Monday, October 30, 2017

October 2017 Month in Review - State News


This month, with little fanfare or publicity, online voter registration became available in Florida. County elections supervisors lobbied for it for years, and the Florida legislature approved it two years ago, wrote the Tampa Bay Times.

To me, that’s the most important state news of the month, as it should make it easier for people to register to vote and keep their registration current. New registrations and changes to name, address and party affiliation can be made on the state site here, or through the Collier Supervisor of Elections at colliervotes.com.

Getting to work in Tallahassee

In October, committees began meeting and legislators began filing bills for the 2018 legislative session that begins in January.

Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, who represents Collier County, chairs the powerful Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Pre-K - 12 Education. She is also Vice Chair of the Senate Health Policy Committee.

In the House, Rep. Bob Rommel, who represents western Collier, is Vice Chair of the Oversight, Transparency & Administration SubcommitteeRep. Byron Donalds, who represents central Collier and Hendry County, is Vice Chair of the PreK–12 Appropriations Subcommittee. And Rep. Carlos Trujillo, who represents eastern Collier and parts of Broward and Miami-Dade counties, chairs the powerful Appropriations Committee and is Alternating Chair of the Joint Legislative Budget Commission 

To date, over 600 bills have been submitted in the House and Senate; the filing deadline is January 9. More than 3,000 bills were submitted last year.

Here are some stories about bills that interest me.


Getting to work in the 2017–18 Florida Constitution Revision Commission

Click here
Every 20 years in Florida, a Constitution Revision Commission is appointed. It meets for approximately one year, traveling across the state, identifying issues, performing research and possibly recommending changes to the Florida Constitution. It holds public hearings to learn about issues that matter to Floridians and considers proposed constitutional amendments submitted by the public and by commissioners.

Over 2,000 public proposals were submitted to the 2017–18 CRC by the deadline of October 6; list here.

Out of the 2,000-plus ideas, the commission agreed to “sponsor” (i.e. consider further) only six (list here) — an acceptance rate of .3 percent. The League of Women Voters of Florida and 10 other organizations protested this result in a letter to the CRC Chairman and Commission members:

(You) issued a stunning rejection of the thousands of Floridians who invested considerable time and effort to share their ideas and draft proposals for improving their constitution…. (T)his commission’s actions are brazenly dismissive of the concerns and suggestions of Floridians.  


October 31 is the deadline for commissioners to submit their own proposals. Over 40 were submitted through October 28; list here. Of note:


Also of note: CRC Commissioner Erika Donalds, a Collier County School Board member who is married to Rep. Byron Donalds, submitted five proposed amendments. They are:


Call to action: If there is a proposed amendment that you do not want to see moved forward to the 2018 ballot, let your voice be heard! The CRC will consider public input on proposals prior to their final vote. You can email Commissioners directly here.

Other top stories


An important exposé

Click here

In my next post, I’ll report on October’s top local government and school district news.

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Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can read Sparker’s Soapbox online at www.sparkers-soapbox.com or subscribe to posts by email at tinyurl.com/subscribe-to-soapbox.

News happens daily! Stay current with Sparker’s Soapbox on Facebook at fb.me/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Ill-prepared for Hurricane Irma?

Florida was ill-prepared for a major hurricane, audit warned,” is the title of a recent article in the Tampa Bay Times. It began:

Long before Florida entered the deadliest hurricane season in a decade, auditors at the state’s Division of Emergency Management sent out a warning: the state was ill-prepared for a major disaster.

A 23-page annual audit  completed in December 2016 by the agency’s inspector general detailed a lengthy list of deficiencies needed to prepare and respond to a hurricane. Among them:


  • Food and water supplies at the distribution center in Orlando were inadequate.
  • Contracts with companies that would supply cots to shelters had expired.
  • The agreements many trucking companies had signed with the state’s emergency management agency to distribute supplies had lapsed.
  • The agency was using “a spreadsheet created in the 1980s to help predict the amount of supplies and equipment that may be needed after a storm makes landfall,” as the state’s giant storage facility remained half empty.

What’s worse, auditors warned, the state’s emergency managers didn’t know what they didn’t know.

"Action is needed to determine the requirements of the state for supplies and equipment in the event of a disaster in order to ensure that adequate types and quantities of disaster supplies and equipment are available, inspectors said.

The report concluded: “The division’s ability to respond to disasters may be impaired.”

In doing research for this post, I discovered that the same day the article was published, the state Department of Emergency Management (DEM) issued a press release titled “Times/Herald Mischaracterizes Readers On State Hurricane Preparedness.” It said the audit was one of several “internal reviews” commissioned by the Department that year “to assess and improve our organization’s abilities,” and that in the months since, “the Division has made tremendous strides in advancing its capabilities with regards to leadership, personnel and processes, and will continue to improve our service to Floridians.”

Further, according to the release:

“At no point before, during or after Hurricane Irma’s impact were any unmet needs expressed by county emergency managers or county leaders in all of Florida’s 67 counties. In fact, resource needs were met in such a robust fashion that many counties were able to return large quantities of these items to both FEMA and the State of Florida – a testament to the effective response coordinated by the State Emergency Response Team.”

So -- was the state ill-prepared for Hurricane Irma as the article suggested, or did the Times/Herald mischaracterize the situation, as the DEM claimed?

The truth is undoubtedly somewhere in between. “No one can say if the shortages of supplies and the expired contracts hampered the ability of emergency managers to prepare Florida for Hurricane Irma or delayed its recovery,” said the article. “However, in the days leading up to the storm, there were anecdotal accounts of supply shortages and transportation lapses.”

The December 2016 audit report made four specific recommendations to DEM:

  1. Conduct an analysis to ascertain the requirements of the state for supplies and equipment of all kinds needed during a disaster;
  2. Develop standards for the types and quantities of supplies and equipment the Division will have available in the event of a disaster;
  3. Identify and implement the most efficient and effective method for ensuring the availability of supplies and equipment needed during a disaster; and
  4. Renew, replace, or modify contracts to ensure that the Division’s current logistics plan can be executed in the event of a disaster. These contracts should be reevaluated after the Division conducts an analysis to ascertain the requirements of the state for supplies and equipment of all kinds needed during a disaster.

DEM said it concurred with the report and outlined how it planned to address each of the findings. It said it estimated completion of the analysis called for by December 31, 2017, and that it would address the other findings by March 31, 2018.

If it does, Florida should be much better prepared for the next hurricanes that challenge our state.

Take a few minutes to email Gov.Scott and let him know you’ll be watching.

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Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can read Sparker’s Soapbox online at www.sparkers-soapbox.com or subscribe to posts by email at tinyurl.com/subscribe-to-soapbox.

News happens daily! Stay current with Sparker’s Soapbox on Facebook at fb.me/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Know your representatives

Recently I learned how to access in one place information I used to struggle through multiple web searches to find: the names, district numbers and contact information of my elected officials across all levels of government.

It's available through the Collier Supervisor of Elections website, but it's not very easy to find. Here's how:

Go to www.colliervotes.com/sample-ballots and enter your last name, your birth date and your house number:

www.colliervotes.com/sample-ballots

After you click “Submit,” a web page like the one below will open. The light-blue box at the top contains your voter registration and sample ballot information. While you're there, make sure everything is correct, or click where indicated to make changes.

In the middle of the box, click “Office Holders.”

your voter registration and sample ballot information

A web page like the one below will open. It will list the elected officials whose districts contain your street address:

the office holders that represent you

If you click an office holder's name, you will be taken to her/his website.

Take a few minutes and check this out! It's a great way to find out or confirm who represents you.

Every person listed is your representative. Know who they are so you can hold them accountable. Let your voice be heard.

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Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can read Sparker’s Soapbox online at www.sparkers-soapbox.com or subscribe to posts by email at tinyurl.com/subscribe-to-soapbox.

News happens daily! Stay current with Sparker’s Soapbox on Facebook at fb.me/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.


Monday, October 2, 2017

September 2017 Month in Review - Local News

As at the state level, Hurricane Irma dominated September’s news related to our county and municipal governments and school district, and there is much to report. But I'd like to begin with this quote from Friday’s Naples Daily News editorial:
There will be a time to constructively dissect the Irma preparation and post-storm response. Now is too soon. Monday morning quarterbacks will best serve our community if they wait on the sidelines for more fact-finding.

In this post, I share the news as reported, and without comment. As you read this post, please consider each story from the perspective of the elected officials responsible. If you were they, would you have done anything differently? What facts would you be seeking in order to decide what to do next?

If ever there was an opportunity to see and evaluate your government in action, it was during Hurricane Irma. If you have comments, questions or suggestions about any of last month’s events, I encourage you to share them with your elected officials.

As a reminder, these are the local governing bodies that were/are responsible for providing services to our community:

Collier County Emergency Services Center
8075 Lely Cultural Parkway, Naples 
The Board of County Commissioners — Their appointed County Manager and his organization (CMO) are responsible for the day-to-day operations of county government. As relates to Hurricane Irma, the Bureau of Emergency Services Division and the Public Utilities Department are part of the CMO. (Organization chart )

The Collier County Sheriff - The Sheriff and his staff are responsible, on a day-to-day basis, for “preserving and protecting the lives, property and constitutional guarantees of all persons.”

The  City of Naples City Council, City of Marco Island City Council and City of Everglades City City Council and their respective City managers and staffs are responsible for providing services and protecting their municipalities. (Ironically, Everglades City’s mayor of 22 years resigned over problems with the City’s sewer plant just days before Hurricane Irma wreaked its havoc.)

The Collier County Public School Board — The School Board’s appointed superintendent and her staff provided hurricane-protected shelters for community members who evacuated their homes due to the predicted storm surge.

The stories, editorials, and commentaries noted below link to the Naples Daily News unless otherwise noted.

Top stories: Hurricane Irma


 Top editorials and commentaries - Hurricane Irma


Top stories: Collier County


Top stories and commentaries: City of Naples


Top stories: Collier County Public Schools


Looking ahead: ways to help

As mentioned above, there is still great human need in areas within our own community, and there are many ways to help. I close this post with just a few:

  • Volunteer your time to help victims of Hurricane Irma in Collier County via VollunteerCollier.com/irma.
  • Purchase needed items from the United Way of Collier County’s Amazon Wish List for Hurricane Irma Victims. The items you order will be shipped to the United Way, which will get them delivered to areas that need them the most.
  • Make a tax-deductible donation to the Collier Comes Together Disaster Relief Fund, established to provide assistance to Hurricane Irma victims and their families. You can designate a geographic area (e.g. Marco Island, Immokalee, Golden Gate), purpose (e.g. food, housing) or nonprofit to benefit.

Thank you for wanting to be an informed voter and for making a difference in our community.

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Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can read Sparker’s Soapbox online at www.sparkers-soapbox.com or subscribe to posts by email at tinyurl.com/subscribe-to-soapbox.

News happens daily! Stay current with Sparker’s Soapbox on Facebook at fb.me/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.