I have worked hard for many years to establish Sparker’s Soapbox as a fact-based, unbiased, nonpartisan source of information about Florida and Collier County government.
My early Sparker’s Soapbox election-related posts ended with me saying who I was voting for and why. I stopped that practice several years ago because I was told that some people were unwilling to read my research because they “heard” or “could tell” I was of a particular political persuasion. I decided it was more important to reach everyone, even if it meant keeping my own views out of my posts.
Recently though, and after a great deal of thought, I decided that after I published my research on the nonpartisan races and issues, I would share how I would vote on them. In part, this is because many Collier voters are understandably focused on dealing with the effects of Hurricane Ian. They may not have the time or energy to spend researching candidates, and a few have asked for my help. If I can help someone by sharing my thought process and how I would vote, it’s the least I can do.
Another reason is that Collier’s two political parties and some religious groups have made endorsements in some of the nonpartisan races. Again, if I can provide additional insight to anyone who might otherwise rely only on the recommendations of those groups, I decided it is important for me to do so.
So below is how I would vote in the nonpartisan School Board, Fire District, and Mosquito Control Board races, on the Judicial Merit Retentions, and on the three proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution.
Collier County School Board
Before reading further, please read my Oct. 16 post Collier County School Board Elections.
As Sparker’s Soapbox readers know, I have closely followed the Collier County School Board for more than a decade. I have attended many School Board meetings and wrote frequently about them in Sparker’s Soapbox. (See the archive of my posts about the School Board here.)
I am impressed by and proud of the improvements in student performance at CCPS over those years. It has been an “A” rated district since 2017. Its 92.7 percent graduation rate increased by 20.2 percentage points since 2011. Its students outperformed the state in 100 percent of assessed areas for the last two years — despite the challenges of Hurricane Ian.
The three incumbent School Board members are on the team responsible for the District’s success. They’re not done with their work. They want to help CCPS students achieve even more, and I think all three of them deserve another term. I will vote for Jory Westberry for District 1, Jen Mitchell for District 3, and Roy Terry for District 5.
Greater Naples Fire Rescue — Seat 1
Before reading further, please read my Oct. 8 post, Greater Naples Fire Rescue District.
Mark Cherney says he is running because the GNFD is “currently on the verge of a full-scale tax and finance emergency” and it “has many ongoing operational, financial, and near-term future issues that simply are not being adequately addressed.”
His responses led me to look at the annual reports page of the District’s website. The reports revealed operating losses of about a quarter million dollars a year for the last two years. In addition, the District’s most recent (FY 2019-20) audited financial statement (here) reveals a 52 percent decline in net assets between 2019 and 2020 — from $4.2 million to $2.0 million.
Cherney says, “The current GNFD board is running on autopilot and has been stagnant for a long period of time. There remains district bias that is still present eight years later following the merger of East Naples and Golden Gate Fire Districts, making the board dysfunctional. Our firefighters deserve a board that is going to stand behind and support them with equipment and infrastructure to provide our citizenry with the emergency services required to protect their lives.”
I will vote for Mark Cherney for Seat 1.
Greater Naples Fire Rescue — Seat 4
Kevin Gerrity, the current GNFD Chairman, is a career firefighter with 6-1/2 years as a fire chief in Cleveland, OH. He served in many operational and administrative positions in one of America’s major city fire departments and says he is a “strong advocate for consolidation of the fire and EMS services within Collier County,” as am I.
Gerrity says, “The board has made several unfortunate decisions lately, expanding operations at significant cost to the district before demand for the services has been fully documented. Even against the recommendation of the fire chief and support staff, the board has expanded services where the demand has not warranted.” Gerrity appears to share Cherney’s strong concerns.
If this race were on my ballot, I would vote for Kevin Gerrity for Seat 4
Greater Naples Fire Rescue — Seat 3
William Douglass is a 35-year Collier County resident and 30-year GNFD firefighter who retired as a lieutenant in 2020. As a first responder, he “saw first-hand the various needs in our community – needs that too often remained unmet.” He helped reestablish the Naples Jaycees in 1989 after years of dormancy, and as the group’s president, listened to the community, rallied its membership, and “established a July 4th Fireworks and Festival that raised funding to meet the needs of our community.”
While I am disappointed that Douglass is not actively campaigning for this position, he has long-time knowledge of the community and its issues and a track record of community service.
I will vote for William Douglass.
North Collier Fire Rescue — Seats 1 & 2
Before reading further, please read my Oct. 11 post, North Collier Fire Rescue.
Unlike the GNFD, the NCFD’s financial condition appears to be strong. Its most recent (FY 2019-20) audited financial statements (here) reveal a 45 percent increase in net assets between 2019 and 2020 — from $25.5 million to $36.9 million.
Chris Crossan is a Collier County native and 30-year firefighter who retired as chief of the Marco Island Fire Department in 2021 and served a decade on the Big Corkscrew and North Collier boards. Incumbent Jim Burke is a 24-year Collier resident with a long track record of community service, including 14 years as a fire commissioner. Both were consolidation advocates.
I would vote for Crossan and Burke.
Collier Mosquito Control
Before reading further, please read my Oct. 18 post, Collier Mosquito Control District.
Only two candidates provided any information about themselves and why they are running. Both have impressive resumes and have long demonstrated a commitment to community service.
I will vote for Sandra Lee Buxton for Seat 2 and Ed Brandt for Seat 3.
Judicial Merit Retention
Before reading further, please read my Oct. 22 post Merit Retention of Florida Judges
Judges are supposed to be impartial and above politics and partisanship. If I believed that was true of all justices and judges on the bench, I would vote based solely on their resumes.
However, I have been disappointed recently by how much more partisan and ideological judicial appointments and actions have become. The challenge for today’s voters is to decide how that trend will affect their merit retention votes.
Supreme Court Justices
I noted that Justice Canady’s most recent rating of 69 percent is 14 points lower than his first merit retention rating as a Supreme Court Justice in 2010. (His rating as an appellate judge in 2004 was 77 percent.)
For the same period, Justice Polston’s rating declined by 10 points. On the other hand, Justice Labarga’s three ratings have been consistently high.
The 62 percent rating of Justice Couriel, who is facing voters for the first time, would be a D-minus on a test. The 55 percent rating of Justice Grosshans would be considered a failing grade.
Based on the above, and what I learned and shared in my previous post, I will vote Yes to retain Justice LaBarga and No for Justices Canady, Couriel, Grosshans, and Polston.
Appellate Court Judges
Because I live in the state’s Second Appellate District, I did a similar review of the ratings of its eight judges on my ballot. If you live in another district, you can do the same analysis by looking at the 2022 poll results here and prior year results here.
I noted that the ratings of the six who have been before voters before have declined over the years, but to a lesser degree than did those of the Supreme Court justices.
Of the two judges facing voters for their first merit retention vote, only Judge Stargel had a rating (66 percent) below a C grade.
Based on the above, and what I learned and shared in my previous post, I will for Yes to retain Judges Kelly, Khouzam, Labritt, Lucas, Morris, Northcutt, and Villanti. I will vote No for Judge Stargel.
Before reading further, please read my Oct. 24 post Proposed Constitutional Amendments.
I will vote Yes for Amendment 1 because I think homeowners should be incentivized to make improvements to protect their homes from flooding, and because the amendment is prospective and will not take away a revenue stream already in place.
I believe proposed amendments should be limited to a single subject, as is currently required by the Constitution for citizen initiative proposals (Article XI, Section 3).
According to the Constitution, “Each constitution revision commission shall … adopt its rules of procedure,” (Article XI, Section 2). So I see no reason to think that such a requirement can be put in place by the Legislature or that future CRCs will necessarily choose to do so.
For these reasons, I will vote Yes for Amendment 2.
I will vote No for Amendment 3 because I do not support carving out specific groups to receive special tax treatment, especially in the Constitution. I agree with the Tampa Bay Times Editorial’s suggestion that “There’s an easy way to help cops, firefighters, prison guards and teachers: Pay these professionals what they’re worth.”