Who’s Running for Clerk of Courts in the August 2018 Primaries?

Unexpectedly this year, there will be an election to complete the term of long-time Clerk of Courts and Comptroller Dwight Brock, who passed away unexpectedly last month.   This is a county-wide race. Both candidates are Republicans, but since there are no other challengers and the election will be decided in August, it will be open to all Collier voters, regardless of party affiliation.  

The backstory

Dwight Brock

To understand this race, one needs to know some County history. Dwight Brock had been Clerk since 1992. Naples Daily News columnist Brent Batten remembered him as a “pugnacious watchdog for Collier County taxpayers [who] took on developers, businessmen and politicians over his 26-year career.”Batten wrote:

“Early in his term, Brock found fault with the way business was done in Collier County. He successfully sued the county’s investment managers in the 1990s over derivatives that put the county’s money at risk. Later, he sued developers who had underpaid on impact fees owed to the county….

“He engaged in a costly years-long legal battle with county commissioners over who should monitor county spending and how.

“He engaged in a costly years-long legal battle with county commissioners over who should monitor county spending and how.

Brent Batten

“However contentious Brock’s relationship with his fellow officeholders became,” wrote Batten, “he always maintained voters’ confidence. He won a seventh term in office in 2016, defeating former County Commissioner Georgia Hiller with 70 percent of the vote.”   Now, Brock’s Deputy Clerk, Crystal Kinzel, is running to complete the remaining two years of his term. She is being challenged by CPA Don Berry, currently Director of Accounting for the Collier Property Appraiser.  

What does the Clerk do?

The Clerk’s Office performs a wide range of record keeping, information management, and financial management for both the judicial system and county government. The roles of the Clerk are: Clerk of the Circuit Court, County Treasurer, Recorder, Auditor, Finance Officer, and Ex-Officio Clerk of the County Commission.   A committee of the Florida Legislature calculated that, within those roles, the Office performs 926 different constitutional and statutory functions and duties (not including responsibilities required by court rule and administrative order), according to the Florida Clerks’ association’s website.   Because the Clerk’s duties affect the rights and property of county citizens, the Constitution and Florida statutes require that the Clerk:  

  • is governed by statutory authority in carrying out the duties and functions of the office,
  • as auditor and custodian of county funds, is subject to state Auditor General rules and regulations, and
  • is subject to annual audits by independent firms.

The Collier Clerk’s Office has a FY 2017 budget of $21.3 million and a staff of just under 200. The Clerk’s base salary, which is set by state statute and is a function of county population, is $144,621.  

The candidates

Crystal Kinzel

Crystal Kinzel

Crystal Kinzel (62) (crystalkinzel.com) has over 30 years experience in governmental accounting. After receiving a BA in Accounting from George Washington University and stints as an accountant with AARP and NASDAQ, she became, at 29, the youngest Finance Director for the City of Key West, FL. Moving to Naples in 1988, she served from 1989 to 2005 as Finance Director for the Collier Sheriff’s Office under the leadership of Don Hunter (who has endorsed her candidacy for Clerk), then became Finance Director for Clerk Brock. In 2016, Brock appointed her Chief Deputy; after his death, she was appointed by Gov. Scott to serve as Interim Clerk until the election.  

Kinzel says, “My tenure with the Sheriff and the Clerk, as well as prior experience, has prepared me well for the very important role as your Collier County Clerk of Court and Comptroller…. I am ready, willing, and able to continue to protect the taxpayers’ dollars and provide the best services possible, for both the Court and the Board roles of the Clerk.”   Kinzel’s community involvement includes active membership in the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Collier (Class of 2000) and the Chamber’s Leadership Institute (2005). She was one of five women founders of Youth Leadership Collier who in 2006 were recognized as the Chamber’s Volunteers of the Year. She is also a founding member of the Naples Paradise Chapter of the Association of Government Accountants.  

Don Berry

Don Berry

Don Berry (77) (donberryforclerk.com) is a CPA and Director of Accounting for the Collier property appraiser. A 45-year resident of Collier County, originally from Iowa, he has a BS in Accounting from Florida Atlantic University. Previous employment was as a managing partner for a local accounting firm (16 years); Corporate Controller of Krehling Industries, Naples; Corporate Controller, King Motor Center, Ft. Lauderdale; and Haskins Sells (now Deloitte International Accounting), Ft. Lauderdale.   Berry’s community involvement has been as president of Collier “100” Club, Naples Area Chamber of Commerce, Pelican Bay Rotary, United Way and SW Chapter Florida Institute of Certified Public Accountants. He was a member of Leadership Collier (Class of 1995) and Leadership Southwest Florida (Class of 1996).  

Berry says he is running to “correct the contentious atmosphere between the Clerk’s office, the Board of County Commissioners, and the vendors while also working with the Judges and matters pertaining to the Courts. I want to put an end to the filing of multiple lawsuits. These lawsuits are costly to the taxpayer. There is no question a courteous and respectful approach while being vigilant in oversight will have better results than being antagonistic and combative. I can bring positive managerial qualities to the office of the County Clerk supported by my financial experience and expertise.”  

The money

The Money – Clerk Candidates

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

  • Contributions to Berry – $1,000 each from World Plumbing LLC, a Naples-based plumbing contractor; and Richard Yovanovich, an attorney at Coleman, Yovanovich & Koester, PA.  
  • Contributions to Kinzel – $1,000 each from attorneys Link & Rockenbach PA and James Molenaar, and from seven Naples-based contractors; contributions from County Commissioner Burt Saunders ($500) and Commissioner Donna Fiala ($100); $200 from Collier County Hearing Examiner Mark Strain; and $350 from State Rep. Byron Donalds.  

Voters’ choice

Fairly or not, this election has been positioned as a choice between “change” and “more of the same.” Kinzel says she is an “independent, qualified, ethical protector of taxpayers’ dollars [and a] proven check and balance on government expenditures.” Berry’s campaign slogan (“Respectful. Responsive. Efficient. Fair.”) is a not-so-subtle historical rebuke.  

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

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