This month in Collier County government news: Local beaches reopen; a changing of the guard on City Council; CCPS tax-neutral referendum and Ethics Naples head to August ballot.
Local news reported in this post is by Brittany Carloni, Phil Fernandez, Rachel Fradette, Liz Freeman, Chad Gillis, Kaitlin Greenockle, Laura Layden, Devan Patel, Patrick Riley, Jessica Rodriguez, Bill Smith and Karl Schneider (USA TODAY Network – Florida: Naples Daily News, News-Press, Marco Eagle)
For the latest news about the coronavirus in our area and across the state, visit Sen. Kathleen Passidomo’s COVID-19 News & Resources page, here.
Reopening County and City Facilities
Local beaches and parks were reopened on April 30, following Gov. DeSantis’ reopening of the state. County and city staffs coordinated on the timing.
- Collier commissioners agree to reopen county beaches Thursday. Naples Daily News, 4/28/20
- Naples City Council votes unanimously to reopen access to city beaches, parks Thursday. Naples Daily News, 4/29/20
- Marco Island to reopen beach access Thursday; Caxambas boat ramp to reopen this weekend. Marco Eagle, 4/29/20
- Collier County announces re-opening details for beach, playing fields, and hard courts. News Release, 4/30/20
Before the announcement of the beach reopening, there was talk of a committee to be formed to deal with the eventual reopening of the economy, parks, beaches, and government buildings. As of this writing, I could find no update on the status of this committee.
- Collier County leaders look to create committee to plan reopening of economy, beaches, parks. Naples Daily News, 4/20/20
Availability of Testing
For most of April, COVID-19 testing was hard to come by. In the past week, it has become somewhat easier to be tested in Southwest Florida.
- Florida coronavirus testing varies widely, often by income. Wealthy Collier ranks 8th in state. Naples Daily News, 4/6/20
- Collier County wants to know: Where are the rapid COVID-19 tests? Not in Naples. Naples Daily News, 4/8/20
- COVID-19 testing in Immokalee to be provided by state health agency, National Guard. Naples Daily News, 4/30/20
- Free drive-thru coronavirus testing begins Monday at Lee County’s CenturyLink Sports Complex. The News-Press, 5/1/20
- Lee County COVID-19 test site gets nearly twice number of kits after running out Monday. Naples Daily News, 5/5/20
Effect on Collier County Public Schools
While the rest of the county is expected to reopen in stages over the coming months, Florida’s K-12 schools will continue distance learning through the end of the school year — June 3rd, for CCPS. High school seniors’ usual graduation events have been canceled or are “going virtual,” while school principals are supporting their scattered staff from afar.
- Collier cancels all high school proms amid coronavirus, provides update on graduation. Naples Daily News, 4/10/20
- Collier public schools announces plans for virtual graduation ceremonies. Naples Daily News, 4/28/20
- With empty schools and scattered staff, Collier school principals are ‘supporting’ from afar. Marco Eagle, 5/4/20
Other COVID-19 News
- People arrested for violating isolation or quarantine orders will be held on no bond. Twentieth Judicial Circuit (includes Collier County) Administrative Office of the Courts, COVID-19 Advisory #6, 4/3/20
- Southwest Florida law enforcement implores communities to comply with ‘safer-at-home’ order. Naples Daily News, 4/5/20
- Southwest Florida’s parks, preserves face visitor, funding shortfalls amid COVID-19 pandemic. The News-Press, 4/8/20
Growth & Development
In March, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida sued Collier County to overturn its approval of a controversial proposed rural village to be developed by Collier Enterprises. The Conservancy has been staunchly opposed to the project from the start, arguing that it doesn’t meet the goals and the policies of the Rural Land Stewardship Area (RLSA) where the development is to be located and that it would destroy hundreds of acres of primary panther habitat.
- Conservancy of Southwest Florida sues Collier County over Rivergrass Village. Naples Daily News, 3/9/20
In April, Collier Enterprises, the developer of Rivergrass, joined the county in the legal fight.
- Commentary: Collier Enterprises steps forward to defend Collier County’s rural lands. By Gravina, Smith, Matte & Arnold Marketing and PR, Florida Weekly, 4/2/20; Special to Naples Daily News, 4/4/20
- Collier Enterprises joins county’s side in Conservancy’s Rivergrass Village lawsuit. Naples Daily News, 4/7/20
Also in April, new residential projects by other developers continued. Will our roads be able to handle the traffic?
- Construction starts on latest GL Homes master planned community; Vanderbilt Beach Road work has not yet begun. Naples Daily News, 4/20/20
- Stock Development tweaks controversial plans for One Naples, but project still faces opposition. Naples Daily News, 4/22/20
Meanwhile, East Naples is planning for future development and seeks community input:
- East Naples community development planning process underway. Commissioner Donna Fiala email, 05/01/20
- East Naples Community Development Plan Survey. colliercountyfl.gov
City of Naples
With a new mayor and three new council members, and while dealing with decisions related to the coronavirus, the Naples City Council took several important actions:
- Naples plans vote on Ethics Naples referendum for August primary. Naples Daily News, 4/15/20
- Survey to help Naples decide whether to quiet noisy leaf blowers. Naples Daily News, 4/22/20
- Eighth Street improvements allowed to continue after special Naples City Council meeting. Naples Daily News, 4/24/20
- City seeks public input before May 4 Workshop on proposed Modified Vision Statement. Citizens for Preserving Naples, 4/28/20
City of Marco Island
- Marco Island moves forward with new fire station plans. Marco Eagle, 4/7/20
- Marco Island City Councilor Sam Young resigns. Naples Daily News, 4/23/20
After the City of Naples and Collier County closed their beaches, fearing an influx of beach enthusiasts from the east coast:
- Beaches are closed on Marco Island. Coastal Breeze News, 3/27/20
But some residents complained that beach access was still allowed through hotels and condominiums, and Councilman Victor Rios spoke of two classes of citizens, one with access and one without. After a lengthy City Council meeting on April 6, by a vote of 4-3 (Grifoni, Brechnitz, Rios and Reed in favor; Roman, Young and Honig opposed):
- Beach access closure reversed. Coastal Breeze News, 4/2/20
In response, hundreds of residents expressed their disfavor with Council’s decision to reopen due to public health concerns through emails to council and across social media. And — in “a stunning turn of events” — City Manager Michael McNees, after consultation with Council Chairman Erik Brechnitz, reversed the decision:
The lesson: Make your voice heard. You can make a difference!
Collier County Public Schools
Collier County’s school district is calling for a tax referendum to go before voters in August stemming from anticipated budget shortfalls due to the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. Last month, the Collier County School Board approved the District’s request that a tax neutral referendum be placed on the August ballot.
- Collier’s school board proposes referendum for August primary to make funds ‘flexible’. Naples Daily News, 4/21/20
- CCPS Referendum Website
I will write more about this referendum as part of Sparker’s Soapbox coverage of the races and referenda that will be on Collier voters’ ballots in the coming months.
Clerk of Courts & Comptroller
- Clerk’s Office processing domestic violence protection injunctions during the economic crisis. Collier Clerk Press Release, 4/22/20
- Clerk offering payment plan options to those struggling to pay fines and fees during the public health emergency. Collier Clerk Press Release, 4/22/20
- Sheriff Rambosk honored for crash reduction program. Life in Naples Magazine, April 2020
Supervisor of Elections
- Southwest Florida ready for massive voting by mail, say county election officials. The Paradise Progressive, 4/22/20
Our State Legislators
Parts of Collier County are represented in the Florida House of Representatives by Rep. Byron Donalds (District 80), Rep. Bob Rommel (District 106), and Rep. Ana Maria Rodriguez (District 105). All of Collier County is represented in the Florida Senate by Sen. Kathleen Passidomo.
Collier County’s state senator and representatives penned op-ed pieces sharing their strikingly different takes on the current situation:
Sen. Passidomo, who is also Florida’s Senate Majority Leader, highlights her confidence in and support of Governor DeSantis’s “strong leadership:”
- Opinion: We’ll get through this together. By Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R, D-28, Florida Senate Majority Leader, via The News-Press, 4/8/20
As he runs for reelection to a third term in the Florida House, Rep. Rommel leads with, “President Trump is right: COVID-19 is an unseen enemy, and we are at war.”
- Opinion: Sooner, not later, put fear aside for sake of future generations. By Rep. Bob Rommel, R, D-106, via The News-Press, 4/11/20
As one of ten Republican candidates for Congressional District 19 representing western Collier and Lee counties, Rep. Donalds leads with and titled his piece:
- Opinion: Gov. DeSantis and President Trump demonstrate difference between rulers and public servants.By Rep. Byron Donalds, R, D-80, via The News-Press, 4/28/20
Our U.S. Congressmen
Parts of Collier County are represented in the U.S. Congress of Rep. Francis Rooney (District 19) and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (District 25).
- With reelection assured, Mario Diaz-Balart gets two more years as key member of appropriations committee. Florida Daily, 4/28/20
- Rep. Rooney signs Republican letter calling for W.H.O. leader’s resignation. The Paradise Progressive, 4/18/20
- US House passes $484 B business aid bill; Rooney absent, Diaz-Balart approves. The Paradise Progressive, 4/23/20
- Francis Rooney: Federal funds coming to Southwest Florida airports. Florida Daily, 5/1/20
That’s it for April’s Collier County government news. Stay safe, and have a great May!