This post is about my choice for Collier County Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller (“Clerk”) in this month’s election. In my next “Get Ready to Vote” post, I’ll share my recommendations for the three County Commission races on the ballot.
All Collier voters, regardless of party affiliation or residence, can vote in this election, because only Republicans qualified to run, making what would otherwise have been a closed election open.
I wrote extensively about the two candidates for Clerk – incumbent Dwight Brock and challenger Georgia Hiller – in “Get ready to vote for the Constitutional Officers” in June. I reviewed their bios, some of the interesting history between them, and money raised to-date. I explained that I had endorsed Brock over challenger John Barlow in his re-election bid in 2012 because I believed he had served the County well as watchdog over taxpayer funds. I said I thought he was a man of principle who takes quite seriously his responsibility to uphold the law, and that his combination of professional training and on-the-job experience far exceeds that of his opponent. While I still felt that way four years later, I wasn’t quite ready in June to make my decision.
Since then, I’ve given it a lot of thought. I attended the League of Women Voters Candidate Forum on June 29 (watch replay here), followed developments in local media, reviewed campaign contributions and endorsements, and spoke with people I respect who know one or both candidates well. I also reviewed the most recent Clerk Budget to get a more complete sense of what the job entails, how the $20.5 million budget is spent, and how many employees are involved (185, in six Departments: General Services, Clerk to the Board, Clerk of the Circuit Court, Recording and Management Information Systems).
It has been a very tough decision.
Nothing particularly concerning turned up in my review of the candidates’ contributions, but I was once again dismayed at what it costs to run for local office. Hiller has outraised Brock but I doubt that that will be the deciding factor as both have considerable name recognition. Hiller received about the same number of contributions but in larger amounts and with more for the maximum $1000. None of Hiller’s contributors identified as PACs; two of Brock’s $1000 donors did: Prosperity Florida, whose mission is “to foster and promote accountable, efficient and limited government throughout Florida, while promoting reform through market solutions,” and The Committee for Justice, about which I can find no meaningful information. Brock loaned $6000 more to his campaign than Hiller loaned to hers.
Endorsers and Critics
It’s not surprising that both candidates have their strong supporters and their harsh detractors, given their out-sized personalities, the publicly-contentious relationship between them and the differences between the Clerk and some Commissioners over the years about the role of the Clerk and, more recently, approval of vendor invoices.
Hiller’s website cites endorsements critical of Brock from former County Commissioners Jim Coletta and Fred Coyle and current Commissioner Tim Nance. Other endorsements are from former Naples Councilman Gary Price, the Greater Naples Better Government Committee and the Libertarian Party of Collier County.
Brock’s website cites endorsements from current Commissioner Tom Henning, Naples Vice Mayor Linda Penniman, former State Representative Tom Grady, Collier County Tourist Development Council Chairman Murray Hendel, prominent Naples attorney Laird A. Lile and the Collier County Republican Executive Committee.
Both candidates are CPAs, MBAs and attorneys with appropriate education for the job. Brock has built and strategically directed the organization over time and, having been elected to six successive four-year terms, it seems the public and his constituents in the judicial system believe he has managed it well.
The single glaring exception is his disputes with the BCC which are, in my opinion, substantive. I’ve been disappointed by the failure of both sides to resolve these matters professionally, courteously and without litigation. Each side and its supporters blames the other and, quite honestly, it’s an embarrassment to our community.
I agree with those who say that after 23 years, it’s time for a change. It is the responsibility of every organization’s leader to identify and train a successor, and I fault Brock for not having done so, as other Collier Constitutional Officers have done (e.g. former Sheriff Don Hunter and former Tax Collector Guy Carlson) or are doing (e.g. Supervisor of Elections Jennifer Edwards).
That said, I don’t think replacing Brock with Hiller is the answer. It takes a certain amount of management experience to lead an organization of the size (employees and budget) and complexity of the Collier Clerk’s Office. While Hiller is clearly very smart and has relevant legal and financial knowledge, she has not had the organizational management and leadership experience I believe is necessary to successfully fill the role.
I am willing to give Brock one more term, with the hope that he will actively work to identify and train a successor. I hope he will put the past behind him and make a concerted effort to work with the County Manager and new Board to resolve all outstanding differences quickly, professionally and without drama, and to bring all outstanding litigation with the County Commission to an end.
And I would very much like to see Hiller run for the State Legislature in 2018. I believe she has much to offer and, with her knowledge of local issues, could represent Collier County very well at the state level.
So after much research and deliberation, I will vote for Dwight Brock for Clerk.
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