On August 14, we’ll be hiring Collier County’s Chief Financial Officer, known in Florida as the Clerk of the Circuit Court, the Clerk of Courts, or simply the Clerk. All registered Collier voters can vote in this important election, regardless of party affiliation. The winner will be our Clerk of Courts for the next four years.
The title understates the breadth of this position’s responsibility. As might be expected, the Clerk maintains the Court’s records and collects and disburses Court-imposed fines, fees and assessments. But in addition, the Clerk collects and distributes statutory assessments imposed by the County, is guardian of public records, public funds, and public property, and is the accountant for the Board of County Commissioners. He is also the County’s Auditor, Recorder, and Custodian. It’s a big job.
While each of these functions is important, I believe – as a former certified public accountant (CPA) and corporate finance executive – the importance of the accounting and auditing functions cannot be overstated.
Dwight Brock (R) has been Clerk of Courts for Collier County since 1992. He is a CPA and a licensed attorney in the state of Florida. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Florida State University, a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) from Stetson University, and a juris doctor degree (JD) from Nova Law Center. He has been a criminal prosecutor. Under his leadership, the Collier Clerk’s department has won numerous awards in financial reporting and budgeting.
Brock may be best known for his six-year battle with the Collier County Commission over the Clerk’s right to audit county bank accounts (specifically those of the Ochopee Fire District and Isles of Capri fire department), which was decided in his favor by the Florida Supreme Court last year. (If you’re not familiar with this incredible story, click here.)
Brock is being challenged this year in his bid for re-election for the first time since 1996. His challenger is John Barlow (R), a retired businessman. Barlow holds a business management degree from Florida Southern College and had a career in the retail auto parts industry that culminated as President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Safelite Glass Corporation (1991-2003). At Safelite, according to his website, Barlow was responsible for turning around a company “damaged by poor productivity and below average customer satisfaction.”
After retiring in 2003, Barlow started H.O.M.E. – Housing Opportunities Made for Everyone – “a Naples-based non-profit established to help lower income families realize the dream of home ownership.” H.O.M.E. purchased, restored and resold foreclosed homes, in part with federal (HUD Community Development Block Grants) and state (State Housing Initiative Partnership – SHIP) funding obtained via pass-through agreements with the Collier County Commission. In November 2010, H.O.M.E. ceased operations.
Barlow served on the Collier County Affordable Housing Committee (2007-2008) and the county Productivity Committee (2005-2009).
Barlow says, “I’m running for Clerk of Circuit Courts to infuse Collier County government with private sector principles. During my 40 years in the private sector I’ve balanced budgets, increased productivity, and provided superior customer service. That’s exactly what I’ll do as Clerk. Together, we will turnaround the Clerk’s office to become professional, open, and honest with Collier County taxpayers.”
Brock says, “As a CPA and attorney, I am uniquely qualified and proven as the “Watchdog” of public funds. My opponent is NOT! My opponent described, in his own words, his ability to account for H.O.M.E. funds by saying, “I’m not good at this stuff. I’ve never been a CFO before.”
Brock’s reference is to an audit conducted by the Clerk’s Internal Audit Department last year of a county program that provided over half a million dollars to H.O.M.E. You can read the audit report here, and about broader issues uncovered by the Clerk’s audit of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, administered by the County’s Housing, Human, & Veterans Affairs office, here.
To me, the choice is clear. Dwight Brock has served Collier County well as “watchdog” over expenditures of taxpayer funds. He is a man of principle who takes quite seriously his responsibility to uphold the law. His combination of professional training and on-the-job experience far exceeds that of his opponent.
I’m voting for Dwight Brock for Clerk of the Circuit Court.