The City of Naples will hold its mayoral and city council elections on March 17. Incumbent mayor Bill Barnett is running for another term, as are incumbent city councilors Reg Buxton, Michelle McLeod, and Ellen Seigel. All are facing challengers.
If you are a City voter, you have the opportunity to vote for one of two candidates for mayor and three of six candidates for Council. The elections are nonpartisan.
Even if you are not a City resident, the decisions Council makes in the next four years will have a significant effect on your quality of life and property values, and the future of our community.
The outcome of these elections depends on whether the majority of voters think the City is on the right track or the wrong track in managing redevelopment and addressing the environmental challenges of the coastal community. (For more, see Brent Batten: Redevelopment takes center stage — again — in Naples mayoral race. Naples Daily News, 12/5/19.)
The first step in evaluating the candidates for any office is to gather the facts. That’s what I do in Sparker’s Soapbox. The next step is up to you. Please consider my post, “6 Things to Consider When Evaluating Candidates” before you decide.
In this post, I’ll summarize what I learned about the candidates from online research including the candidates’ websites, Facebook and LinkedIn pages, campaign finance reports, Google searches, and written responses to a questionnaire I sent to each candidate. I’ve edited their answers in this post for brevity, so I encourage you to read them in their entirety via the links below.
I also attended the League of Women Voters’ Candidate Forums, where important differences between the candidates were apparent. You can watch the mayoral forum here and the council forum here, or read Naples Daily News reporter Brittany Carloni’s live tweets from the forum here.
For more on the March Presidential Preference Primaries and Naples City elections, see my earlier posts Party Affiliation and Florida as a Closed Primary State and Get Ready to Vote in Florida’s March 2020 Elections. The last day to register to vote or to change your party affiliation for the March elections is February 18, early voting begins March 7 and election day is March 17.
Candidates for Mayor
Bill Barnett – incumbent
Bill Barnett, 79, is a 47-year resident of the City. In his early years in Naples, he was a Toyota-BMW dealer. He sold the dealerships in 1983 to the Germain Automotive Group and was elected to his first term on City Council in 1984. He has served 12 years as a City Council member and is now running for a fifth term as mayor, having served 1996 – 2000, 2004 – 2012, and 2016 – today. In 2016, he defeated then-incumbent mayor John Sorey and then-City Councilwoman Teresa Heitmann, who is his current challenger.
Barnett’s campaign slogan is “He’s our Mayor.” His website emphasizes his long-time public service and the time he spends doing charity events, Chamber of Commerce functions and generally promoting the City of Naples. Referring to the more than 200,000 Collier County residents with a Naples mailing address, he jokes that he is also the mayor of “postal Naples.” In addition to his civic activities, Barnett currently serves as a board member of The Shelter for Abused Women and Children.
In response to my questionnaire, Barnett said three things he wants to accomplish if re-elected are:
- “Completion of our Stormwater and Beach Outfall Program.”
- “Continue to partner with the County to remove Septic Systems that they are dealing with and their water users are on City water.”
- “Meaningful improvements in the water quality in Naples Bay.”
Asked to name one recent City Council decision on which he disagreed with the outcome, he cited:
“… the 4-3 vote against eliminating architectural embellishments over 42 feet for our commercial buildings.”
Barnett said he “heard the residents in the vision survey say that buildings are too massive because they are too ‘tall’.” He hopes to have Council reconsider the current ordinance that allows up to 7 feet of architectural embellishments and “get rid of that provision immediately.” (He was referring to an early-2019 vision assessment survey of residents; summary of survey results here.)
- candidate questionnaire
- Bill Barnett seeks 5th term as Naples mayor, Naples Daily News, 4/18/19
Teresa Heitmann – challenger
Teresa Heitmann, 56, is a 30-year resident of Naples. She has business experience as an account executive for cosmetics firms Revlon Co. and then Lancôme, and in management of her family’s medical practice.
She served two terms on the Naples City Council (2008 – 2016), during which time she also served as co-chair of the City Community Redevelopment Agency. Her community service also includes leadership roles on the Florida League of Cities, the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council, the Aqualane Shores Association, Drug Free Collier and Collier County Public Schools committees. She is a graduate of Leadership Collier.
Heitmann’s campaign slogan is “It’s Time for a Change.” On her website, she says that Naples today “is at a critical juncture” due to “serious density and environmental issues” and “substantial financial challenges on the horizon.” She is running for mayor to “protect our community” and address three “dangers to our quality of life”: environment and storm water pollution; development; and financial management and ethics.
In a recent Facebook post, she wrote, “While listening is important, preserving the residential charm and character of Naples cannot be achieved through dialogue alone.… It is important to address the density issues, both residential and commercial, over-development , environmental and storm water pollution while consistently providing sound fiscal management.”
In response to my questionnaire, Heitmann said four things she wants to accomplish if elected are:
- “Improvement in environmental quality of both beaches and waterways through addressing stormwater pollution;”
- “Adherence to codes designed to protect the City from over-development and thus maintain our quality of life;”
- “Provide ethical leadership for transparency, fiscal responsibility, and accountability in city government;”
- “Provide an atmosphere which is more welcoming to citizen concerns and input.”
Asked what recent City Council decision she disagreed with, she cited:
“The City Council’s decision to sue our own citizens to prevent their ballot initiative dealing with more stringent ethics requirements from reaching the voters.”
She said it is “highly regrettable that taxpayers should pay for a frivolous lawsuit against their neighbors,” and that “when I am Mayor I will rapidly end this litigation so the voters can appropriately decide.” (She was referring to the Ethics Naples citizen initiative, website here.)
- candidate questionnaire
- Former Councilwoman Teresa Heitmann enters 2020 mayoral race, Naples Daily News, 11/27/19
This chart summarizes the candidates’ campaign finance filings with the City of Naples as of 02/15/20. You can view all of the candidates’ filings here.
Candidates for Council – Incumbents
Reg Buxton, 75, is a 30-year resident of Collier County, eight-year resident of the City and publisher of Life in Naples magazine. He was first elected to City Council in 2016 and is running for reelection to a second term.
He represents the City on the Collier County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) as chairman, the Florida MPO Advisory Council Governing Board and the Southwest-Central Florida Connector Task Force.
In addition, he represents the business community on the County’s Citizen Corps, serving on its Local Mitigation Strategy Working Group, and “at the County’s Emergency Operations Center during disasters [where he makes] all decisions pertaining to our community during that time.”
Buxton’s campaign slogan is “Promises Made, Promises Kept.” His website highlights his views on water quality and the environment, public safety and first response, and citizens and community. He has been an advocate for clean water and has worked closely with the FGCU Water School, Southwest Florida Water Management, Conservancy of SWFL and the Everglades Foundation.
In response to my questionnaire, Buxton said three things he wants to accomplish if elected are in the areas of:
- “Water quality – …. Naples is at the end of the pollution chain and until EVERYONE from Orlando to Naples changes their behaviors and patterns of thinking about pollution we will remain on the defense in Naples for decades to come.”
- “Protection/Safety of our community – .…[w]e now have a state of the arts Fire Station One that will be relevant for decades to come.”
- “Naples brand – …. [m]aintain what works well, re-evaluate our processes, and ensure that when I leave office that it is better than when I took office.”
Asked what recent City Council decision(s) he disagreed with, he cited the management of septic tanks:
“It was decided to start replacing these systems with only 300 homes however I did not feel that this was aggressive enough and recommended nearly four hundred.”
His website includes endorsements by Collier Fire Commissioner Jim Burke and former Emergency Management Coordinator for Collier County Jim Von Rinteln. According to his questionnaire, “four of the five sitting Collier County commissioners have endorsed my campaign. Ms. Taylor is not endorsing anyone.”
Michelle McLeod, 56, is a third-generation Floridian and 25-year City resident. She has a BA in communications from Saint Mary’s College and an MBA with a concentration in finance from Florida Gulf Coast University.
Prior to her 2016 election to City Council, McLeod had a 20-year career in the hotel industry culminating as Director of Sales for the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club, and a second career as vice president for a family-controlled bank.
She has served as executive director of the Park Shore Association, chair of the City’s Community Services Advisory Board, and member of Collier County’s Tourist Development Council and the United Way’s Budget Review Committee. She has also volunteered with the Humane Society Naples and Grace Place. She is a graduate of Leadership Collier and Leadership Florida.
McLeod’s vision is “preserving the unique character of Naples and maintaining that true small-town sense of community.” According to her website, she has centered her efforts as a council member on “nurturing a close, small-town feel; community enrichment; the look and feel of Naples; protecting natural resources; and enhancing quality of life.”
In response to my questionnaire, McLeod said three things she wants to accomplish if elected are:
- “Better communication” – provide residents “timely and factual information about city projects and plans” and “seek greater input from residents before decisions are made.”
- “Connecting Baker Park to Anthony Park with a boardwalk, in response to the parks’ needs assessment.”
- “Restore the usefulness of city lakes that receive public stormwater, improve the health of our bays and gulf, and address climate adaptation and resiliency issues” through implementation of the city’s “very aggressive updated $60 million stormwater master plan.”
Asked what recent City Council decision she disagreed with, she cited a 4-1 rejection of a sidewalk project:
”I was the lone vote in proceeding with the plans to construct sidewalks that were identified as missing links between existing sidewalks and the beach. It was a project that would have been completely funded by the Florida Department of Transportation. Approximately $500,000 had already been expended for planning, surveying, and design efforts…. [It was a project that] the city worked very hard to secure but was rejected by council because affected homeowners did not want sidewalks in front of their homes.”
Ellen Seigel, 71, is a 16-year Naples resident who had a career working for three Connecticut HMOs. She has a BA in mathematics from the University of Buffalo and a master’s degree in Health/Health Care Administration/Management from The George Washington University.
Prior to her election to City Council in 2016, Seigel served on the City’s Planning Advisory Board from 2014-2016. She also served on the Park Shore Association Board for 6 years, first as Membership Chair, then as President, and founded The Park Shore Fund, a charitable fund of the Community Foundation of Collier County dedicated to enhancing the Park Shore neighborhood of Naples.
Seigel says on her Facebook Page that she was elected to City Council in 2016 “with a promise to be independent, analytical and professional as I work diligently to maintain the small town charm of Naples.” Her first priority once elected was to restore the City’s tree budget, successfully advocating for new trees and sufficient funding for tree maintenance. As chair of the General Employees Pension Board and a trustee of the Firefighter’s Pension Board, she “promoted the gradual reduction of the investment assumption, recognizing the reality of responsible asset allocation.”
She says “I believe in following the City’s Code of Ordinances when making decisions about land development issues.”
In response to my question, she said three things she wants to accomplish if elected are:
- “Approval of long-term funding plan for the City’s 2019 Stormwater Master Plan. This would include: accelerating projects such as Phase II of the Beach Outfall Project and restoration of the 20-lakes that receive stormwater from public lands.”
- “Construction of the Gulfshore Playhouse Parking Garage at First Avenue South and Goodlette-Frank Road. I consider this project an essential component for reducing traffic and parking problems in the city.”
- “Continued reduction in the Pension Plans’ current Unfunded Pension Liability.”
Asked what recent City Council decision she disagreed with, she cited the approval of the site plan proposed for the Old Naples Hotel at the corner of Third Street South and Broad Avenue South (across the street from Campiello).
I voted against this project because I believed it lacked sufficient parking, and I had additional concerns about its density, size and service delivery arrangements.
Seigel has been endorsed by the Greater Naples Better Government Committee.
This chart summarizes the incumbent candidates’ campaign finance filings as of 02/15/20. You can view all of the candidates’ filings here.
Candidates for Council – Challengers
Ted Blankenship, 54, has been a Naples resident since 2011. He has a BS in accountancy from Auburn University and attended the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School.
He is a CPA and former partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers with over 30 years of experience in business and large global corporations. He has served as CFO of three companies (one public, two private), and lived and worked in multiple states and countries.
Blankenship’s community leadership roles include service on the Naples Community Services Advisory Board, Moorings Property Owners Association Board, Gulf Coast Runners Board, and Youth 4 Orphans Board. An avid runner, he also coaches the First Baptist Academy Cross Country and the Gulf Coast Runners Youth Track teams, and is a member of Naples Pathways Coalition and Conservancy of Southwest Florida.
In response to my questionnaire, Blankenship said three things he wants to accomplish if elected are:
- “Preservation of Naples distinctive charm by limiting commercial building heights to 42 foot limit in the City Charter and granting limited variances.”
- “Protection of our beaches and waters by completing phase 1 of the beach outfall pipe removal project, committing to phase 2 of this project, developing and beginning to implement plan to clean storm water retention ponds/lakes and updating building codes to require more storm water treatment on site.”
- “Ensuring financial conservatism by improving budgeting process to include cost reductions, transparency and more public involvement and reducing the size of the pension funding gap.”
Asked what recent City Council decision(s) he disagreed with, he said:
”I disagreed with the Council’s decision to increase the general fund property tax rate in September 2019 as they did not properly consider cost reductions first.”
He is the only challenger endorsed by the Greater Naples Better Government Committee.
Mike McCabe, 64, a Naples resident since early 2016, is a graduate of St. Louis University whose professional experience includes 21 years as a Vice President for Xerox Corporation followed by assignments at companies requiring a proficiency in change management, restructuring, and solving complex business challenges.
He serves on the Coquina Sands Homeowners Association Board and is president of the Parador Condominium Association in Naples. Prior to moving to Naples, he was president of his condominium association in the Lincoln Park area of Chicago, and volunteered with Habitat for Humanity.
McCabe’s campaign slogan is “Voice for the Residents.” According to his website, his issue priorities are responsible development; environment; financial stewardship; and city vision.
In response to my questionnaire, McCabe said three things he wants to accomplish if elected are:
- “Achieving and maintaining an equitable balance between commercial and resident interests” — “Our zoning and land codes should be in place to protect us and we must respect them.”
- “Environmental Stewardship” – “Our City engaged experts ten years ago who developed a plan that included solutions to protect and clean our environment. Funding for only some of those projects was allocated. … [R]emoving our outfall beach pipes which carry untreated water into the Gulf was considered a priority by the experts and we were directed by the State to remove them. Only ten years later are we now taking action; and the action we are taking is not sufficient.”
- “Improved fiscal responsibility, transparency, and ethics.” — “Financial accountability needs to become more institutionalized at City Hall. Budget meetings should be deliberate, and public.” The Ethics Naples petition should go to the voters.
Asked what recent City Council decision he disagreed with, he cited the “decision to strip the third party out of the easement to protect the green space on the Naples Beach Hotel Project.”
“Instead of accepting the easement as a perfect example of the resident’s voices being honored in a document securing the green space in perpetuity, the incumbents on City Council stripped the third party out of the easement. This action places the 109 acres of green space at risk. The residents voice was disregarded resulting in the public good being put at risk.”
Paul Perry, 68, is a 12-year Naples resident. He has degrees in political science and law from The Ohio State University, and practiced law in Ohio, Tennessee, and Michigan.
His legal practice has mainly dealt with real estate law, and he says his professional focus on local development, residents, and small businesses “gives him a perspective that aligns him to listen and act in the best interest of Naples residents.”
Perry has been an active member of the Naples Presidents Council that meets monthly with the city manager, spent hours before the Planning Advisory Board working on the update of the City’s Vision Plan, and worked with others to perpetually preserve the Naples Beach Hotel golf course as green space.
As president of the Chautauqua (New York) Property Owners Association, he represents over 1,200 property owners. In that role he also works with the Chautauqua Institution administration in solving property owner problems, including traffic, pedestrian and bicycle safety and architectural review of proposed renovations and new construction of homes. He also works on water issues similar to those of Naples in the management of New York lakes, and particularly Chautauqua Lake.
Perry’s campaign slogan is, “The solutions are found by listening to the residents.” According to his website, his priorities in running for City Council are “small-town feel; water quality; high standards; improved fiscal management; and working for Naples.”
In response to my questionnaire, Perry said three things he wants to accomplish if elected are:
- “Revise the land development code to curb abuses of height, use intensity, parking, stormwater, and other restrictions on the construction of commercial buildings.”
- “Accelerate remediation of City lakes and related stormwater issues.”
- “Intensify long-range fiscal planning to allow for the dealing with expensive long-range problems such as potable water; traffic and parking; stormwater; and flooding.
Asked what recent City Council decision he disagreed with, he cited “the Naples Beach Hotel Development golf course related easement.”
”…Five members of Council voted to strip the enforcement backstop provision, without even considering what else may effectively go in its place.”
That’s it for my review of the candidates for the Naples mayoral and city council elections. Next up will be my recap of February news!