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Who’s Running for Clerk of Courts in Collier County’s August 2020 Primaries?

Election 2020

Every four years in presidential election years, Collier County voters elect five independent county officers called “constitutional officers” in at-large (county-wide), partisan elections.

The five constitutional officers are:

  • Tax Collector,
  • Property Appraiser,
  • Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller (“Clerk”),
  • Sheriff, and
  • Supervisor of Elections.

For more on the types of races and who gets to vote in each, see my post Get Ready to Vote in the August 2020 Primaries.

This year, no one challenged incumbent Sheriff Kevin Rambosk or incumbent Supervisor of Elections Jennifer Edwards in their runs for reelection, and no one challenged Deputy Tax Collector Rob Stoneburner in his run to succeed incumbent Tax Collector Larry Ray upon his retirement.

As a result, three of the five constitutional officers will be automatically elected and those races will not be on the ballot.

Incumbent Clerk Crystal Kinzel and incumbent Property Appraiser Abe Skinner, both Republicans, are running for reelection, and each has a Republican challenger. While constitutional officer elections are nominally partisan, the fact that the candidates for these two offices are all Republicans makes them universal elections in which all voters, regardless of party affiliation, may vote.

With just two people running in each race, both elections will be decided in August.

In this post, I will look at the role of the Clerk and the two candidates who are running. I will look at the Property Appraiser race in my next post.

The Role of the Clerk

The Clerk’s Office performs a wide range of record keeping, information management, and financial management for both the judicial system and county government.

Within those roles, the Office performs over 900 different constitutional and statutory functions and duties (not including responsibilities required by court rule and administrative order), according to the Florida Clerks’ association.

Collier’s Clerk oversees a $23 million annual budget and a staff of 194. The Clerk’s base salary is set by state statute as a function of county population. This fiscal year, it is $147,293.

The history of the Clerk’s Office in Collier County is an interesting one, as explained in my posts about the last two Clerk elections:

The Candidates

The two Republican candidates for Clerk are incumbent Crystal Kinzel and challenger James Molenaar.

Crystal Kinzel

Kinzel

Crystal Kinzel (64) has been Collier’s Clerk of Courts since 2018, and previously served as her predecessor’s deputy. She joined the Clerk’s office in 2005, after 16 years as a finance director with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office.

She has a Bachelor’s of Business Administration in Accounting from George Washington University and is a Certified Government Finance Manager. See the About Crystal web page for a more detailed bio.

According to her website, Kinzel has the “experience, the vision, the energy and the proven ability to lead the Clerk’s Office into the next generation of services.” Among the “proudest accomplishments” of her tenure as Clerk, she cites “saving Collier County taxpayers millions of dollars through our audits of county expenditures and programs.”

If elected, she says three things she wants to accomplish are:

  1. Protect your hard-earned money;
  2. Continue automation of services; and
  3. Connect the Public to more services.

A current public policy position she disagrees with is that “the legislature routinely passes unfunded mandates and the revenue sources for court services are unstable.”

She says the most important thing voters should know about her before making their decision in this race is that “I have the proven ability and relevant experience to serve the taxpayers.”

Endorsements

Kinzel has been endorsed by Florida Senator Kathleen Passidomo; State Attorney for the 20th Judicial Circuit Amira Fox and her predecessor Steve Russell; Collier County Commissioners Burt Saunders, Penny Taylor, and Donna Fiala; Naples Area Board of Realtors (NABOR); Greater Naples Better Government Committee; several former elected officials and Republican party leaders; and others.

In Her Own Words

James Molenaar

James Molenaar
Molenaar

James Molenaar (51) is challenging incumbent Clerk Kinzel in this race. See press coverage, below.

Molenaar was until recently the senior legal counsel for the Collier County Clerk of Courts and Comptroller. He joined the Clerk’s office in 2014 as manager of the internal audit department and was promoted to senior legal counsel by senior legal counsel by Clerk Kinzel in 2018.

Molenaar began his professional career in Naples as a prosecutor for the State Attorney’s Office – 20th Judicial Circuit, and practiced law privately for a time before joining the Clerk’s office.

He has a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Purdue University, a Juris Doctorate from Michigan State University, College of Law, a Master of Law in Information Technology and Privacy Law from the John Marshall Law School at the University of Illinois, and a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business Administration. See his website Biography page for a more detailed resume.

His website tagline is “strong leadership in times of change.” If elected, he says three things he wants to accomplish are:

  1. Improve the Clerk’s audit function and aid in getting Collier County working again by timely paying county vendors; and make a more streamlined vendor payment process;
  2. Bring professionalism, integrity and fairness back to the office of Collier County Clerk of Courts and Comptroller; and
  3. Make public service excellence a priority in all areas of the Clerk’s operations.

A current public policy position he disagrees with is that “At the end of the fiscal year, the Florida Legislature requires some of the 67 Clerk’s (sic), including the Collier County Clerk of Court, to disburse the revenue earned in Collier to Tallahassee. Then in turn, it is disbursed to other county clerks who are less profitable to use in their operations…. [T]he legislature [should] allow the Collier Clerk of Courts to keep any credit balance in the Clerk’s accounts after the close of these year-end entries or use the funds for the Collier County citizens and taxpayers.”

He says the most important thing voters should know about him before making their decision in this race is that “I have a proven track record of success for the past 35 years in law enforcement, as a prosecutor, auditor and senior government attorney…”

Endorsements

Molenaar’s website lists endorsements by Naples attorney Donald Day, Esq.; realtor Bridget Copper Fagen; Collier County prosecutor Thomas Gorman, Esq.; Alfie Oakes, owner of Seed to Table and Oakes Farms; and more.

In His Own Words

Press Coverage Relevant to the Race

The Money

This is what the candidates have reported through the most recent campaign finance reports:

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

Contributions to Kinzel – Kinzel loaned her campaign $10,100. She received eight contributions of the maximum $1,000 each. Six $1,000 contributors are investment companies or attorneys, five of which listed the same Naples P.O. box address; one gave a West Palm Beach address. The other two gave the same apartment number in a Pelican Bay high-rise. Kinzel also received contributions from former Collier Sheriff Don Hunter and former School Board member Kathleen Curatolo.

Contributions to Molenaar – Molenaar loaned his campaign $50,000. He received three contributions of $1,000 each: two from businesses with Naples mailing addresses and one from an individual with an Indiana address who had the last name Molenaar.

Voters’ Choice

Incumbent Kinzel says there is more she wants to do to improve the Clerk’s Office operations and that she is the one with the “experience, the vision, the energy, and the proven ability” to do it. Challenger Molenaar says change is needed. It’s up to the voters to choose.

This race is open to all Collier voters and will be decided in August.

This post was changed based on an email from Crystal Kinzel received shortly after its initial publication that pointed out the following:

  • The Clerk oversees a budget of $23 million. I initially only reported the non-court budget of $11 million. 
  • The Clerk oversees a total staff of 194 full-time equivalents (FTEs). I initially only reported the non-court staff of about 100.
  • Molenaar was promoted to senior legal counsel in 2018 by Kinzel as Clerk, not by Brock.

I apologize for the errors.

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