Monday, October 29, 2018

It’s time to mail your Vote By Mail ballot!

Election Day is Tuesday, November 6. The U.S. Postal Service recommends that you mail your Vote By Mail (VBM) ballot one week before the due date to account for any unforeseen events such as weather issues and to allow for timely receipt and processing by the election office, you should mail it no later than Tuesday, October 30. A postmark doesn’t count. 

Be sure to complete these steps to ensure your VBM ballot is counted:
  • Completely fill in the ovals corresponding to the candidate and/or referendums of choice. Use blue or black ink. If you make a mistake, ask for a new ballot. Do not cross out or your vote may not count.
  • Place the completed ballot in the enclosed green secrecy sleeve.
  • Place both the ballot and the secrecy sleeve in the return envelope provided.
  • Sign in the box below the voter certificate on the return envelope. The signature must reasonably match the signature of registration. Click here to learn more about the importance of updating your signature before you Vote by Mail or contact the Supervisor of Elections at (239) 252-VOTE (8683).
  • Return your Vote by Mail ballot by mail, with 71 cents postage (or two Forever Stamps), or in person to the Supervisor of Elections Main Office at 3750 Enterprise Avenue, Naples, or the Satellite Office at the North Collier Government Center, 2335 Orange Blossom Dr, Naples. Voted ballots cannot be accepted at a polling place or an early voting site.

Once you’ve mailed your ballot, you should make sure it is received. You can do that at colliervotes.com/Vote-by-Mail/Status-of-Request

If, 3-4 days after mailing, your ballot has not been received, call the Supervisor of Elections Office at (239) 252-VOTE (8683) and ask what you should do.

If you requested a VBM ballot but want to vote in person

Bring your Vote By Mail ballot with you and surrender it at the polling place so it can be cancelled. If you arrive at the polling place without your VBM ballot, you will still be permitted to vote, but you will be asked to destroy it after voting in person.

If you already returned your VBM ballot to the Supervisor of Elections office, you many not go to the polls to vote. 

Voters who vote more than once in the same election commit a felony and will be turned over to the appropriate authorities for prosecution.

For the Collier Supervisor of Elections' Vote-by-Mail Frequently-Asked-Questions, click here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Voting on the Collier County Sales Surtax

Vote Early in Collier County
October 25 - November 3
Collier County voters have the opportunity to vote for or against a County Sales Surtax (surtax) on the November ballot. How I’ll vote on this item has been the most difficult decision I faced on this ballot, and I know that others have been struggling with it as well.

In this post, I’ll share what I learned by attending presentations and Town Hall meetings starting as long ago as the Board of County Commissioners’ (BCC) Infrastructure Sales Surtax Workshop last November, and through online research. I’ll lay out the pros and cons that have been cited and my responses to each. Then I’ll share how I will vote.

The ballot language

Collier County and Municipal Infrastructure Improvements One-Cent Sales Surtax
To enhance safety, mobility, and hurricane preparedness in Collier County and its cities by constructing, repairing, and maintaining roads, bridges, signals, sidewalks, parks, evacuation shelters, governmental and emergency services facilities; acquire land and support construction for workforce housing and career and technical training, veterans’ nursing home and expand mental health facilities; shall the County levy a one-cent sales surtax beginning January 1, 2019 and automatically ending December 31, 2025, with oversight by citizen committee? Yes or No

What is a sales surtax?


The state of Florida levies a 6% sales tax on the retail sale, lease or rental of most goods, with these exceptions as to tax rate: 4% on amusement machine receipts, 5.8% on the lease or license of commercial real property, and 6.95% on electricity. (More here.)

The state permits counties to impose an additional “discretionary sales surtax” and use the funds to pay for local authorized projects.

In addition to what we usually think of as taxable, transactions that would be subject to a discretionary sales surtax include:
  • goods or services delivered into or performed in the county;
  • an admission charged for an event in the county (e.g. movie ticket);
  • commercial real property lease or rental payments; and
  • the rental of living or sleeping accommodations (transient rentals) in the county.

The surtax would not apply to certain groceries, medical products and supplies, and fuel.

Florida’s county surtax rates are capped on purchases over $5,000. For example, for a motor vehicle purchased for $20,000 in a county with a 1% surtax rate, 7% tax would be due on the first $5,000 of the purchase price and 6% tax would be due on the remaining $15,000 of the purchase price. The cap does not apply to rentals of real property, transient rentals, or services.

Collier is one of six Florida counties that does not impose a sales surtax; the others are Broward, Citrus, Lee, Martin and Okaloosa. Florida’s remaining 61 counties do. Sales taxes charged within the state range from 6% to 8% (list here).

Who proposed the Collier surtax and why?


The Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce proposed the Infrastructure Sales Surtax shortly after Hurricane Irma last year, when the effect of the county’s failure to keep up with infrastructure maintenance during the recession became apparent. An important consideration was that adding a new revenue stream would make the County less dependent on its primary source of funds — property taxes, which decline during real estate downturns.

A divided County Commission


Recognizing that this would be a tough sell, County staff proposed and the BCC debated and tweaked a list of projects that would be funded with the surtax proceeds, and committed to a date certain when the surtax would end.

The final vote to put the surtax on the ballot was 3-2. Voting yes were Commissioners Burt Saunders, Andy Solis and Penny Taylor. Voting no were Commissioners Donna Fiala and Bill McDaniel.

Solis and Saunders seemed to have been supporters of the surtax throughout the deliberations, and Fiala and McDaniel were fairly consistently opposed. Taylor says her vote was not a show of support. “What I voted for was to put the sales tax question on the ballot and let the voters decide for themselves,” she wrote at the time.

How much money will be raised and how will it be used?


The surtax is expected to raise $490 million over seven years, or roughly $70 million a year. Of that, $420 million will go to the County and $70 million will be shared by the cities of Naples, Marco Island and Everglades City (the Municipalities).

A list of the County’s tangible capital projects to be funding by the surtax is here. A map showing the location of each project is here. At a high level, the list includes:
  • $191 million for transportation projects, including improvements to sidewalks, bridges, and several key roadways;
  • $139 million for facilities and other capital projects, including the Sheriff's Facilities, Big Corkscrew Regional Park, and hurricane resiliency projects; and
  • $90 million for community priorities, including a career and technical training center, mental health and addiction treatment facility, and a workforce housing land trust fund.

A list of the specific projects to be funded by the Municipalities with their share of the surtax has not been provided.

How can we be sure the money will be spent as promised?


According to the ordinance adopted by the BCC, upon voter approval, the County will establish a seven-member Citizen Oversight Committee to review the expenditure of the surtax proceeds. One member would be appointed from each County District and two would be appointed at-large. The Committee would serve as an ad hoc advisory and reporting body to the County and its members would be subject to the sunshine laws.

However since there is no list of projects to be funded with the Municipalities’ $70 million, it is unclear how the Committee will conduct its work with respect to the expenditure of those funds.

How can we be sure the tax will sunset as promised after seven years?


This is a question I have heard often and reveals a real distrust of government. The fact is that County does not have the legal authority to extend the surtax beyond the December 31, 2025, expiration included in the ballot language without voter approval.

What does a yes vote mean?


If you vote yes, you are voting to authorize the County to collect one cent for every dollar you spend on items subject to Florida sales surtax with the exceptions and limitations described above. This would raise the sales tax rate in Collier County from 6% to 7%, which is a one percentage point increase in the tax rate and a 16.67 percent increase in the amount of tax collected.

The surtax would go into effect on January 1, 2019, and remain in effect until the sooner of the year a total of $490 million is collected or December 31, 2025 (seven years).

Reasons to vote yes — and my comments


“Most of the infrastructure projects are sorely needed and the County says it cannot fund them without a new source of funds.”
  • I agree that most of the projects are needed. The transportation projects and many of the facilities projects are past due, and I’d really like to see the new mental health facility built near the David Lawrence Center. The question is how to fund them, how to prioritize them, and whether just one funding source — this surtax — is the best way to go.
“The surtax will allow the projects to be completed earlier than the County could do otherwise.”
  • I’m not sure why that’s so. For example, if the County borrowed the funds, why couldn’t the projects be completed on the same timeline as with the surtax?
“The County estimates that 30 percent of the surtax would by paid by tourists, visitors, and individuals who work in Collier County but don’t live here.”
  • The estimate is derived from information from the State Department of Revenue and the Bureau of Economic and Business Research. One can always challenge assumptions behind estimates. I can’t imagine how we’ll ever know how close to accurate this estimate turns out to be.
“The surtax avoids the additional interest expenses associated with borrowing the money, which the County estimates will exceed $100 million, and which would have to be paid for by Collier County taxpayers.”
  • I don’t know how the estimate was calculated. Clearly debt has a cost, but that’s not enough for me to rule out the option of borrowing for the truly critical infrastructure projects.
“The surtax is a more stable funding source than property taxes because it is not linked to property values which rise and fall with the economy.”
  • Somewhat true. But during an economic downturn, people spend less on all kinds of things, which would similarly depress sales tax and surtax revenue as well.

Reasons to vote no — and my comments


“Sales taxes are regressive, hitting hardest those who can least afford it.”
  • Florida has the third most unfair state and local tax system in the country, according to a 2018 study by The Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy. The 20% of residents who earn the least (i.e. those earning less than $18,700) already pay 12.7% of their family income on state and local taxes. The top 20% pay 5.6% of their income or less.
“The surtax will hit small businesses particularly hard because the $5,000 cap does not apply to commercial rent or lease payments.”
  • This is particularly concerning to me. On the one hand, Collier County wants to encourage entrepreneurship and diversify the economy, even as it’s facing an affordable housing crisis. It seems to me that this surtax would be a double-whammy to small businesses: they would pay it on what their family buys AND on the rent they pay to locate their business here. How much of the latter they could recoup from their customers is highly questionable.
“The Municipalities haven’t told the public how they would spend their $70 million share.”
  • This troubles me. Did the Municipalities even ask to share in the surtax? The City of Marco Island doesn’t even have a City Manager! And without a list of projects, how can the citizen oversight of spending be accomplished?
“Not all projects on the County’s list are equally important.”
  • True ... and some I don’t agree with at all. Further, as much as I’d like to see a new VA Nursing Home in Collier County ($40 million - see here), I don’t support raising taxes today in hopes that the federal government chooses to locate one here in the future. (The federal VA typically requires the state to kick in 35 percent of construction costs. See “VA nursing home would be built with Collier County sales tax increase,” Naples Daily News, 1/23/18.)

Supporters


The Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce proposed the surtax a year ago and is its greatest supporter. They established a PAC to advocate for its passage, and say, “A YES vote takes care of our citizens in a timely manner, addresses critical infrastructure needs, keeps property taxes low and spreads the cost among all users -– including visitors, tourists and workers.”

In addition, these community leaders, among others whose opinions I greatly respect, have published commentaries or letters in support of the surtax:

  • J. Dudley Goodlette, Chairman, One Collier and former state representative, here.
  • Michael Dalby, President and CEO, Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, here.
  • Mike Reagen, former president and CEO, Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, here.
  • Alan Horton, former editor and publisher, Naples Daily News, here.

And the Naples Daily News endorsed the surtax with A qualified ‘yes’ vote on Collier sales tax referendum, 10/20/18.

How I will vote


In writing this post, I’ve come to realize that I’ve been struggling between wanting to vote no and feeling like I should vote yes. The “should” comes from both the importance of and need for the projects and the tremendous respect I have for the people who support the surtax. They clearly believe it is in the best interest of the community. But I’ve listened with an open mind to the arguments for and against. And for the reasons shared above in response to the pros and cons, I will vote NO on the sales surtax.



Sunday, October 21, 2018

Voting for Collier County Judge

Collier voters have the opportunity to vote for one of two candidates for County Judge in the upcoming election: Blake Adams or Jim Moon.

In this post, I’ll explain what a county judge does, share what I learned about the candidates through online research, in meetings with both candidates, and from conversations with community leaders and members of the legal community, and then say how I will vote.

What does a county judge do?

The Florida court system has four levels: the Florida Supreme Court, District courts of Appeal, Circuit Courts, and County Courts. For more, see The Florida Courts website

County courts are sometimes referred to as "the people's courts" because a large part of their work involves voluminous citizen disputes, such as traffic offenses, less serious criminal matters (misdemeanors), and relatively small monetary disputes.

County judges hear criminal misdemeanors (crimes that have possible sentences of less than one year in jail) and civil cases where the amount in dispute is $15,000 or less. They:
  • preside over trials and hearings,
  • make decisions on the acceptability of testimony and evidence in court,
  • ensure that jurors understand the law, and
  • when a jury is not required, decide the case based on applicable law and the judge’s knowledge of the law.

Each of Florida’s 67 counties has a county court. The number of judges in each county court varies with the population and caseload of the county. Collier has six. For purposes of the ballot, each position is referred to as a County Judge Group numbered between 1 and 6. A judge’s term of office is six years.

Collier County judges

In 2018, three of Collier County’s six judgeships were up for election: Groups 1, 2 and 6. The candidates for the Group 1 (incumbent Michael Brown) and Group 6 (Tamara Lynne Nicola) seats were unopposed, so they were automatically elected.

Five candidates ran for the Group 2 seat in the August primary. Blake Adams and Jim Moon were the top two vote-getters, receiving 25 percent and 24 percent of the votes, respectively. So they are facing off in the general election.

How can we make informed decisions?

Voters are limited in what they can learn because judicial candidates are prohibited from making making predictions and promises about issues that could arise once they are on the court. That’s because their job is to make impartial decisions that relate to the law on the cases before them.

To be eligible for the office of county judge, a person must have earned a law degree from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association and be a member of The Florida Bar for at least five years. S/he must also live in the geographic area s/he will serve when they take office, in our case, Collier County.

In response to the question “What makes someone a ‘good judge’?”, the Florida Bar Association’s Guide for Florida Voters says:

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.

Blake Adams

Adams
Blake Adams (blakeadamsforjudge.com) is Collier County Deputy Chief in 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, a private college in Liberty, Mo., and an MBA and JD from the University of Tulsa. During law school, he studied in Dublin, Ireland, for two summers and earned a comparative and international law certificate.

Prior to earning the latter two degrees, Adams spent ten years in retail banking, investments and mortgages, and owned and managed rental properties. According to his website, this experience “provides him with an immense understanding of issues that could come before him as a county court judge, including but not limited to contract, property, monetary, and account disputes,” as well as “practical experience to … preside over landlord-tenant cases.”

Adams began his career as an attorney with Florida’s 20th Judicial Circuit, first as a Staff Attorney (a.k.a trial court law clerk), working with 30 different circuit judges, writing more than 900 proposed court orders, appellate opinions, and legal memoranda, and teaching law student interns how to improve their legal research and writing skills, how to interact with other attorneys and judges, and practical legal concepts not taught in the traditional law school setting.

Since 2014, as an attorney for the Law Offices of Kathleen A. Smith, Public Defender, he has gained courtroom and trial experience, and in 2017, he was promoted to Deputy Chief of the Collier County Office. In that role, he supervises and trains attorneys practicing in county court, juvenile court, and the law student interns. He also represents people in felony circuit court and is the lead defense attorney for the Rapid Response Squad—a group consisting of members from the State Attorney's Office, Collier County Sheriff's Office, David Lawrence Center, and other organizations that attempts to identify frequently incarcerated individuals with severe mental illnesses and obtain treatment for them in order to stop recidivism and make the community safer.

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.

Jim Moon

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, in Saginaw, Michigan, and a JD from Thomas M. Cooley Law School at Western Michigan University. He also has a ML (cum laude) in international taxation and financial services from Saint Thomas University School of Law in Miami Gardens, FL, and a Graduate Certificate in Anti-Money Laundering, and is a Supreme Court certified mediator.

Moon’s early career in the law was as a certified intern in the Ingram County, MI, Prosecutor’s Office and then for two years with the Florida State Attorney’s Office. In 1998, he went into private practice, first with others, then on his own, until in 2006, he joined the firm that, after a number of mergers, is now Quintairos Prieto, Wood & Boyer, P.A

He estimates that his practice has been about 80 percent civil litigation, 10 percent probate litigation and 10 percent criminal matters, but says that as his practice grew, he shifted from predominantly criminal work to handling a greater percentage of civil work. Today his practice areas include banking, civil trial, commercial litigation, insurance, and litigation/trial advocacy/advocacy.

His community activities have included: City of Naples Code Board; Coll ier 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; and NAMI. He served in the U.S. Army National Guard as an infantryman during the first Gulf War.

Comparing experience

Knowledge of the law and legal experience are obviously important considerations in evaluating the two candidates. Adams has been a member of the Florida Bar for 8 years; Moon for 20 years. But as one person I spoke with said, there are good and bad lawyers, and bad lawyers don’t get better by being a lawyer longer. (This was not a judgment about either candidate, but rather pointing out that the candidate with more years of experience isn't necessarily the better candidate.)  The type of experience they’ve had differs as well. But as noted in the Florida Bar Guide, “Knowledge in one particular area is not more important than the other.”

So I turned to the candidates’ endorsements for indications of legal abilities, temperament, fairness, impartiality and knowledge of the law.

Endorsements

Adams’ Endorsements page lists endorsements by three elected officials.

  • Steve Russell, State Attorney — 20th Judicial Circuit, wrote, “His honesty, integrity and respect for those involved with the courts, combined with his experience and demeanor, are the reasons why I endorse Blake for Collier County Judge.”
  • Bill Barnett, Mayor - City of Naples, wrote, “I know that Blake cares deeply about our community, and it’s his dedication to fairness, combined with his integrity and experience in handling many cases in our local courts, that have earned my endorsement of Blake Adams for Collier County Judge.”
  • Kathy Smith, Public Defender—20th Judicial Circuit is listed on the website but without a comment.

For more on Adams’ endorsements, click here.

Moon’s website lists endorsements by three elected Naples City Council members: Linda Penniman, Reg Buxton and Terry Hutchison, but does not include any quotes from them.

It should be noted that in 2016, Moon ran unsuccessfully for one of three seats on the Naples City Council, coming in fourth among six candidates behind Ellen Siegel, Buxton and Hutchison. In 2018, Moon had initially filed to run as one of five candidates (including Penniman and Hutchison) for three City Council seats on the ballot; he subsequently withdrew to seek this judgeship.

For more on Moon’s endorsements, click here.

How I will vote

I enjoyed and learned a lot from my meetings with each candidate. Both spoke of their commitment to public service and wanting to give back to the community. Both would bring different but valuable experiences and insights to the position, and I commend both for their willingness to serve.

I like Adams’ passion for teaching, mentoring and helping younger attorneys, his experience outside the legal profession in the financial sector and managing rental properties, and his involvement with the Rapid Response Squad, about which I have heard great things. Based on those qualities and experiences, I will vote for Blake Adams for County Judge.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Voting on the judicial merit retentions

Early Voting in Collier County
October 25 - November 3
All Florida voters have the opportunity to vote for or against the retention of one Florida Supreme Court justice, and Collier County voters will vote on the retention of four judges of the 14-county Second District Court of Appeal this year. This type of vote is called a merit retention vote.

In this post, I’ll explain what a merit retention vote is, provide some information about the justice/judges who are on our ballot and how to learn more, and how I plan to vote.

What is a merit retention vote?

In Florida, State Supreme Court and District Courts of Appeal judges are appointed by the governor. But as explained by the Florida Bar:
Newly appointed justices and appeals court judges serve an initial term of at least one year and are then subject to the first merit retention reviews of their performances in the next general election. [Thereafter, they] face the voters in merit retention elections every six years.

Only those judges receiving approval from a majority of the voters in the general election may continue in office for another six-year term. If voters choose not to retain a judge, a vacancy would be created and would be filled through the merit selection process, in which the governor would appoint one from three to six nominees submitted by a judicial nominating commission. Terms are staggered so that not all of the appellate judges face the voters in the same election.

How can we make informed decisions, and who is on the ballot?

Many say that the lawyers who present their clients’ cases to the justices and judges on a daily basis are probably in the best position to know if they should be retained. So every two years, the Florida Bar Association asks its in-state members to rate those up for retention of whom they have direct knowledge. The Florida Bar’s press release announcing the 2018 merit retention poll results is here.

The names of the justice and judges on our ballot, the percent of Florida Bar poll votes in support of their retention, and when and by whom they were appointed to their current position are below. Candidates’ bios are on the Florida Bar website here.

Supreme Court justice:
  • Alan Lawson (87 percent) - appointed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott in 2016
Second District Appeal Court judges
  • Anthony K. Black (90 percent) - appointed by Republican Gov. Charlie Crist in 2010
  • Darryl C. Casanueva (90 percent) - appointed by Democrat Gov. Lawton Chiles in 1998
  • Edward C. LaRose (90 percent) - appointed by Republican Gov. Jeb Bush in 2005
  • Susan H. Rothstein-Youakim (86 percent) - appointed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott in 2016

Based on those results, I see no reason to oppose retention of any of them.

In addition to reviewing the Bar poll results, I did a Google search on each of the candidates. I found only references of note related to Justice Lawson, facing his first merit retention vote, and Judge LaRose, who has been in his current position since 2005. 

Re: Justice Alan Lawson
  • At the time of his appointment, the Miami-Herald wrote that Scott “chose a conservative appellate judge” to leave his “mark on a moderate court that has been responsible for some of the sharpest defeats of his political career.” Lawson replaced a “liberal jurist” who had reached the mandatory retirement age of 70.
  • “Since his appointment," according to Florida Today, "Lawson has become known for his narrow view of the highest court's jurisdiction, meaning it has taken fewer cases. That allowed the rulings of lower courts to stand. He was the only dissenter in a Court of Appeal 2012 decision that allowed a child to have two legally recognized mothers. He wrote that the court's decision was akin to striking down laws prohibiting same-sex marriage, bigamy, polygamy and incest.” See also Ballotpedia and Orlando Weekly.

Re: Judge Edward LaRose

  • “Judge LaRose has been a supporter of collaborative practice as a private, more humane way to go through divorce and other family law matters… In discussions with Judge LaRose, I have learned that he believes most families should try to resolve issues related to divorce outside of court, and that they should only resort to a judge imposed decision as a last resort.” Family Diplomacy: A Collaborative Law Firm, 7/25/17.

Click Here
According to a no-longer-available article in the Palm Beach Post I cited in a 2016 post, “No judge has ever been denied another six-year term since the system was implemented in 1976 after three elected justices were investigated, and two resigned, when an investigation found they allowed political cronies to influence their decision. Occasionally - most recently in 2012 when tea party activists targeted three high court justices - opposition has surfaced.” My research did not reveal any that occurred since then. 

For more information about Florida’s judicial merit retention process, including a Guide for Florida Voters: Answers to Your Questions about Florida Judges, Judicial Elections and Merit Retention and other voter resources, visit The Vote’s In Your Court. 


How I will vote

Despite the controversy and ill-will stirred up by the confirmation hearings of Judge (now Justice) Kavanaugh, merit retention should not be based on partisan ideology or disagreement with particular opinions. In Florida, the Governor appoints appellate justices/judges, and elections matter. Merit retention allows voters to consider whether the justices are ethical, impartial and qualified and should remain on the bench. Tampa Bay Times editorial, 10/11/18

In view of the strong support shown in the Bar’s merit retention poll, I will VOTE YES for the retention of Supreme Court Justice Lawson and the four Second District Appeals Court judges on my ballot.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Voting in the Collier Mosquito Control District elections

Early Voting in Collier County
October 25 - November 3
If you live in the Collier Mosquito Control District (map here), you have choices for two of its Board seats on your ballot: Seat 1 and Seat 2. In this post, I’ll review what the CMCD is and does, share what I’ve learned about the candidates, and tell you who I’ll vote for and why. Some of the material in this post has been repeated/updated from a similar post I wrote before the 2016 elections, when — unlike this year — there was controversy related to the use of the insecticide naled in aerial spraying to control against Zika-transmitting mosquitoes. See “Residents speak out against naled at mosquito control meeting,” Naples Daily News, 9/28/16.

The Collier Mosquito Control District (CMCD)

The mission of the Collier Mosquito Control District is “to suppress both disease-carrying and pestiferous mosquito populations by and through the safest and most economical means available, consistent with the highest level of safety and minimal adverse impact on humans, wildlife, the environment, and non-target organisms.”

It is governed by a five-member Board of Commissioners who are elected in nonpartisan elections to four-year terms and paid a salary of $400/month. Meetings are held monthly and are open to the public.

The District spends about $7 million annually, funded primarily by local ad valorem (property) taxes. It employs an Executive Director with a MS in Human Anatomy and Physiology Instruction (here), 29 full-time employees and one part-time employee (leadership team here), and it owns and operates eight aircraft and 17 vehicles. Its 2017 audited financial statements are here and its 2017 Annual Report is here.

The Board’s role, it seems to me, is to represent the interests of the community and provide appropriate oversight by reviewing the District's mission periodically, ensuring that the Executive Director and staff are fulfilling that mission, setting the millage rate, approving the budget, and overseeing the expenditure of taxpayer money. A science background or expertise is not necessary.

The candidates - Seat 1

Victor Dotres (candidate’s statement)
Dotres, 44, is a Miami native who has lived in Southwest Florida since 2001. He has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting and Art Education from the University of Florida. An 18-year Collier County Public School teacher, Dotres is currently a technology teacher at Estates Elementary and coach of Corkscrew Middle's girls soccer team. He is also a Red Cross Disaster Relief Volunteer and a 2nd Degree member of the Knights of Columbus.

Dotres ran for the District 3 Collier County school board seat earlier this year but dropped out of the race and endorsed Jen Mitchell. He ran for the Florida House in 2016 but dropped out of that race after a 2011 disciplinary incident came to light. He ran for the Lee County School Board in 2010. (Naples Daily News)

Dotres’ campaign website is at vote4voctor.com; his Facebook page is here. He raised $1250 ($1000 his own contribution) and spent $452 for this campaign.

John Johnson (candidate’s statement)
Johnson has been a full time resident of Collier County for over 30 years. He is currently employed by the Collier County Growth Management Division as an Investigator for Code Enforcement. He previously served as an elected CMCD Commissioner from 2000 - 2016. After losing election to a fifth term in 2016 to a challenger (who has since resigned from the Board) over the naled issue, he is seeking to return to the Board.

Johnson takes pride in the CMCD, its people and its accomplishments. “The passionate experience practiced daily by this small group of people who all wear many hats while protecting and serving the residents and visitors of one of the largest Mosquito Control Districts is truly remarkable,” he wrote. “I plan to continue to insure this level of excellence as I represent the people of Collier County by serving on the Board of Commissioners for Collier Mosquito Control.”

Johnson has no campaign website; his 2016 campaign Facebook page, where he explained his position on the use of naled, is here. He has neither raised nor spent any money for this campaign.


Dennis G.E. Sanders (candidate’s statement)
Sanders has been a Naples resident since 2013. He is the founder and president of Proxy, llc, “an independent destination service consultant for domestic and international clients.” His community involvement includes: ambassador for the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, member of The Rotary Club of Naples, Board Member of the Volunteer’s Board of the American Cancer Society in Naples, director with Guardian Ad litem, member of the Marco-Naples Reserve Officer’s Association Number 27, and member of the Board of Trustees of Unity of Naples Church.

Sanders says his goals as a CMCD Board member are to “help insure that residents of the county are protected against Mosquitoes and their relatives; stay within the financial boundary allotted to the board; stay above board and respond to any and all questions brought to the board by residents; make sure all chemicals used by the CMCD are environmentally friendly; and help keep Collier County Healthy.” (sic)

He has no campaign website; his Facebook page is here. He has neither raised nor spent any money for this campaign.

The candidates - Seat 2

Sandra Lee Buxton (candidate’s statement)
Buxton has been a Naples resident for 30 years. She is currently the editor of Life in Naples Magazine, and has had fifteen years of experience as an owner in local print media. She also had a 30 year career in healthcare administration, having earned RN, BSN, MA degrees and a license as a Healthcare Risk Manager. She was named a Woman of Initiative in 2012 by the Community Foundation’s Women’s Foundation of Collier County; her campaign website includes an extensive list of community activities.

Buxton is running to “continue ((her)) service to the Naples and Collier Community.” She says, “With the recognition that mosquito’s bring disease and are a serious health concern, I will use my healthcare background in collaboration with other team members in evaluating risks and benefits to the methodology of control. As a Licensed Healthcare Risk Manager I am aware of the importance of following defined protocols established by State and Federal guidelines.” (sic)

Buxton’s campaign website is here; her Facebook page is here. She has raised $200 and spent none of it on this campaign.

John E Shuey (candidate’s statement)
Shuey, an 11-year Florida resident, is retired from a career in sales and marketing and several years as a small business owner. He has, since February 2018, served on the Libertarian Party of Florida State Executive Committee, representing Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties.

He has no campaign website; his Facebook page is here. He has neither raised nor spent any money for this campaign.

How I will vote

For Seat 1: John Johnson — Collier County is fortunate to have as dedicated a public servant as Johnson. He will bring unparalleled knowledge and experience to the Board.

For Seat 2: Sandra Lee Buxton — Buxton has a demonstrated history of commitment to serving Collier County. Her healthcare and business backgrounds will be important additions to the Board.

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I hope this post helps you understand what the Collier Mosquito Control District is and who the candidates are. I also hope it helps you think more critically about how you will vote than you might have without it.

Stay tuned next for my posts about the the judicial merit retention decisions, County Judges candidates, and the proposed Collier Sales Surtax.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Voting on the Proposed Amendments

Election Day
November 6, 2018
Florida voters are faced with decisions about 12 proposed amendments to the state Constitution next month. Three were put on the ballot by the Florida Legislature, two by citizen initiative, and seven by the Florida Constitution Revision Commission.

In this post, I’ll briefly explain each amendment, identify supporters and opponents (click on a name to read stated reasons), and provide links to more information. For each I’ll also share how I plan to vote and why. 

My two primary sources were the Florida Division of Elections for bill texts and analyses, and the League of Women Voters of Florida, for interpretations, supporters and opponents. I also relied on news articles I've clipped over the course of the past year and recent Google searches.

Proposed by the Legislature

Each of the three Legislative Joint Resolutions would reduce the amount of future revenue that might otherwise be available to meet state and local needs. I believe a primary responsibility of government is to ensure that there is adequate funding to provide the rights, services and infrastructure required by the Constitution or state law. To do so while maintaining a balanced budget as also required by the Constitution, the Legislature must have the flexibility to raise taxes or eliminate exemptions or tax credits. Therefore, I OPPOSE AMENDMENTS 1, 2 AND 5.

Amendment 1 - Increased Homestead Property Tax Exemption would increase the homestead exemption by $25,000 for homes valued at more than $100,000, thereby increasing to $75,000 from the current $50,000 the amount a homeowner can deduct from the valuation of their home in the calculation of property taxes. The Legislature’s staff estimates it would result in a loss of property tax revenue to Florida’s cities, counties and other taxing authorities (but not school districts) of about $645 million in the first year alone. This could result in cuts to services or require higher local taxes to make up for it. For the full text, click here; for the Legislative Staff Analysis, click here.


Amendment 2 - Limitations on Property Tax Assessments would make permanent what currently is a temporary cap of 10 percent on annual property value increases for vacation homes, apartments and commercial property, effectively limiting increases on tax bills. The current cap on these non-homestead properties expires in 2019. The Legislature’s Revenue Estimating Conference estimates it would result in a loss of property tax revenue to Florida’s cities, counties and other taxing authorities (but not school districts) of about $688 million in the first year alone. For the full text, click here; for the Legislative Staff Analysis, click here.

Supporters include Florida Association of Realtors, Florida TaxWatch and Florida Chamber of Commerce. Opponents include the League of Women Voters of Florida.

Amendment 5 - Supermajority Vote Required to Impose, Authorize, or Raise State Taxes or Fees would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to approve any new or increased taxes or fees, and to eliminate existing tax credits or deductions, rather than a simple majority as under current law for nearly every bill related to taxes or fees. In addition, while bills in the Legislature often contain multiple provisions, this amendment requires that any tax or fee increase must stand by itself in a separate bill. For the full text, click here; for the Legislative Staff Analysis, click here.

Supporters include Florida Tax Watch and Florida Chamber of Commerce. Opponents include League of Women Voters of Florida, Florida Policy Institute, Progress Florida, and Southern Poverty Law Center.

Citizen Initiatives

The groups sponsoring these two proposals met the requirement to obtain more than 766,200 validated signatures of Florida voters in order to appear on the ballot.

Amendment 3 - Voter Control of Gambling in Florida, sponsored by Voters In Charge, would require approval of any new casino gambling through a citizen-initiative constitutional amendment. It defines casino gambling as games such as slot machines, blackjack, roulette, craps and keno, as well as an array of electronic and video games of chance. It would effectively stop the Legislature from passing laws to allow casino gambling, and stop both the Legislature and the Constitution Revision Commission from placing their own casino amendments on the ballot. Supporters include Disney Worldwide Services, the Seminole Tribe of Florida, League of Women Voters of Florida, and the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Opponents are pari-mutuel operators who want the opportunity to have slot machines and games like blackjack and roulette. For the full text, click here; for the Substantive Analysis by the Financial Impact Estimating Conference, click here.

The League of Women Voters of Florida, in explaining its support, says this amendment allows Florida voters to make any decisions regarding increases in casino gambling. But I agree with the Naples Daily News editorial which points out that “Two important principles we embrace seemingly come into conflict in this amendment: home rule and the right of residents to decide their destiny by voting…. Where this amendment fails is that it doesn’t give local control over whether there are casinos to local voters.” As much as I would not like a gambling operation to set up in my community, I don’t want to give up local control over that decision. I OPPOSE AMENDMENT 3.

Amendment 4 - Voting Restoration Amendment, sponsored by Floridians for a Fair Democracy, Inc., would allow people convicted of a felony who have completed their entire sentence to earn back the right to vote -- except for those convicted of murder or felony sex offenses. It would take away from the Governor and Cabinet, acting as the State Board of Clemency, the power to determine and control the rights restoration process. For the full text, click here; for the Substantive Analysis by the Financial Impact Estimating Conference, click here.

By way of background: During former Gov. Charlie Crist’s four-year term (2007-2010), the Clemency Board returned the right to vote to more than 150,000 former felons. In 2011, newly elected Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet enacted stricter rules. They include a mandatory wait of five to seven years before ex-felons can apply to have their rights restored. Then there is another wait to appear before the Clemency Board, which meets just four times a year. Since the new rules went into effect, the Clemency Board has restored rights to about 3,000 of the 30,000 felons who’ve applied, and there is a backlog or more than 10,000 clemency applications. An estimated 1.5 million Floridians have been permanently disenfranchised because of felony convictions. That’s the highest number in the nation, and it accounts for nearly 10 percent of the total adult population in Florida. And it is widely recognized that those rules disproportionately affect African-Americans. (Miami-Herald; Brennan Center for Justice; Florida Phoenix and NYTimes)

Supporters include Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, and League of Women Voters of Florida. The only opponent of record is Floridians for a Sensible Voting Rights Policy. While it is important to protect the integrity of our elections, we must be careful not to undermine free and fair access to the ballot in the name of preventing voter fraud. Once a former felon has completed the sentence imposed by the courts, h/she should have her/his voting rights restored. I SUPPORT AMENDMENT 4.

Proposed by the Constitution Revision Commission

Unlike amendments put on the ballot by any other means, amendments by the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) were not constrained to just one subject per amendment. Six of its amendments bundled two, three or even four substantive changes into a single amendment. Last month, the state Supreme Court threw Amendment 8 off the ballot, saying it misled voters by not clearly stating its true purpose and never mentioning charter schools by name. (Tampa Bay Times). That leaves five bundled amendments along with two single-subject CRC proposals for voters to decide.

Amendment 6 - Rights of Crime Victims; Judges would vastly expand the scope of victim’s rights under the state Constitution; increase the mandatory retirement age for judges from 70 to 75; and require courts and judges to interpret laws and rules for themselves rather than rely on interpretations by government agencies. For the full text, click here.

The most weighty and controversial of the three changes is the first part, which “will either be the greatest expansion of victims’ rights in Florida history or upend the criminal justice system as we know it, depending on who you ask,” according to The Florida Times-Union. It would add five pages of victim’s rights to the state Constitution.

Supporters include 37 Florida sheriffs, Marsy’s Law for Florida, and a long list of elected state officials including Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo and Collier Sheriff Kevin Rambosk. Opponents include Florida Public Defender Association, ACLU of Florida and League of Women Voters of Florida. I share opponents’ concern that this amendment would upset the balance between the rights of victims and people accused of crimes by permanently deleting the part of the Constitution that ensures balancing the rights of all involved in a criminal case. I OPPOSE AMENDMENT 6.

Amendment 7 - First Responder and Military Member Survivor Benefits; Public Colleges and Universities would create a supermajority requirement for universities to impose new or increase existing student fees; enshrine in the Constitution guidelines for the State College System; and mandate that employers or the state pay a death benefit to first responders and members of the military killed in the line of duty. For the full text, click here.

The third part is the most significant. Florida law already provides death benefits to survivors of law enforcement officers, corrections officers, firefighters and members of the National Guard. This amendment would make the law more permanent by enshrining the requirement in the Constitution. It addition, it would broaden the group of people covered by adding paramedics, emergency medical technicians and members of the U.S. military who are residents of Florida or stationed here. An analysis by the state Department of Management Services could not determine how much the additional military benefits would cost but noted that Florida has more than 90,000 men and women on active duty or in the reserves.

Supporters include the Association of Florida Colleges (because of the amendment’s second part). Opponents include League of Women Voters of Florida. To me, this is a classic case of an unfunded mandate. It not only provides no funding source, but the state entity charged with estimating its cost was unable to do so. I OPPOSE AMENDMENT 7.

Amendment 9 - Prohibits Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling; Prohibits Vaping in Enclosed Indoor Workplaces would prohibit oil drilling beneath waters controlled by Florida; and prohibit the use of e-cigarettes, also known as vaping, at indoor workplaces. For the full text, click here.

The more significant part of the amendment is the ban on offshore drilling. State law has prohibited offshore oil and gas drilling since 1988, but a constitutional amendment would give the ban more permanence. The amendment defines “state waters” as about nine miles off the western and southern coastlines and at least three miles off the eastern coastline, and also includes bays, estuaries and other waters under Florida’s jurisdiction.

Supporters include Rethink Energy Florida, Everglades Coalition, Florida Wildlife Federation, National Wildlife Federation, and League of Women Voters of Florida. Opponents include Florida Petroleum Council, Associated Industries of Florida, Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association, and Florida Chamber of Commerce.

I support protecting the environment and Florida's tourism industry by prohibiting offshore drilling. I also share the LWV’s belief that voter rejection of this amendment would signal the Legislature and federal government that Floridians don’t care about offshore drilling. I SUPPORT AMENDMENT 9.

Amendment 10 - State and Local Government Structure and Operation would:
  1. require the Legislature to hold its session in early January in even-numbered years;
  2. create an Office of Domestic Security and Counterterrorism within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement;
  3. mandate the existence of a state Department of Veterans’ Affairs; and
  4. require all counties to elect a sheriff, tax collector, property appraiser, supervisor of elections and Clerk of Circuit Court.

Full text here.

Part 4 is the most controversial part of the amendment. It would make the five local constitutional offices — sheriff, tax collector, supervisor of elections, clerk of the court and property appraiser — mandatory, require elections for the offices in all 67 counties, and prohibit charter counties from abolishing or modifying those offices.

The primary supporters are the CRC members who proposed it and several Central Florida public officials. Opponents include League of Women Voters of Florida.

Most of the provisions already are current practices, but Part 4 is a clear effort to restrict the powers of local government – specifically those that operate under voter-approved county charters. Voters in eight of Florida’s 67 counties have approved charters that changed or eliminated at least one constitutional office. Miami-Dade, for example, does not elect a sheriff. These offices would have to be restored if this amendment passes. I believe voters in counties and municipalities should be able to choose their form of government, and this amendment takes away local control. Therefore, I OPPOSE AMENDMENT 10.

Amendment 11 - Property Rights; Removal of Obsolete Provision; Criminal Statutes would repeal the state’s ability to prohibit non-citizens from buying, owning and selling property; delete obsolete language having to do with high-speed rail in Florida; and delete a provision that forces the state to prosecute criminal suspects under the law they were originally charged under, even if the Legislature changes that law. Full text here; CRC Judicial Committee Analysis here.

The most substantive part of this bundled amendment is Part 3. The Constitution currently contains a “Savings Clause” dating to 1885 that prevents the Legislature from making changes to substantive criminal laws, including sentencing laws, retroactive. It requires the statute in effect at the time of a crime to govern the sentence an offender receives for commission of that crime. For example, in 2014, the Legislature amended drug sentencing laws. A defendant who committed certain drug offenses on June 30, 2014, would serve five times longer in prison than a defendant who committed that same offense one day later. A repeal of the Savings Clause will allow to the Legislature to retroactively apply lesser sentencing to prisoners currently in prison. As a result, the Legislature would be allowed to apply new sentencing guidelines to prisoners currently incarcerated, allowing an earlier release and possibly reduce expenses to the state. (CRC Judicial Committee Analysis)

Supporters include State Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who has been a leading voice calling for reform of the criminal justice system, and Sandy D’Alemberte, a former president of the American Bar Association and Florida State University, who said that changing the savings clause would be the most progressive reform to Florida’s criminal justice system since the establishment of public defenders to represent poor defendants. (Florida Times-Union) Given the condition of Florida’s prisons (e.g. see here), I SUPPORT AMENDMENT 11.

Amendment 12 - Lobbying and Abuse of Office by Public Officers would expand ethics rules for on lobbying for compensation by former public officers, notably by expanding from two to six years the time that many officials would have to wait before they could do so. Full text here.

It has been called “one of the most complex questions on the ballot” (LWVF), with a number of different elements for voters to consider. The one that generates the most headlines is the six-year ban. The current ban on lobbying after leaving office is two years, and applies only to the government body or agency that person belonged to.

Supporters include Integrity Florida. Opponents include the Florida Chamber. The Florida LWV takes no position because, they say, although there is need for lobbying reform, “six years might be onerous, and this amendment does not address the real issue regarding lobbying, which is the impact of money in political campaigns.” I agree with the Naples Daily News Editorial Board that “This amendment alone won’t clean up all that can be addressed to improve government ethics in the state. Campaign finance reform to control the influence of money on political campaigns and the meting out of harsher, quicker and more frequent penalties by the Florida Ethics Commission also would help. Amendment 12 is an improvement, however.” I SUPPORT AMENDMENT 12.

Amendment 13 - Ends Dog Racing would phase out commercial dog racing in connection with wagering, but not affect other gaming activities. Full text here.

Florida has 12 of the nation’s 18 dog-racing tracks. Dog racing – usually greyhounds – is one of several “pari-mutuel” wagering sports in Florida. (Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering)

“The state’s 12 dog tracks took in $240 million in bets during the year that ended in June 2016, half the amount wagered a decade before,” according to the Florida Times-Union. “The state says it now spends more money regulating the greyhound industry than it receives in tax revenue from the races. But dogs still race in Florida because the tracks must exist if pari-mutuel companies want to keep open their more-lucrative poker rooms. Under state law, only pari-mutuel facilities like horse tracks, jai alai frontons and greyhound kennel clubs can operate card rooms. If greyhound tracks stop their races, the card rooms would have to close.”

Supporters include Grey2KUSA, the Humane Society of the United States, and League of Women Voters of Florida. Opponents include Florida Greyhound Association and the NRA. I agree with the Naples Daily News that “the state shouldn’t force a business to operate in ways that have proven unprofitable.” I SUPPORT AMENDMENT 13.

To summarize how I will vote

Amendment 1 - NO
Amendment 2 - NO
Amendment 3 - NO
Amendment 4 - YES
Amendment 5 - NO
Amendment 6 - NO
Amendment 7 - NO
Amendment 9 - YES
Amendment 10 - NO
Amendment 11 - YES
Amendment 12 - YES
Amendment 13 - YES

I hope my research helped you understand what each of the amendments would mean, and who stands to benefit if each is passed. I also hope helps you think more critically about how you will vote than you might have without it.

Stay tuned next for my posts about the candidates for the Collier Mosquito Control Commission Board, the judicial candidates, and the proposed Collier Sales Surtax.