via Marco Eagle, 7/27/18

City of Everglades City

  • Former Everglades City Mayor Hamilton accused of grand theft, official misconduct. FDLE found Hamilton had used his position to steal almost $48,000 in taxpayers' money and authorized and issued 16 fraudulent checks under the guise of official business. Naples Daily News, 7/17/18

Collier County Public Schools

  • Conservatives back away from Collier School Board race, shift focus to state. Members of the far right said they have given up on the Collier County School Board and instead are focusing on implementing changes at the state level. Naples Daily News, 7/27/18
  • CCPS receives $3 million for workforce training. The Florida Job Growth Fund grant was awarded to develop the Southwest Florida Manufacturing Excellence Center at Immokalee Technical College. Naples Daily News, 7/5/18; Gov. Scott News Release, 7/2/18

Local elections

  • Record number of vote-by-mail ballots for primary sent to uniformed, overseas voters. A higher number were sent this year than in 2016, when the ballot included presidential candidates. Naples Daily News, 7/17/18
  • Collier commissioners, challengers discuss mental health, growth, sales tax at forum. The four candidates laid out their spending priorities, should they be elected or re-elected. Naples Daily News, 7/9/18
  • Safety, teacher retention and charter schools among topics of Collier school board forum. Candidates discussed their priorities and the issues currently facing the school district. Marco Eagle, 7/12/18
  • School Board candidates discuss bullying, reading scores, term limits at conservative group forum. Naples Daily News, 7/16/18

That’s it for July’s local news. Stay tuned in the coming days for how I will vote on my August ballot!