Tuesday, July 31, 2018

How I will LIKELY vote in the August elections

August 28, 2018
Primary Elections in Florida
I heard from so many Sparker's Soapbox readers anxious to complete their ballot that I reconsidered my earlier decision. Rather than wait until mid-August to share how I will vote, in this post, I’ll share my CURRENT THINKING .

But I won’t complete my Vote-By-Mail ballot until much closer to Election Day. New information may come to light, and I want to be able to change my decisions if necessary. I urge others to wait, too.

So here it is — subject to change. Be sure to click on the “background here” links and read my previous posts about the candidates for each of the offices. 

U.S. Senate (background here)

Republican Primary: Rick Scott — Scott’s opponent, Rocky de la Fuente, is simply not to be taken seriously as a candidate. Rick Scott will face Democrat Bill Nelson in November.

    U.S. Congress District 19 (background here)

    Democrat Primary: David Holden — Holden shares my values, priorities, and positions on issues. I admire his intelligence, his drive, his passion for civic engagement, and his willingness to serve, and I know he would be a great Congressman. Importantly, he has the better chance to beat the incumbent in November. As a result, he has my support and I have contributed to his campaign.

    Florida Governor (background here)

    Republican Primary: Adam Putnam — I respect Putnam’s long public service to Floridians, first in the State Legislature, then in Congress, and then as Commissioner of Agriculture. Ron DeSantis’s alignment with President Trump means he’s the candidate least aligned with my values.

    Democratic Primary: Jeff Greene — A late-comer to the race, Greene (jeffgreeneforflorida.com) was not a candidate when I did my initial research. I like his rags-to-riches story as well as his positions on the issues I care about. But it’s his personal wealth that gets him my vote. The Florida governor’s race is going to be one of the most expensive in the country, and as much as I wish it weren’t necessary, Greene is willing and able to spend what it takes to win, and to help other Democrats up and down the ticket.

    The winners will face off in November.

    Florida Attorney General

    Republican Primary: Ashley Moody — I like Moody’s background as a judge, and the fact that she founded both an Attorney Ad Litem program and a mentoring program for at-risk children within the juvenile delinquency system. Her long list of endorsements, including those of Collier Sheriff Kevin Rambosk and State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, shows she is well-respected statewide. I’m uncomfortable with some of her opponent’s TV ads.

    Democratic Primary: Sean Shaw — I like Shaw’s background as a state representative and former state insurance consumer advocate, as well as his issue priorities. His endorsements, including those of former Gov. Bob Graham and former Attorney General Bob Butterworth, show he is well-respected statewide.

    The winners will face off in November.

    Florida Commissioner of Agriculture

    Republican Primary: Denise Grimsley — The Commissioner of Agriculture oversees a department with a budget of $1.8 billion, five times that of the other Cabinet offices. As such, I want it led by someone with not only an understanding of Florida’s agriculture industry, but also substantive business experience. In my view, Grimsley’s background as a registered nurse, citrus grower, hospital administrator, and chief operating officer of her family’s business likely provide her the best insight and relevant experience for the job.

    Democratic Primary: Jeffrey Duane Porter — In my opinion, none of the three Democratic candidates have backgrounds sufficient for the job. Of them, Porter is the only one with executive experience, having served as mayor of the city of Homestead, FL (population about 70,000).

    The winners will face off in November.

      State Attorney, 20th Circuit (background here)

      Republican Primary: Amira Fox — Having spent a successful career in the State Attorney’s office and with the endorsement of retiring State Attorney Steve Russell, Fox is the better qualified candidate for the job. Her endorsements by Russell’s predecessor Joe d’Alessandro, the President of the Florida Prosecuting Attorney's Association, the sheriffs of the five counties of the 20th Circuit and Collier County Commissioner Burt Saunders are also persuasive.

      Even though a write-in candidate closed this race so that only registered Republicans can participate in it, the winner will effectively be decided in August.

        The local races

        Let me begin by saying how impressed I am by each of the individuals running for the following offices. While I may not agree with some of their priorities, or think they have the necessary background or experience for the job, without exception they appear be sincerely motivated to make a difference in our community. I thank each of them for their willingness to serve.

        With that, here’s how I would likely vote:

        Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller

        Universal Primary: Crystal Kinzel — I’ve known Kinzel since before 2007, but that year we worked together as members of a League of Women Voters of Collier County study of charter government. She is smart, hard-working, ethical and dedicated to public service. Her years as Finance Director for the Collier Sheriff (1989 - 2005) and for the Clerk of Courts (2005 -2016), and the fact that she was selected by her long-time boss Dwight Brock to be his Deputy Clerk, more than qualify her for the job. In fact, I’d say she’s earned it.

        With just two candidates running, this race will be decided in August.

        Collier County Commissioner
        District 2 (background here)

        Universal Primary: Andy Solis — I’ve known Solis since 2014, when we supported the same candidate for School Board; later, I supported him over two opponents in his first run for County Commission in 2016. I feel today, as I did then, that his broad-based and diverse community engagement makes him my preferred candidate for this position. In addition, I am impressed with Solis’s leadership of and advocacy for development of a county-wide strategic plan to address mental health and addiction. (More here and here.)

        With just two candidates running, this race will be decided in August.

        Collier County Commissioner
        District 4 (background here)

        Republican Primary: Penny Taylor — I commend and support Taylor’s efforts to persuade fellow Commissioners to deal with the County’s workforce-housing shortages and the prospect of sea level rise. I especially like that she initiated annual Mock Commission Meetings for middle school civics class students, introducing them to county government. She deserves another term to continue her work.

        The winner will face Democrat Gary Petit-Dor in November.

          Circuit Judge, 20th Circuit (background here)

          Open Primary: John Owen McGowan — Not only does McGowan have the appropriate legal experience for the job, his additional service for the past ten years representing indigent clients will likely broaden the perspective with which he approaches his role as a judge. In addition, I admire the fact that in addition to his legal duties, McGowan served for twelve years as an elected North Naples Fire Commissioner and was part of the team that worked toward fire district consolidation, a concept I have supported since 2010.

          With just two candidates running, this race will be decided in August.

            County Judge, Group 2 (background here)

            Open Primary: Dominick Russo — A Naples High graduate, Russo has spent his legal career in Collier County representing the types of clients and handling the types of cases likely to come before him as a judge. Before law school, he taught public school in South Los Angeles, and he speaks Spanish. The more I learned about Russo’s background, the more convinced I became that he is the best candidate for this particular job.

            Unless one of the five candidates gets 50 percent of the votes plus one, the top two vote-getters will face off in November.

              School Board District 3 (background here)

              Open Primary: Jen Mitchell — I’ve been actively working with Mitchell as a member of her campaign team since 2017, and I contributed to her campaign. She is smart, committed to public education, a strong supporter of CCPS, has great insight having been an active parent-volunteer in her children’s classrooms for more than 15 years, and her energy knows no bounds. She’s also a realtor, which gives her another perspective on the importance of good public schools. Knowing her as I do, I am confident that she’s the best candidate for the job.

              With just two candidates running, this race will be decided in August.

                School Board District 5 (background here)

                Open Primary: Roy TerryI’ve been a supporter of Roy Terry since well before his election to the School Board in 2014, and I contributed to his campaign. I endorsed him in 2014 for the same reasons I endorse him today: he has devoted his career to public education, and continues to do so in retirement , having served on the School Board since first being appointed by the Governor in 2010. He has been an excellent Board member, always listening and participating respectfully in Board discussions, and soliciting input from community members before making important decisions. His community involvement has been consistent and shows a commitment to helping others. I especially appreciate Terry’s willingness to endure another campaign in order to provide what he sees as much-needed continuity and stability for the Board for another four years.

                Unless one of the three candidates gets 50 percent of the votes plus one, the top two vote-getters will face off in November.

                Saturday, July 28, 2018

                Who's Running for County and Circuit Judge in the August 2018 Primaries?

                August 28, 2018
                Primary Elections in Florida
                Published 7/28/18; updated 7/30/18 - 8:45 AM and 7/31/18 - 8:35 PM

                Here's my post about the two judicial elections of Collier County voters' ballots. These races are the ones I'm most frequently asked about, since judicial races are nonpartisan and candidates can't discuss issues that may come before them as a judge.

                This is my final post about what's on Collier voters' ballots. Now it's time to watch what happens as the campaigns heat up. Like many readers, I received my Vote By Mail ballot this week, but I'm not yet ready to fill it in. If there are any last minute surprises, I want to be able to take them into consideration. Closer to Election Day -- in time for those who are out-of-town to mail in their ballots -- I'll share how I plan to vote.

                * * * * * * * * 

                In August, all Collier voters will have the opportunity to vote in two judicial elections: one for county judge and one for circuit judge. The terms of office are six-years, and there are no term limits. The elections are nonpartisan: candidates appear on the ballot without reference to any political party. A county judge salary is currently $151,822, and a circuit judge salary is currently $160,688 (see here).

                From the Florida Bar’s Guide for Florida Voters

                "Both county and circuit judges are trial judges. County judges hear criminal misdemeanors (crimes that have possible sentences of less than one year in jail) and civil cases in which the amount in dispute is $15,000 or less. Circuit judges deal with criminal felonies, domestic relations, juvenile matters, probate issues and civil cases in which the disputed amount is greater than $15,000....

                "What makes someone a “good” judge? Judges must be impartial, fair and understand the law. All judges may deal with cases that are either civil or criminal in nature. Knowledge in one particular area is not more important than the other. Judges should be selected based on their legal abilities, temperament and commitment to follow the law and decide cases consistent with a judge’s duty to uphold the law regardless of his or her personal view."

                The candidates - County Judge

                There are five candidates for county judge: Blake Adams, Sal Bazaz, James Moon, Michael Nieman and Dominick Russo. Moon, Nieman and Russo completed the Florida Bar’s “Judicial Candidate Voluntary Self-Disclosure Statement;” Adams and Bazaz did not. Links are included below.

                Blake Adams
                Blake Adams (blakeadamsforjudge.com) is Collier County Deputy Chief of the Law Offices of Kathleen A. Smith, Public Defender 20th Judicial Circuit. He was admitted to the Florida Bar in 2010; Bar profile here. He has a BA from William Jewell College, and an MBA and JD from the University of Tulsa. Prior to earning the latter two degrees, Adams spent ten years in the financial services industry (retail banking, investments and mortgages), and owned and managed rental properties.

                His volunteer activities have included Habitat for Humanity of Collier County; volunteer judge for Collier County Teen Court; courthouse panelist for Youth Leadership Collier; and volunteer for Ave Maria School of Law mock trials. He currently serves on the Criminal Justice Academic Advisory Board of Lely High School.

                Adams says he should be Collier’s next county judge because he is a “dedicated and experienced public servant” with “Personal Integrity. Community Commitment. Genuine Experience.”

                His website lists endorsements by State Attorney Steve Russell, Naples Mayor Bill Barnett and Public Defender Kathy Smith, among others.

                Sal Bazaz
                Sal Bazaz (salbazazforcountyjudge.com) is an attorney (Law Office of Sal Bazaz) specializing in criminal defense and family law in Collier and Lee counties. He was admitted to the Florida Bar in 2003; Bar profile here. He has a BS from St. John’s University (summa cum laude) and a JD from St. John’s University School of Law.

                His volunteer activities have included Knights of Columbus; Collier County Bar Association High School Mock Trial Competition; Collier County Homeschool Community Mock Trials; Teen Court; Legal Aid Service of Collier County; and Friends of Foster Children.

                Bazaz says his experience as both a prosector (Assistant District Attorney in Richmond County, NY; Assistant State Attorney in Lee and Collier Counties) and now, as a defense attorney, set him apart from the other candidates. In addition, he says is one of only ten attorneys in Collier County appointed by the Court to represent parents in Dependency Court.

                His website lists no endorsements.

                James Moon
                James Moon (moonforjudge.com) practices law in the areas of civil, business, and commercial litigation as a partner in the Fort Myers and New York offices of Quintairos Prieto, Wood & Boyer, P.A., “the largest minority and women owned law firm in the country.” He was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1999; Bar profile here, Disclosure Statement here. According to his professional bio, he has a BS from Eastern Michigan University, an MA (with honors) from Saginaw Valley State University, and a JD from Thomas M. Cooley Law School. He also has a ML (cum laude) in international taxation and financial services from Saint Thomas University School of Law and a Graduate Certificate in Anti-Money Laundering, and is a Supreme Court certified mediator.

                His community activities have included: City of Naples Code Board; Collier County Tax Abatement Board; Junior Achievement volunteer lecturer; Volunteer Judge Ave Maria Law School and Collier County High School Moot Court Programs; FGCU and Big Brothers/Big Sisters mentor; Humane Society; Drug Free Collier; NAMI. He served in the U.S. Army National Guard as an infantryman during the first Gulf War.

                His website lists endorsements by Naples City Council members Linda Penniman and Terry Hutchison, and more.

                Michael Nieman
                Michael D. Nieman (mikenieman.com) is Collier County’s Ethics and Compliance Counsel, reporting to the County Manager. He was admitted to the Florida Bar in 2009; Bar profile here, Disclosure Statement here. He has a BA from The American University and a JD from New York Law School. Prior to joining the County Manager’s Office in 2015, his legal career included time as a prosecutor, criminal defense attorney; and family law practitioner.

                His community activities have included: Human Trafficking Taskforce; Collier County Domestic Violence Taskforce; Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team; volunteer judge for Ave Maria Law School Moot Court Competitions and mentor through the Young Lawyer’s Division of the Florida Bar.

                Nieman says “As a former prosecutor and criminal defense attorney,” he “has the necessary experience in each of these areas to serve successfully,” as well as a “demonstrated commitment to public service, ethics and the rule of law.”

                Nieman lists endorsements from Naples Vice Mayor Gary Price and former State Senator Garrett Richter, among others.

                Dominick Russo
                Dominick Russo (russo4countyjudge.com) is a criminal defense attorney in Naples (Dominick Russo, P.A.). He was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1998; Bar profile here, Disclosure Statement here. A graduate of Naples High School, he attended Middlebury College, then taught public school in South Los Angeles for five years before attending Loyola Law School (Los Angeles) and returning to Naples.

                He has spent his legal career representing people in Collier County, first as an attorney with the Office of the Public Defender, and since 2001, in private practice. He is fluent in Spanish.

                According to his Facebook page, he is the only candidate for Collier County Judge who earned his way on the ballot by getting petitions signed by 2,008 registered voters from Collier County. The others paid a $5,520.80 qualifying fee.

                His volunteer activities have included service as a judge with Collier County's Teen Court diversion program and in the Collier County Bar Association's High School Mock Trial competition; he also volunteers with the Naples Cat Alliance, a a no-kill, free-roaming cat shelter.

                Rosso says he would be a good county judge because his legal experience has focused in the types of cases a county judge would hear (misdemeanor criminal cases, landlord-tenant cases, small claims, and motions to seal or expunge misdemeanor criminal cases), and because he has 16+ years running his own small business.

                His website lists no endorsements.

                The money

                The Money - County Judge Candidates

                In addition to noting the differences among the candidates, I found these findings interesting in my review of individual contributions on the Collier Supervisor of Elections website:

                • James Moon received $1,000 from Sheri Hutchison, spouse of Naples City Councilman Terry Hutchison, and $100 from Naples City Councilwoman Linda Penniman.
                • Michael Nieman received over 95 percent of his contributions from attorneys/lawyers.
                • Dominick Russo received $685 in-kind in website advertising from Larry’s Lunchbox.

                The candidates - Circuit Judge

                There are two candidates for circuit judge: James Wesley Chandler and John Owen McGowan. Both completed the Florida Bar’s “Judicial Candidate Voluntary Self-Disclosure Statement.

                James W. Chandler
                James Wesley Chandler (no campaign website or Facebook Page) is an attorney specializing in criminal, juvenile and family law (Law Office of James W. Chandler, P.A.). He was admitted to the Florida Bar in 2004; BAR profile here, Disclosure Statement here. He has a BS from West Virginia University and a JD from University of Denver, College of Law. Before beginning his own law practice, he spent two years as attorney/partner with Agoston & Chandler, P.A. , two years as associate attorney with Law Offices of David T. Agoston, P.A., and three years as an Assistant State Attorney.

                Asked why he believes he would be a good judge, Chandler wrote, “I am not running to fulfill a dream, etc. I am running because I was asked to run because I would make a good judge, honest and fair.” (sic)

                His volunteer activities have included Ave Maria Board of Visitors Mentor Program; Collier County Teen Court; Collier County High School Mock Trial Competition; Ave Maria School of Law Moot Court Competition; and president of a local Condo Association.

                I could find no endorsements.

                John O. McGowan

                John Owen McGowan (mcgowan4judge.com) is an attorney in private practice specializing in Criminal and Civil litigation (John O. McGowan & Associates, P.A., via McGowan & Clarke). In addition, he has worked with the State of Florida's Office of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel, Second District for the past 10 years, providing criminal legal representation to indigent clients throughout Southwest Florida. He was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1993; Bar profile here, Disclosure Statement here. He has a BA (with honors) from Eckerd College and a JD from Western Michigan Cooley Law School (cum laude).

                McGowan served (2006 - 2018) as an elected North Naples Fire Commissioner and as District Liaison between the North Naples and the City of Naples Fire Departments. He says he is “committed to providing excellence in service at the most efficient cost to the taxpayers,” and supports consolidation of fire districts throughout the County.

                His volunteer activities have included Muscular Dystrophy Association; Drug Free Collier; Cancer Alliance of Naples; Safe and Healthy Children’s Coalition; Stepwise Collier; Angela’s Angels.

                According to a postcard from his campaign and/or his Facebook Page, McGowan has been endorsed by State Attorney Stephen Russell, Naples Mayor Bill Barnett, Naples City Councilmen Reg Buxton and Terry Hutchison, and Public Defender for the 20th Judicial Circuit Kathleen A. Smith; see members of his Election Campaign for more.

                The money

                The Money - Circuit Judge Candidates

                • James Wesley Chandler received 85 percent of his monetary contributions from attorneys, including 25 contributions of $1,000 each. In addition, among his first contributions are seven $1,000 checks from contributors associated with FTE Networks, Inc., a publicly-traded “global network infrastructure solutions provider” headquartered in Naples, FL, with offices throughout the U.S. and Europe.
                • John Owen McGowan received 71 percent of his monetary contributions from attorneys, including 13 contributions of $1,000 each; 7 percent is from firefighters and related. Of note is $1,000 from the Seminole Tribe of Florida, $500 from Collier County EMS Medical Director Robert Tober, and $250 from Naples City Councilman Terry Hutchison.

                Things to consider

                These are some things I will be considering in deciding how I will vote in these two judicial races:

                • Does the candidate have a website and/or a campaign Facebook Page to introduce himself to voters? Does it clearly disclose his education and work history, community service and volunteer activities, and endorsements by well-respected community members?
                • Has the candidate made a convincing case for why he wants to be a judge, and why he would be a good judge and/or is the best candidate?
                • Did the candidate complete the Florida Bar's Voluntary Disclosure Statement?
                • What impression can I draw from a review of the candidate's sources and uses of campaign funds and the candidate amount he loaned to his own campaign?
                • What does all the above tell me about the candidate's personal values and beliefs, and which candidate do I think would make the “best” judge given the nature of the cases that will come before him?

                In closing

                This the final post in my GET READY TO VOTE series for the races and candidates that will be on Collier voters' August Primary ballot. You can review the posts you missed (see Archive) as you consider your own ballots choices. Be sure to follow my Sparker's Soapbox Facebook Page for day-to-day election news updates. My next election-related post(s) will reveal how I've decided to vote -- probably just before early voting starts on August 18, which should allow out-of-town voters time to get their Vote By Mail ballots in on time.

                My next posts will be my regular Month in Review of State and Local News, coming next week.


                Correction: I originally published on 7/28/18 that James Moon received $5,500 from Naples City Councilman Terry Hutchison’s Campaign Fund and $2,250 from Sheri and Terry Hutchison. Both amounts were in error, and resulted from my confusion about filings by the Moon campaign and its refund of amounts it initially received. The net result of the seven reported transactions is that Moon received one contribution of $1,000 from Sheri Hutchison and no contributions from Terry Hutchison or his Campaign Fund. I corrected the post online on 7/30/18, and thank Mr. Moon for bringing the error to my attention.

                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/subscribe2soapbox.

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

                Tuesday, July 24, 2018

                Who’s Running for State Attorney in the August 2018 Primaries?

                August 28, 2018
                Primary Elections in Florida
                Florida is divided into 20 Judicial Circuits, each of which has an elected State Attorney. Collier County is in the 20th Circuit, which is the largest circuit, geographically, in the state. It also includes Charlotte, Glades, Hendry, and Lee counties.

                Incumbent Stephen Russell is retiring after 16 years in office, and there will be a Republican primary in August.

                What does the State Attorney do?

                The State Attorney serves as the prosecutor, representing “the people” in criminal courts throughout the circuit. The 20th Circuit State Attorney’s Office “seeks to deter crime and to ensure Southwest Florida is a safe place for our citizens and visitors” by holding people accountable for their criminal acts.

                The backstory

                Two Republicans filed to run for State Attorney: Chris Crowley and Amira Fox. With only two Republicans running, the primary would have been open to all voters regardless of party affiliation.

                But thanks to the “write-in loophole,” only registered Republicans can vote in the primary. The only choice more than 435,000 registered Democrat and No Party Affiliation voters will have in November is between the winner of the primary and the write-in candidate -- in other words, no choice at all.

                See “Editorial: Disenfranchising state attorney voters is shameful,” Naples Daily News, 5/12/18. Also read how last-minute write-ins denied 42 percent of Collier voters a say in the 2016 primaries here, and how the Constitution Revision Commission failed to close the loophole here.

                According to the News-Press, Crowley said he was in favor of Hoffman's qualifying for the race and limiting the voting to registered Republican voters, and that “Democrats should get their own candidate.”

                The candidates

                Chris Crowley
                Chris Crowley (crowley2018.com) is a former felony prosecutor and Iraq war veteran. He received an undergraduate degree from The George Washington University and a law degree from Suffolk University of Law. His Crowley Law Firm provides mediation, bankruptcy and consumer law, veterans benefits and criminal law services in Southwest Florida.

                According to his LinkedIn resume, Crowley was an Assistant State Attorney in the 20th Circuit from 1999 - 2014. (Note: That was the year Fox became Chief Assistant State Attorney.)

                Crowley also serves as the elected Republican State Committeeman for Lee County and on the board of the local Military Officers Association of America, and is a Rotarian, VFW lifetime member and NRA member.

                His website lists endorsements from political operative Roger Stone and former Lee County Sheriff Rodney Shoap.

                Amira Fox
                Amira Fox (foxforstateattorney.com) is Chief Assistant State Attorney (20th Circuit), supervising a team of 300 staff members including 120 Assistant State Attorneys. She has a BA from American University and a law degree from The George Washington University School of Law.

                Fox was an Assistant State Attorney for 18 years including serving as office head of Hendry, Glades and Collier counties. She then went out on her own, spending six years in private practice, then returned to the State Attorney’s Office to be Deputy Chief Assistant. She was promoted to her current position as Chief Assistant in 2014. For more, see here.

                Recently, she conducted the death penalty proceedings against Mesac Damas in Collier County, which resulted in six death sentences for the murders of his wife and five children.

                Her website lists endorsements from the NRA & Unified Sportsmen of Florida, Businesspeople United for Political Action Committee, The Hispanic Vote, SWFL Chapter, retiring State Attorney (20th Circuit) Steve Russell, former State Attorney (20th Circuit) Joe D’Alessandro, the President of the Florida Prosecuting Attorney's Association, the sheriffs of the five counties of the 20th Circuit, Collier County Commissioner Burt Saunders, and many more.

                Joseph P. Hoffman is a sole proprietor attorney. He has no website, and did not make himself available for news media interviews. According to a Naples Daily News editorial, prior news reports show attorney Joseph P. Hoffman from the legal office address on his election filing was publicly reprimanded by the Florida Supreme Court in 2015.

                The money

                I reviewed the financial reports of all three candidates and, focusing on large amounts, prominent donors and donor occupations, noted the following:

                Contributions to Crowley - Nine contributions of $1,000 each, including two with donor last name “Crowley;” 17 contributions totaling $68,500 from attorneys; and one $200 contribution from law enforcement.

                Contributions to Fox - 120 contributions of $1,000 each, including from incumbent State Attorney Steve Russell, Conservative Coalition For Florida's Future PAC, Prosperity Florida PC, and GrayRobinson PA Florida PAC; 107 contributions totaling $70,300 from attorneys; 38 contributions totaling $15,000 from Assistant State Attorneys; and 33 contributions totaling $5,000 from law enforcement.

                Getting ugly

                Initially the race largely dealt with conviction rates and the level of crime being reported. But lately it’s gotten ugly. For example:

                The race will effectively be decided in August,despite the “run-off” in November.


                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/subscribe2soapbox.

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

                Sunday, July 22, 2018

                Who's Running for Clerk of Courts in the August 2018 Primaries?

                August 28, 2018
                Primary Elections in Florida
                Unexpectedly this year, there will be an election to complete the term of long-time Clerk of Courts and Comptroller Dwight Brock, who passed away unexpectedly last month. 

                This is a county-wide race. Both candidates are Republicans, but since there are no other challengers and the election will be decided in August, it will be open to all Collier voters, regardless of party affiliation. 

                The backstory

                To understand this race, one needs to know some County history.

                Dwight Brock had been Clerk since 1992. Naples Daily News columnist Brent Batten remembered him as a “pugnacious watchdog for Collier County taxpayers [who] took on developers, businessmen and politicians over his 26-year career.” 

                Batten wrote:
                Dwight Brock
                "Early in his term, Brock found fault with the way business was done in Collier County. He successfully sued the county’s investment managers in the 1990s over derivatives that put the county’s money at risk. Later, he sued developers who had underpaid on impact fees owed to the county.... 
                "He engaged in a costly years-long legal battle with county commissioners over who should monitor county spending and how.
                "He challenged invoices from vendors, slowing payments and creating a fear in the business community that Collier County would gain a reputation as a place where it’s hard to operate…."
                I endorsed Brock for reelection in 2016. While acknowledging the substantive disputes between him and the County Commission, I wrote that “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. 

                “However contentious Brock’s relationship with his fellow officeholders became,” wrote Batten, “he always maintained voters' confidence. He won a seventh term in office in 2016, defeating former County Commissioner Georgia Hiller with 70 percent of the vote.”

                Now, Brock’s Deputy Clerk, Crystal Kinzel, is running to complete the remaining two years of his term. She is being challenged by CPA Don Berry, currently Director of Accounting for the Collier Property Appraiser.

                What does the Clerk do?

                The Clerk’s Office performs a wide range of record keeping, information management, and financial management for both the judicial system and county government. The roles of the Clerk are: Clerk of the Circuit Court, County Treasurer, Recorder, Auditor, Finance Officer, and Ex-Officio Clerk of the County Commission. 

                A committee of the Florida Legislature calculated that, within those roles, the Office performs 926 different constitutional and statutory functions and duties (not including responsibilities required by court rule and administrative order), according to the Florida Clerks’ association’s website.

                Because the Clerk's duties affect the rights and property of county citizens, the Constitution and Florida statutes require that the Clerk:
                • is governed by statutory authority in carrying out the duties and functions of the office,
                • as auditor and custodian of county funds, is subject to state Auditor General rules and regulations, and
                • is subject to annual audits by independent firms.

                The Collier Clerk’s Office has a FY 2017 budget of $21.3 million and a staff of just under 200. The Clerk’s base salary, which is set by state statute and is a function of county population, is $144,621.

                The candidates

                Crystal Kinzel
                Crystal Kinzel (62) (crystalkinzel.com) has over 30 years experience in governmental accounting. After receiving a BA in Accounting from George Washington University and stints as an accountant with AARP and NASDAQ, she became, at 29, the youngest Finance Director for the City of Key West, FL. Moving to Naples in 1988, she served from 1989 to 2005 as Finance Director for the Collier Sheriff’s Office under the leadership of Don Hunter (who has endorsed her candidacy for Clerk), then became Finance Director for Clerk Brock. In 2016, Brock appointed her Chief Deputy; after his death, she was appointed by Gov. Scott to serve as Interim Clerk until the election. 

                Kinzel says, “My tenure with the Sheriff and the Clerk, as well as prior experience, has prepared me well for the very important role as your Collier County Clerk of Court and Comptroller…. I am ready, willing, and able to continue to protect the taxpayers’ dollars and provide the best services possible, for both the Court and the Board roles of the Clerk.” 

                Kinzel’s community involvement includes active membership in the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Collier (Class of 2000) and the Chamber’s Leadership Institute (2005). She was one of five women founders of Youth Leadership Collier who in 2006 were recognized as the Chamber’s Volunteers of the Year. She is also a founding member of the Naples Paradise Chapter of the Association of Government Accountants.

                Don Berry
                Don Berry (77) (donberryforclerk.com) is a CPA and Director of Accounting for the Collier property appraiser. A 45-year resident of Collier County, originally from Iowa, he has a BS in Accounting from Florida Atlantic University. Previous employment was as a managing partner for a local accounting firm (16 years); Corporate Controller of Krehling Industries, Naples; Corporate Controller, King Motor Center, Ft. Lauderdale; and Haskins Sells (now Deloitte International Accounting), Ft. Lauderdale. 

                Berry’s community involvement has been as president of Collier “100” Club, Naples Area Chamber of Commerce, Pelican Bay Rotary, United Way and SW Chapter Florida Institute of Certified Public Accountants. He was a member of Leadership Collier (Class of 1995) and Leadership Southwest Florida (Class of 1996). 

                Berry says he is running to “correct the contentious atmosphere between the Clerk’s office, the Board of County Commissioners, and the vendors while also working with the Judges and matters pertaining to the Courts. I want to put an end to the filing of multiple lawsuits. These lawsuits are costly to the taxpayer. There is no question a courteous and respectful approach while being vigilant in oversight will have better results than being antagonistic and combative. I can bring positive managerial qualities to the office of the County Clerk supported by my financial experience and expertise.”

                The money

                I reviewed the financial reports of both candidates and, focusing on large amounts and prominent donors, noted the following:

                Contributions to Berry - $1,000 each from World Plumbing LLC, a Naples-based plumbing contractor; and Richard Yovanovich, an attorney at Coleman, Yovanovich & Koester, PA.

                Contributions to Kinzel - $1,000 each from attorneys Link & Rockenbach PA and James Molenaar, and from seven Naples-based contractors; contributions from County Commissioner Burt Saunders ($500) and Commissioner Donna Fiala ($100); $200 from Collier County Hearing Examiner Mark Strain; and $350 from State Rep. Byron Donalds.

                Voters’ choice

                Fairly or not, this election has been positioned as a choice between “change” and “more of the same." Kinzel says she is an “independent, qualified, ethical protector of taxpayers’ dollars [and a] proven check and balance on government expenditures.” Berry’s campaign slogan (“Respectful. Responsive. Efficient. Fair.”) is a not-so-subtle historical rebuke.

                This race is open to all Collier voters

                and will be decided in August.


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