As Feared: Becoming a News Desert
It’s been coming for some time but accelerated greatly this month. On December 1, long-time Naples Daily News columnist Brent Batten accepted a buy-out offer from Gannett and announced his retirement:
- Brent Batten: A few lines at the end of the line. “Over 35 years I’ve been fortunate to cover the police and courts beats, serve as the paper’s Lee County bureau chief, its city editor and, for the past 23 years, a columnist.” Naples Daily News, 12/1/20
Around the same time, Patrick Riley, Naples Daily News county government reporter, left to become government accountability reporter at Lookout Santa Cruz, a startup online news enterprise. It’s one of many new business models seeking to fill the growing news desert space.
In the two weeks that followed:
- Gannett will outsource 485 business-side jobs to India. Some of Gannett’s 250-plus newspapers now have as few as one locally based reporter. Poynter.org, 12/10/20
- Bill Barker steps down as publisher in SWFL, regional president for Gannett. Gannett plans to reduce its number of regional divisions from eight to five, with Florida being absorbed into a larger division. Naples Daily News, 12/16/20
- NCH buys Naples Daily News building for nearly $28 million. Cindy McCurry-Ross, Southwest Florida editor of the USA TODAY NETWORK, said the Daily News is as committed as ever to providing top-notch journalism and marketing to Collier County. Naples Daily News, 12/18/20
We must continue to support our local journalism. A one-year digital subscription to the Naples Daily News is just $3 for 3 months. Click here to subscribe.
Due to the increasing scarcity of local government news, I have expanded the sources I follow.
Local news reported in this post is by:
Steve Stefanides (Coastal Breeze News); Brittany Carloni, Dan DeLuca, Liz Freeman, Rachel Fradette, Thaddeus Mast, Omar Rodriguez Ortiz, Patrick Riley, and Karl Schneider (Naples Daily News); Olivia Hyde (NBC-2 News); Bill Smith (The News-Press); David Silverberg (The Paradise Progressive); Andrea Perdomo (WGCU News); and Rachel Cox-Rosen, Rich Kolko, Nicole Lauren, Zach Oliveri, Taylor Smith, and Gina Tomlinson (WINK News).
Through January 3, 4,521 people have been vaccinated in Collier County, according to the latest Florida Department of Health COVID-19 vaccine summary. No other county-level details are available.
Collier’s COVID-19 test positivity rate has been in the double-digits since December 30:
- Collier County deputies warn of vaccine-related scams. Scammers are using social media, texts, and websites to try to steal personal information, money and even send a virus to computers. NBC-2.com, 12/17/20
- State health official in Collier County discusses COVID-19 vaccine. Since the vaccine rollout is nationwide, even seasonal residents who are eligible can receive the vaccine. WGCU Public Media, 12/21/20
- Collier County to start vaccinations by appointment Jan. 3 after shipment of 3,500 Moderna vaccines. Appointments were quickly booked, but more shipments of vaccine are expected. Naples Daily News, 12/30/20
- Conflicting rules leave some in North Naples community without COVID-19 vaccine. CVS follows the CDC’s recommendations while Walgreens follows the governor’s order. WINK News, 12/30/20
- COVID-19 vaccinations start in Collier County, slows down testing. Nearly all COVID-19 testing sites run by DOH-Collier County will close this week. Naples Daily News, 1/3/21
- Collier health officials: More COVID-19 vaccines on way for appointments, second doses. “We ask the community to be patient.” Naples Daily News, 1/4/21
In the City of Naples
- NCH CEO and Mayor Teresa Heitmann hold Town Hall on status of local healthcare system and City’s efforts during pandemic. YouTube, 12/15/20
- Naples City Council asks businesses to mask up. Councilor Gary Price said he reconsidered his earlier position in part due to an overwhelming number of emails from residents. Naples Daily News, 12/21/20; Ordinance
Board of County Commissioners
Collier residents are represented by one of five elected county commissioners.
Find your commissioner HERE.
Last month, County Manager Leo Ochs announced plans to retire by the end of May and Deputy County Manager Nick Casalanguida said he would leave by year’s end. Now:
- Collier decides against using recruitment firm in search for next county manager. The vote was 3-2, with Commissioners Andy Solis and Burt Saunders opposing the decision. Naples Daily News, 12/15/20
- Collier County manager job applicants so far include Naples city manager. Naples Daily News, 12/18/20
- Collier Commission backs employee promotion amid possible conflict of interest with landowner. Commissioner Penny Taylor questioned a conflict of interest between the promoted planning and zoning director and one of the county’s largest landowners. Naples Daily News, 12/9/20
- BCC hears progress report on implementation of county Mental Health and Addiction Strategic Plan. Commissioner Solis newsletter, 12/16/20; full session HERE, 2-minute video HERE.
Other County Government News
- Collier County Parks & Recreation Division earns fourth national accreditation. Commissioner Taylor Newsletter, 12/17/20
- Foam recycling expands in Collier County. Collier County Press Release, 12/30/20
- Growth Management Department transitions to paperless permits. County Press Release, 1/4/21
County Project Updates
- Tigertail Beach Park on Marco Island to see $1M in improvements. WINK News, 12/2/20
- $2 million Collier beach renourishment project near Lowdermilk Park wraps up. Naples Daily News, 12/4/20; Collier Television
Naples Senior Center
- Naples Senior Center expansion approved by Collier County commissioners. WINK News, 12/11/20
- New location for Naples Senior Center moving forward despite neighbors’ objections. Naples Daily News, 12/16/20
Amazon Distribution Center
- Amazon distribution center construction set to finish in March, bring up to 100 jobs. Naples Daily News via Marco Eagle, 12/11/20
Paradise Coast Sports Complex
- Collier County Commission approves new infusion of money for sports complex as construction costs mount. The price tag is now $104.5 million. Naples Daily News, 12/22/20
East Naples Triangle
- Developer continues fight for county incentives on East Naples triangle redevelopment site after Commissioners Solis and Taylor voted no. Naples Daily News, 12/11/20
- ICYM: Developer seeks tax rebates for catalyst project on East Naples triangle site. Naples Daily News, 10/13/20
Collier County Public Schools
- Collier school board sets priorities on testing, funding ahead of the legislative session. Like last year, goals are increased per-student funding, a one-year lead time between rolling out new programs or changes, and a push for continued local control and flexibility for school boards. Naples Daily News, 12/9/20
- About 3,500 Collier schools students lacking progress encouraged to return to brick-and-mortar schools. Naples Daily News, 12/10/20
- Collier School District looks to expand students with disabilities curriculum. Naples Daily News, 12/17/20
Other County Government Bodies
Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller
- Clerk’s Office awarded Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting. Collier Clerk Press Release, 12/21/20; award-winning report
- Clerk looks back on 2020 accomplishments. Collier Clerk Newsletter, December 2020
- Collier County Sheriff’s Office addresses mental health. Lt. Leslie Weidenhammer’s department, which has team members from the David Lawrence Center, has added a certified deputy and a mental health clinician. WINK News, 12/10/20; Facebook
- Collier County deputies train to recognize implicit bias. While there haven’t been any complaints in Collier, the class helped make everyone aware that bias does exist – and that it can affect response. WINK News, 12/14/20
City of Naples
- Naples beach parking fees, beach sticker-only spaces to increase. Naples Daily News, 12/4/20; Beach Parking Permit webpage
- Naples City Council looks to strengthen preservation of Naples Beach Hotel golf course. Naples Daily News, 12/9/20
- Wounded Warriors of Collier County turns to federal judge to allow them to help more homeless vets. WINK News, 12/12/20
- ‘It’s a tremendous improvement’: New fire station opens at Naples Airport after 30 years. Naples Daily News, 12/17/20
- Traffic technology helps Naples police track down suspects. WINK News, 12/23/20
- Naples CRA advisory board recommends three-story, four-level parking garage. Naples Daily News, 12/28/20
City of Marco Island
- Council deals with an uncomfortable conversation. Coastal Breeze News, 12/7/20
- Marco Island leaders ask legislators to back $425,000 in state funds for water project. Marco Eagle, 12/7/20
- Marco Island City Council appoints Babrowski as councilor following Rios’ resignation. Marco Eagle, 12/08/20
- Assisted living receives thumbs up from Planning Board. Coastal Breeze News, 12/10/20
- Council to hear rezoning request for assisted living facility. Marco Eagle, 12/16/20
- Town Hall for comprehensive plan held. Coastal Breeze News, 12/17/20
- Marco Island’s top headlines of 2020: Coronavirus, ‘new council,’ water quality and growth. Marco Eagle, 12/29/20
Greater Naples Fire Rescue District (GNFRD)
Residents of Collier County receive fire and emergency medical services (EMS) from five separately-managed entities, depending on the location of the need. GNFRD is one of them.
Learn more HERE.
- Fire station in middle of Alligator Alley at risk of shutting down. WINK News, 12/9/20
- Fire chief leaves Greater Naples Fire Rescue District after 11 years of service. Naples Daily News, 12/15/20
Our State Legislators
Parts of Collier County are represented in the Florida House of Representatives by Reps. Bob Rommel (District 106), Lauren Melo (District 80), and David Borrero (District 105). All of Collier County is represented in the Florida Senate by Sen. Kathleen Passidomo.
Find Your State Representative
- State Rep. Rommel and [former Rep.] Donalds support Rick Scott’s vote against COVID-19 relief package. WINK News, 12/22/20
Our U.S. Congressmen
Parts of Collier County are represented in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (District 25) and, through January 2, 2021, Rep. Francis Rooney (District 19). Rep. Byron Donalds assumed the District 19 seat on January 3rd.
Find Your Representative
- Mario Diaz-Balart backs long-shot Texas lawsuit to invalidate ballots in four states. Miami Herald, 12/20/20
- Pandemic relief bill includes important proposal by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart. The Paradise Progressive, 12/21/20
- Collier’s congressmen vote on federal pandemic relief bill. Reps. Francis Rooney and Mario Diaz-Balart were among the 359 House members who voted yes. The Paradise Progressive, 12/22/20
- Collier reps vote on defense, stimulus bills. Rooney voted to override Trump’s veto of military spending bill; Diaz-Balart sided with the President. The Paradise Progressive, 12/28/20
From our newest Congressman:
- Donalds’ first act in Congress will be objecting to counting votes. The News-Press, 12/31/20
That’s it for December Collier County government news.