December was a busy month for Collier County government. The Board of County Commissioners had what a Naples Daily News editorial called “one of its most notable decision-making days of 2017,” taking a number of important actions. The Sheriff met with a group of community activists about his immigration policy, there were some significant developments in Collier’s three city councils, and there was news about Collier schools and school board members as well.
Top stories – County government
- Collier cuts permit fees in half for repairs after wildfires, Irma. The rebate will help cut costs for an estimated 2,000 families rebuilding after Irma and for those who lost their homes in the April wildfires that burned thousands of acres east of Naples. Naples Daily News
- One-cent sales tax could be headed to Collier ballots in 2018. It was framed by Commissioner Andy Solis as a way for the county to diversify its revenue streams and be less dependent on property based taxes. Naples Herald
- Related: Commission considering 3 categories for spending sales tax increase. The spending will not include Conservation Collier; conservation groups want a separate referendum on a property tax increase to fund the program on the 2020 ballot. Naples Daily News
- County advances plan to buy land, build sports park for visiting teams. Manhattan Construction, owned by U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney of Naples, ranked No. 1 to become the construction manager of the $60 million project. Naples Daily News
- Related: County to sign $12M deal for sports complex land. Commissioners unanimously raised the county’s bed tax this summer to pay for the complex. Naples Daily News
- Related: Collier tourist tax collections jump 11+ percent in October thanks to penny hike. They would have fallen by more than 6.5 percent post-Irma if not for the increase that took effect Sept. 1. Naples Daily News
- Developer proposals requested. Collier County will try to sell two pieces of land to affordable housing developers as commissioners continue to take baby steps to increase the stock of rentals in the Naples area. Naples Daily News
- Related Editorial: Collier commissioners have some explaining to do. How do we reconcile their reluctance to consider project density of 30+ units/acre for workforce housing with their willingness to do so for two projects being proposed by developers for East Naples? Naples Daily News
- Editorial kudo: County Commission to consider building a veterans nursing home with local sales tax proceeds. We applaud Commissioner Burt Saunders for raising the issue. Naples Daily News
- Arthrex says high housing costs limiting expansion in SWFL. During a presentation to the County Commission, SVP John Schmieding said Arthrex is looking to add at least 1,000 jobs in the next eight years, but is having trouble hiring qualified workers. Naples Herald
- Related Editorial: Coming together to address need for workforce training. The chamber, school district, county government and employers like Arthrex are vested partners in developing a workforce training center. Naples Daily News
- Collier County taps FDOT money to start redesign of Goodland Drive. The $500,000 grant is the first concrete step toward rebuilding a road that has needed rebuilding for more than a decade. Naples Daily News
- Free trolley to North Naples beaches starts. The free shuttle service, which aims to cut down traffic backups and ease pressure on beach parking lots, will operate four days a week through April 30. Naples Daily News
- Barefoot Beach parking fee changes lead to complaints in Bonita. While the discussions about carving an exception for Bonita Springs residents are in the early stages, Collier County Commissioner Burt Saunders said he is receptive to the idea. Naples Daily News
- More than $90 million in Irma-related FEMA aid approved for Southwest Florida. For Collier County, 72,252 registrations, $32,978,338 approved for basic needs and to supplement disaster recovery efforts. Naples Daily News
Top stories: the Collier Sheriff’s Office
- Collier immigration enforcement is biased, say community meeting speakers. A decade-old agreement allowing deputies to help the federal government fight illegal immigration should be rescinded because it does the exact opposite of what it’s intended to do, speakers said. Naples Daily News
Top stories: City of Naples
- Lawsuit again targets Naples development, alleging council violated Naples charter in permitting the owner’s request for a new building that exceeds the city’s 42-foot height limit for commercial buildings. Naples Daily News
- Naples fire station is $3 million over budget, prompting a recommendation that the City Council borrow money for the project. It awarded a nearly $8.6 million contract to the lowest bidder, Manhattan Construction. Naples Daily News
- Naples Pier beer, wine sales in daytime approved 4-3 by City Council. Council first must hold two hearings to revise the related ordinance. The change is likely to take effect in January. Naples Daily News
- Naples Bay project to improve water quality on track for 2018 start. Naples Natural Resources Manager Stephanie Molloy said fixing Naples Bay will require a multi-pronged approach with small and large projects. Naples Daily News
- Naples gains with investments, but $44 million in pension liability still unfunded. Trustees are expected to discuss pensions with the City council at a meeting after the February municipal election. Naples Daily News
Top stories – City of Marco Island
- Marco council votes 7-0 to apply for a COPCN. City on its way to controlling its own emergency medical services. Marco Eagle
- Related Editorial: Is there middle ground for Marco ambulance issue? If a second EMS ambulance and crew were to be stationed 24-7, year-round on the island and the city covered the expenses, why is that not a viable middle ground? Naples Daily News
- Commentary: A successful year for Marco Island City Council. By Jared Grifoni, Chairman, Marco Island City Council, in Naples Daily News
Top stories – City of Everglades City
- DEP stays lawsuit vs. Everglades City, with company hired to run sewage plant. Collier County has agreed to help the city administratively to run the plant and seek grant money to pay for repairs and eventually a complete reconstruction of the plant. Naples Daily News
Top stories – Collier County Public Schools
- There will be class on MLK Day to make up Irma time. Students who wish to attend the MLK parade will be permitted to do so by submitting a formal dismissal request, and no quizzes or tests will be held on that day. Naples Daily News
- Editorial: We applaud the School Board for unanimously agreeing to hire a firm to conduct an independent risk assessment. The hired company will look at programs or practices that board members think should get a closer review or specific audit. Naples Daily News
- Collier School Board member Erika Donalds forms Florida charter school operator. Joining her in forming Alpha Classical Academy Inc., a nonprofit corporation, are Shawn R. Frost, president of the Florida Coalition of School Board Members and member of the Indian River County School Board, and Martin County resident Lynda Daniel, who “wrote legislators about her objections to a textbook that presented evolution as fact.” Florida Division of Corporations; Sun Sentinel; Florida Citizens Alliance
- Collier School Board member Kelly Lichter forms charter school consulting and management company. Joining her in forming Classical Charter Management Group, a Florida Limited Liability Company, are David Hull, principal, and Gena Smith, curriculum coordinator, of Mason Classical Academy Charter School. Florida Division of Corporations
Naples Daily News year-end editorial series
Finally, Naples Daily News editorial writer Allen Bartlett gave us a great overview of the year just ending and the challenges ahead in a seven-part editorial series. Bartlett’s editorials are an important supplement to the paper’s coverage, frequently reporting news not provided by the paper elsewhere. I encourage you to read each piece; the titles and brief recaps don’t come close to telling the full stories.
- Editorial: A year of advancements, setbacks for environment. Southwest Florida was experiencing significant growth as of a year ago, creating reason for leaders to focus in 2017 on safeguarding our environment.
- Editorial: Ways to give during a hurricane-challenged holiday season. Collier is a giving community, one we’re confident will help nonprofits meet the challenges created by hurricane recovery.
- Editorial: 2017 setbacks to year-round economy. As the new year began, there was optimism that 2017 would bring an opportunity to advance our economy toward one that could be sustainable year-round.
- Editorial: Not feeling better about health care. As we count down the final days of December, there aren’t many reasons to feel better about our health care system than we did a year ago.
- Editorial: Interruptions for schools in 2017. Public education was poised to move forward in Southwest Florida entering 2017, with Collier and Lee hoping to continue building world-class systems.
- Editorial: Return to civility with an exception. A return to civility was one of seven community priorities we identified a year ago. We urged elected leaders to move the agenda forward respectfully.
- Editorial: Fire, storms were our safety threats. It was a taxing year for first responders who deserve our gratitude. This year, however, public safety threats came via floods, Irma and wildfire.
- Editorial: Keep focus on making area livable. We wanted to see the area become more livable for a greater percentage of those residing here. Our concern was supported by 2017 rankings and studies.
Some final thoughts
Have you noticed the significant reductions in original coverage of state and local government and education stories by the Naples Daily News over the past several years? I believe the most recent reductions are due to a pruning of staff since the paper became part of the USA Today Network in 2016.
As we enter 2018, I fear the loss of the meager local coverage we still have, and what that would mean for our ability to be informed citizen-voters.
Our direct participation in the governing process — attending open meetings and Town Halls or watching them on-demand, participating in local civic associations, attending League of Women Voters meetings and candidate forums — is now more important than ever.
So I end my last post of the year with a request: today and every day, find out what’s happening in our community’s civic life. Let the people you’ve elected — to the county commission, city councils, school board, fire/EMS and mosquito control commissions, the tax collector, property appraiser, supervisor of elections, sheriff, Clerk of Courts — hear your concerns. Are they focusing on the right things? Showing a proper sense of urgency? Spending your money wisely?
This is OUR community. We have the responsibility to shape what it is, what it does, how it operates. We must participate and hold our elected representatives accountable. We can no longer count on the sunshine of the free press to do it for us.
Correction: In my December 2017 Month in Review of state news, I referred to “A shocking discovery by Naples Sen. Kathleen Passidomo” and included a link to an NBC-2 post titled “Resigned state senator kept list ranking female colleagues’ looks.” Subsequently, a reader made me aware of a series of tweets by POLITICO Florida reporter Marc Captuo that showed that the NBC-2 story and Passidomo’s part in it were untrue. I have removed reference to that story from the post in the Sparker’s Soapbox blog archive, and apologize for having unwittingly shared “fake news.”