Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Get ready to vote for Board of County Commissioners

Growth management, economic development, low-income and workforce housing, and protecting the environment are the issues I’m focused on in this year’s Board of County Commissioners (BCC) elections. 
Some - but not all - Collier County voters will have the opportunity to vote in the BCC primary in August. In this post, I’ll show you how to find out if this election will be on YOUR ballot and tell you something about the candidates you will have to choose from in August.
Will this election be on your ballot?
Unlike the School Board, whose members are elected at-large by all voters in the county, County Commissioners are elected only by those who live in their commission District. 
Also unlike the School Board, whose elections are nonpartisan, County Commission candidates run as members of a political party. And since Florida is a closed primary state, only registered members of a party may vote in that party’s primary election. 
Which Collier County Commission seats are up for election this year?
Commissioners serve four-year staggered terms with no term limits. In presidential election years, Districts 1, 3 and 5, currently held by Republicans Donna Fiala, Tom Henning and Tim Nance, respectively, are up for election. To find out which District you live in, click here
With no Democrat running in District 1 and just one running in each of Districts 3 and 5, there will be no Democratic Party County Commission primaries in August. As I’ve suggested in the past, if you are not a Republican, you might consider changing your party affiliation so you can participate in electing the Republican to run against the Democrat in November. To review or update your voter registration information, including party affiliation, click here.
In addition, the District 2 seat currently held by Republican Georgia Hiller may be on the ballot, since she has filed to run in the August primary for Clerk of Courts against incumbent Dwight Brock. Since Florida is a “resign to run” state, Hiller will have to resign her Commission seat by June 10, although the resignation doesn’t have to take effect immediately. Potential candidates would have until June 24 to file and qualify to run. 
If you live in Districts 1, 2, 3 or 5, read on to learn about the Republican candidates in your District’s primary.
District 1
Donna Fiala
As of now, only incumbent Republican Donna Fiala has filed to run. If no one challenges her before the June 24 deadline, her name will not appear on the ballot and she will automatically be considered elected at the November General Election.
Fiala has served on the County Commission since 2000. She is a fierce defender of her East Naples District, most recently supporting the controversial Gateway Triangle development and opposing locating any more low income housing in the District. 
Fiala has raised $24,330 through April 30, including nine contributions (two from out-of-county) of the maximum $1,000 (37%), $850 from out-of-state, and a personal loan of $50. I am unable to find a campaign website or current Facebook page.
District 2

If incumbent Georgia Hiller resigns from the BCC by June 10, this seat will be on the August ballot. Since the seat is not otherwise up for election this year, no one has filed to run for it. However, James D. Carter has filed to run in 2018, and raised $2,500. (Hiller has raised $67,950 through April 30 for her Clerk race, which I’l be writing about in a future post.) 
If you live in District 2, pay attention to what happens in the coming weeks. Carter can easily switch his filing to the 2016 election, in which case he would be unopposed unless another candidate gets in before June 24. If a Republican but no Democrat files and the race will be decided in the primary, all District 2 voters, regardless of party affiliation, would have the opportunity to vote.
District 3

With incumbent Tom Henning not seeking reelection, five people have filed to run for the District 3 seat.
Registered Republicans who live in the District have the opportunity to choose in the August primary among Ron Kezeske, Burt Saunders and Russell W. Tuff. The winner of the election will face Democrat Annisa Karim and No Party Affiliation (NPA) Atom Joseph McCree in November. 
Ron Kezeske
Ron Kezeske
Kezeske is CEO of Hawkey Capital, a small, private investment management firm formed in 2014 that targets start-up and growing businesses in Florida and Texas. Previously, he was Executive Manager of Refined Energy, LLC, a private equity firm that “invests in and develops oil and gas projects … currently focused on drilling shallow oil and gas wells in-and-around southern New York.” He founded his first investment-based company, National RE/Group, Inc., in 2011 while attending and completing law school.
Kezeske has a BS in political science and government from the University of Wisconsin and a JD from Ave Maria School of Law. He is a member of the Collier County Republican Executive Committee, the Naples Men’s Republican Club and the GAIN (Growing Associates In Naples) Class of 2015; Vice President of Community Outreach of the Naples Jaycees; and a Lifetime Member of the National Riflemen (sic) Association. He previously sat on the county’s public safety authority and code enforcement board, and is involved with the Naples Jaycees and Naples North Rotary.
His political views are “Conservative” and his interests are “local government” and “liberty,” according to his campaign Facebook page. He is for “responsive representation, reputable growth and resourceful community services,” according to his campaign website at ronkezeske.com. His LinkedIn page is here
Kezeske has raised $8,870 through April 30, virtually all through personal loans ($7,000) and in-kind contributions ($1,652).
Burt Saunders
Burt Saunders
Saunders, a partner at Gray Robinson Attorneys in Naples since 2004, is currently a lobbyist for Collier County. He previously served as an Assistant Dade County Attorney, Collier County Attorney, Collier County commissioner (8 years), Florida state representative (4 years), and Florida state senator (8 years).
He has a BA in physics from the University of South Florida, a JD from the William & Mary Law School, and a Masters in International and Environmental Law from the University of Miami School of Law.
His focus issues are roads (fix and invest for the future); community (protect and preserve Collier’s natural environment to drive tourism and attract economic opportunities); health and safety (proper funding and training for the Sheriff’s deputies; a strong partnership between the County and local health care systems); and taxes (keep taxes low; cut unnecessary government regulations).
Saunders has raised $38,900 through April 30, including $15,000 (39%) in personal loans and 16 contributions of the maximum $1,000 (41%). Funds from out-of-county total 17% of the funds raised, including five contributions of $1,000.
His campaign website is at burtsaundersforcollier.com, his Facebook Page is here and his LinkedIn page is here.
Russell Tuff
Russell W. Tuff
Tuff is Managing Partner at Social-Impact, a PR firm he launched in 2011 specializing in Internet marketing. He also runs Tuff News Media Consultants and is a staff musician at Trinity-by-the-Cove Church. Before going out on his own, Tuff had a career in publishing, including almost six years as Executive Editor of EW Scripps.
Tuff is president of the Golden Gate Civic Association. Previous community involvement includes Collier County Planning Commissioner, Director - Naples Area Chamber of Commerce, Member - Golden Gate Master Plan Committee, Member - Collier County Republican Executive Committee, President - Golden Gate Chamber of Commerce, Founding President - Golden Gate Visitor Center, Charter Member - Naples Area Tourism Board, Charter Member - Collier County Tourism Alliance, Member - Collier County Economic Advisory Council, and more. 
He says, “The improving economy offers us a second chance to learn from past mistakes, maintain and expand infrastructure, live within our means and hold government fiscally responsible” and that he is running to ensure the county plans “appropriately” for the the future and addresses infrastructure needs. 
He has a BA with a double major in history/political science and business administration and a minor in religion from University of Jamestown, and a Education for Ministry (EfM) certificate from the University of the South School of Theology.
Tuff has raised $16,365 through April 30, including a $1,000 personal loan, two $1,000 contributions and $600 from incumbent Tom Henning. All but $130 comes from within the county.
Tuff’s campaign website is at VoteTuff.com, his personal web page is here, his LinkedIn profile is here and his Facebook Page is here
District 5

As in District 3, with incumbent Tim Nance not seeking reelection, five people have filed to run for the District 5 seat.
Registered Republicans who live in the District have the opportunity to choose in the August primary among Randolph Cash, William “Bill” McDaniel and Douglas L. Rankin. The winner of the election will appear on the ballot along with Democrat Tamara A. Paquette in November. Independent Marvin D. Courtright is running as a write-in candidate.
Randolph Cash
Randolph Cash
Cash is president and owner of Flamingo Air Management, Inc., an aviation operations consulting business. After receiving a degree in politics and public affairs from the University of Miami School of Business, he joined the army and served in Northern Iraq, Korea, Turkey, Germany, and Somalia. He retired as a Major after 22 years of active service in 1999. 
His civic involvement includes Commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States Golden Gate Post 7721, Collier County Republican Executive Committee, Collier County Veterans Council, Golden Gate Estates Area Civic Association and the Immokalee Chamber of Commerce. 
Cash’s platform issues are to preserve our quality of life and protect the environment through managed growth, bring hospital services and create economic development opportunities to eastern Collier County, advocate for affordable housing, and ensure quality fire and EMS throughout the County. He has specifically mentioned the need for a stop light in Immokalee, work on a number of bridges in the Estates and help with the failing sewage treatment facility in Everglades City.
Cash has raised $10,150 through April 30, including a personal loan for $5,000, contributions from businesses sharing his personal address totaling $2,000, and $1,150 from out-of-state. 
His campaign website is cash4District5.com, his Facebook Page is here and his LinkedIn Page is here.
Bill McDaniel
William “Bill” McDaniel
McDaniel is the owner of Big Island Excavating, Inc., in Naples and Lazy Springs Recreation Park in Hendry County. In 2012, he ran unsuccessfully – though with the Naples Daily News endorsement – for the District 3 seat then held by Tom Henning. He served as chairman of the county’s East of 951 Horizon Study Committee which looked at growth issues in Golden Gate Estates from 2006 to 2008, and on the Rural Land Stewardship Committee which made recommendations about changes to the county’s RLSA growth plan in eastern Collier County from 2007 to 2009. In 2013, he was appointed by Governor Rick Scott to the Board of the Collier County Housing Authority (CCHA) and currently serves as its chairman. The CCHA owns and operates Farm Workers Village in Immokalee. Its director was fired in 2015 for misusing federal funds. 
Two companies McDaniel owns are at least two years late paying property taxes and owe a total of more than $140,000 to Collier and Hendry counties, according to the Naples Daily News last month. 
His campaign priorities are tax and spending cuts, streamlining the county permitting process, and term limits for county commissioners.
McDaniel has raised $22,210 through April 30, of which 21% was from out-of-county. There were 13 contributions of the maximum $1,000 (59%), of which seven share the Naples address of his Big Island Excavating and Lazy Springs businesses, and two share an address in Punta Gorda.
His website is at votebillmcdaniel.com, his Facebook Page is here and his LinkedIn Page is here
Douglas Rankin
Douglas L. Rankin
Rankin is an attorney practicing in real estate, wills, trusts and estates, and corporate and business law at his own firm in Naples. He began his career as an accountant with his family firm in Bradenton. He has a BA from the University of South Florida College of Business Administration and a JD from the University of Florida. 
A self-described “true Conservative Republican,” Rankin is a member of the Collier County Republican Executive Committee and, as its State Committeeman, is one of 37 board members of the Republican Party of Florida. He is also a segment host and sponsor, along with the Florida Citizens Alliance, of the Joe Whitehead talk radio show.
Rankin’s District 5 community involvement includes helping to stop expansion of the Quarry next to the populated Estates, which he says would have driven Estates and District property values down, and helping to stop a “home for mentally disturbed youth” being put in the Estates. He told the Immokalee Bulletin that he played a “small part” in helping get the Immokalee business incubator grant, along with Rep. Matt Hudson.
He has served on the Golden Gate Master Plan Committee, the East of 951 Study Committee, the Collier County Foreclosure Task Force, and the Collier County Productivity Committee. He has been on the board of Habitat for Humanity of Collier County since 1997.
Rankin’s campaign website is at dougrankinDistrict5.com, his Facebook Pages are here and here, his LinkedIn Page is here, and his law firm’s website is here.
Rankin has raised $6,825 through April 30, of which 44% is from himself and 32% is from out-of-county (including two $1,000 contributions).
* * * * * *
Based on the research I’ve done to-date, I have preferences in both the District 3 and 5 races, however I’m not yet ready to make a final decision. There will be additional candidate forums in the coming months, as well as Naples Daily News Editorial Board interviews, all of which will be important sources of information.
I did find reviewing the campaign finance reports to be quite interesting, as several candidates received early support from people I know. I’ll be monitoring these filings as they come in over the coming weeks and months as well. 
I’ll let you know what I decide. 

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Monday, May 23, 2016

Get ready to vote for Collier County School Board

In School Board elections less than a year away, I encouraged readers to start monitoring the candidates for School Board. It was clear that this would be an important election, with the future direction of Collier County public schools at stake. I knew that we would need many more, and more informed, voters this time around than the paltry 18 percent of registered voters that voted in 2014. 
As early as last August, two then-members of the Collier County Republican Executive Committee filed to run for the seats held by incumbents Kathleen Curatolo (District 2) and Julie Sprague (District 4) in what is supposed to be a nonpartisan election, and started raising money. They were John Brunner and Lee Dixon, respectively. Click here for what I had to say about the two back then.
The state of the race today
Curatolo and Sprague are not seeking reelection, leaving both races wide open. In addition to Brunner in District 2, Louise Penta and Stephanie Lucarelli have filed to run. In addition to Dixon in District 4, Erick Carter has filed to run. 
Based on their websites, statements at candidate forums (April 14, May 6, and May 18), letters to the editor and Facebook posts, it is clear that Brunner, Penta and Dixon align with the current School Board minority, and that Lucarelli and Carter align with the current Board majority. 
In this post, I’ll share some of the research I’ve done about each of the candidates, and tell you who I’ll be voting for and why.
District 2
John Brunner
John Brunner
Brunner, a Navy veteran, has 20 years of teaching experience in public, private, charter and home schools. His two children attend a local private school. He has a BS in education from Western Kentucky University and a Masters of Education from FGCU.
An online bio identified Brunner as “the leader and visionary of The Christian Classical Academy of Naples,” a school that closed due to “financial hardships” in 2014. At the candidate forum on May 18, which I attended, he said, “As a society, we have to get over the idea that public money going to private and religious schools is OK for pre-K but not when they get older.”
After his Christian Classical Academy closed, Brunner taught at Mason Classical Academy, the charter school founded by minority Board members Kelly Lichter and Erika Donalds, but is no longer listed on staff there. His LinkedIn profile shows no current employment. 
Brunner shares the minority Board members' distrust of the Superintendent and opposition to recent majority Board decisions. At the April 14 SWFL Citizens Alliance candidate forum, Brunner, along with Dixon and Penta, said he supports a separate attorney to represent the Board, an anonymous whistle-blower program, and rejecting all federal funding to avoid what they refer to as Common-Core-mandated testing.
He proposes a new "Office of the Inspector General" within the District to “field concerns of parents, conduct audits, review programs, maintain effective systems of control, provide impartial feedback, oversee the improvement of operations and identify fraud, waste, abuse and illegal acts.” 
Brunner opposes CCPS’ participation in the Blue Zones Project. In a letter to the editor, he wrote, “Do we want the government telling people what to eat and how to live? … The district is a government organization. As important as nutrition is for learning, I take issue with any government organization dictating lifestyles to its citizenry.”
Brunner’s campaign website is www.johnmbrunner.com, and his Facebook pages are here and here. He has raised $18,620 through April 30, including 13 contributions of the maximum $1000 (70%) and $2,500 (13%) from out-of-county. He has made no personal loans to his campaign.
Stephanie Lucarelli
Stephanie Lucarelli
Lucarelli, a former middle-school science teacher, has four children currently attending three different Collier County public schools, including one who is gifted and one with special needs. She has a BS in Natural Resource Management and a teaching certificate from Rutgers University.
Lucarelli has a strong personal interest in ensuring that Collier County Public Schools provide a quality education for children of all abilities and all ages. Her volunteer activities demonstrate that commitment. During the past 12 years, she has served on the CCPS Head Start Policy Council, the Naples Park Elementary Parent Teacher Organization, the CCPS Accreditation Team Parent Committee and as Vice President of the Naples Park Parent Teacher Organization. 
As a former teacher active in her children’s classrooms, she is well-aware of the challenges teachers face. She says, “Our teachers need to be trusted to make the best decisions regarding their students, as well as given more autonomy over their classrooms.” 
Lucarelli supports the District’s participation in the Blue Zones Project, and sees no need to hire an internal auditor. She clearly understands that the Florida Standards are not Common Core, and that to reduce the amount of testing in our schools, we need to lobby the state legislature to change the law. At the May 18 candidate forum, she said “That’s money we’ve already collected here in Collier County. [Rejecting it] would make us the laughing stock of the whole country.”
Lucarelli’s campaign website is www.votelucarelli.com, her Facebook pages are here and here. She has raised $14,200 through April 30, including two contributions of the maximum $1000 (14%) and $505 (4%) from out-of-county, and a personal loan of $6,000.
Louise Penta
Louise Penta
Penta, a retired operating-room nurse, serves on the board of The Immokalee Foundation and was recently named Mentor of the Year by the State of Florida. She has an RN degree from Newton Junior College.
The District believes that “access to the tools and resources of a world-wide network and understanding when and how these tools are appropriately and effectively used are imperative in each student’s education.” But Penta disagrees. At the SWFL Citizens Alliance Marco Island forum, she said, “these devices don’t belong in schools,” and that teachers spend too much time monitoring what students are doing on their devices to make sure it aligns with the given directions.“ She said the District should go back to ”classical education,“ where children learn ”to write properly, read good literature, and develop math skills that will set them up for life."
At the most recent candidate forum (which I attended), she said Florida’s Voluntary Pre-K Program should be mandatory, “especially with our diverse population,” but offered no suggestions for how to pay for it.
When asked at the May 18 forum if she would vote to “fire or retain Superintendent Patton,” Penta said, “She’s done a lot of good things, but I would want a more comprehensive evaluation of her so we could make a good decision about what has to be done.” At the April 14 Citizens Alliance Forum, she was more ominously vague, saying, “I have my own personal opinions not to share here tonight. But when a policy comes up to the School Board, decisions have already been made by the Superintendent and her Cabinet behind closed doors. That needs to change. Control needs to go back to the School Board, and get it out of the Superintendent’s hands!” – said very emphatically, and to applause. 
Penta, along with District 4 candidate Dixon, was endorsed by the Collier County Republic Executive Committee. These are the CCREC’s first endorsements in School Board elections in at least a decade, according to the Naples Daily News – a clear indication of partisanship in what are supposed to be a nonpartisan elections. (For important context about this issue, see “Local GOP decides not to censure School Board chairwoman.”) According to the CCREC endorsement, “She supports internal auditing and legal representation of the board.” 
Penta’s campaign website is www.louisepenta.com, her Facebook pages are here and here. She has raised $38,850 through April 30, including 18 contributions of the maximum $1000 (46%), $1,400 from out-of-county (4%), a personal loan of $15,000 (39%), and $100 from Nick and Kelly Lichter.
District 4
Erick Carter
Erick Carter
Carter, a graduate of CCPS’ Lorenzo Walker Technical College (LWTC) Cosmetology Program, has been co-owner of Salon Zenergy in Naples for the past 18 years. Further during that time, he has served as a LWTC guest instructor and student intern host, and as a national training course instructor for Conair, Rusk Products and Martin Parsons Inc. His one child attends a CCPS middle school. 
As a parent, local business owner/entrepreneur and graduate of a CCPS adult learning program, Carter has a strong personal commitment to career and technical education. 
Carter, like Lucarelli, opposes the proposal to reject federal funding in order to opt out of testing requirements. On his Facebook page he wrote, “Rejecting the federal funding eliminates $59 million from our budget, which will have to be raised locally for essential programs like Exceptional Student Education, English as a Second Language and lunch subsidies for low income students. You’ve already paid for this funding through your federal taxes. If we reject the funding, you will be forced to pay for it a second time.”
In response to a question at the most recent candidate forum, he expressed strong support of Superintendent Patton, citing these accomplishments under her leadership: reduced the budget (by $54 million over the past five years); increased the District’s graduation rate (from 72.5% in 2011 to 84.3% most recently), and started an entrepreneurship program (in 2013; most recently enhanced with INCubatoredu). 
Carter supports the Blue Zones initiative. On his Facebook page, he wrote he is “glad that our students are learning to make healthier choices,” and pointed out another benefit as well: potentially saving the District “millions of dollars in health care costs,” which could then make more resources available for our children’s education.
Carter has been endorsed by Dr. Michael Reagen, and Brenda and Pat O’Connor
Carter’s campaign website is www.erickcarter.com, his Facebook pages are here and here, and he has raised $9,500 through April 30, including one contribution of the maximum $1000 (11%), $365 from out-of-county, and personal loans of $3,500.
Lee Dixon
Lee Dixon
Dixon is a member of the Collier County Republican Executive Committee and serves on the North Naples Middle School Advisory Committee. He began his career as a golf course superintendent in 1992, and is currently the golf course Grounds Manager at Miromar Lakes. He has three children, including one with special needs. He said his experience with his autistic son and the education system
 in the county and state prompted his run for School Board.
Dixon has many connections to critics of the School Board majority. He is (or was) vice president of Parents ROCK, the group formed by Board member Erika Donalds. Donalds “liked” his May 9 “Meet the Candidate” Facebook post and invitation to his May 19 fundraiser). Following announcement of Dixon’s candidacy, Nick Lichter, spouse of Board member Kelly Lichter, posted, “Looking forward to watching my friend Lee Dixon campaign for Collier School Board,” and subsequently contributed to his campaign. Kelly Lichter and Doug Lewis, author of the 2014 “Contract with Collier County,” were members of the Host Committee for Dixon’s Campaign Kick-Off Party. 
Last year, during public comments before a School Board meeting about of the selection of Kathleen Curatolo as Board Chairman, Dixon called her “completely unqualified for the position.” He’s against CCPS’ participation in the Blue Zones project, telling ABC7 that ”the idea that an outside entity wants to come in and dictate to parents what they can and cannot put in their kids lunch box is very troubling."
Dixon has been endorsed by the Collier GOP Executive Committee, the Alliance for Religious Freedom and former Collier County School Board member Steve Donovan.
Dixon’s campaign website is www.leedixon2016.com, and his Facebook pages are here and here. He has raised $15,156 through April 30, including three contributions of the maximum $1,000 (20%), $255 from Nick Lichter, and $1,615 (11%) from out-of-county. He made no personal loans to his campaign. 
How I’ll vote … and why
There is no doubt that the outcome of this election will determine the future direction of our Collier County public schools. 
I want a School Board that supports the 2017 - 19 Strategic Plan recently approved by the Board majority with a 3–2 vote. I want a School Board that wants to prepare Collier’s students for success in the highly digital and STEM-oriented 21st century. I do not support changing the current curriculum or way of teaching to one more aligned with the “classical education” of the past. 
I trust our qualified teachers and administrators to choose age-appropriate, factually-accurate instructional materials, and cannot imagine handing that responsibility over to any untrained layperson, parent or not, as supported by the Board minority. 
I have confidence in the current Administration’s stewardship of the District’s financial resources and see no need to hire additional staff to do more. As presented at the August 2015 School Board meeting, the District undergoes three major external audits: Financial, Internal Funds and the state’s Florida Education Finance Program, and conducts 135 internal, self-assessment and monitoring audits of various kinds, many required by State or Federal departments and agencies. The current audit function is extensive, no doubt costly and time-consuming, and there is absolutely no evidence of a problem that would justify hiring an internal auditor. 
I oppose rejecting federal funding with the hope of being able to then disregard federal laws and directives. I can’t imagine how we would replace the current Title I funding for our low-income schools, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act funding for our ESE programs, Title I funding for our migrant students, Head Start funding for our Pre-K and early-learning students, Title II funding for teacher training, and more. Further, I don’t know that rejecting the funding would be legal, and I would not support suing the government to find out.
In the August School Board elections, I will vote for Stephanie Lucarelli in District 2 and Erick Carter in District 4.
* * * * * * * * * *
Asked about the success of his wife’s August 2014 election campaign, Nick Lichter said:
Understanding the benefits of early voting was a big learning point for us. A lot of people who don’t have children don’t participate in the school board election. But early voting targeting was effective in winning their vote.
Lichter was right. If you share my concern about the future of our Collier County public schools, please share this post and urge your friends to vote in August for Lucarelli and Carter.

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