Friday, October 21, 2016

Get ready to vote in the Collier Mosquito Control District elections

If you live in the Collier Mosquito Control District (CMCD), you have choices for two of its Board seats on your ballot: Seat 4 and Seat 5.

The CMCD is not a body I was familiar with. I became aware that there was some controversy around the race through letters to the editor in the Naples Daily News. It seems some people, including candidates Andreas Roth (Seat 4) and David Chapman (Seat 5), are concerned about the aerial spraying practices of the CMCD. The concerned letter-writers claim that:

  • there is insufficient data on the effect of the sprayed chemicals on pregnant women, infants and breastfeeding mothers to support current practices; and that
  • the public receives insufficient notification about when spraying will take place to enable them to take precautions to avoid contact (breathing the spray, exposure to skin, hand-to-mouth, object-to-mouth, etc.).

These are reasonable things to be concerned about, if true, but nothing I’d personally been aware of. So what could I do to be an informed voter for candidates for a Board I know nothing about?

I tried to approach the task systematically and objectively, and struggled mightily to avoid getting too far into the weeds (no pun intended). In this post, I’ll share what I did, what I learned, and how I will vote:

The Collier Mosquito Control District (CMCD)

According to its website (, the CMCD was created in 1950 and is governed by Chapter 388, Florida Statutes. In 1950, the district was 6 square miles in size; it is now 401 square miles. As such it covers about 20 percent of Collier County. It has a Board of five Commissioners who are elected to non-partisan “Seats” for four-year terms. Meetings of the Board of Commissioners are held monthly at District headquarters, 600 North Road, and are open to the public. See the District’s “Information Sheet,” here.

Also according to the website:

“The mission of the District is to [suppress] both disease carrying and pestiferous mosquito populations by & through the safest and most economical means available … consistent with the highest level of safety and minimal adverse impact on humans, wildlife, the environment, and non-target organisms.”

The District’s operations are overseen by an Executive Director with a MS in Human Anatomy and Physiology Instruction (MSHAPI), who has a staff of 26 full-time employees including a Director of Administration and a Director of Operations, both with over 25 years of service, a Research Department with an entomologist and a biologist, and an Aviation Department with pilots, aircraft mechanics and a parts manager. The District owns a fleet of 8 aircraft and 16 vehicles.

The District’s annual spending is about $9 million, funded primarily by local ad valorem taxes. According to my most recent tax bill, I pay less than $100 per year in CMCD taxes.

My take-away: The CMCD is a significant operation that requires specialized scientific and technical training and up-to-date knowledge. The Board’s role, it seems to me, is to represent the interests of the community and provide appropriate oversight by reviewing the District's mission periodically, ensuring that the Executive Director and staff are fulfilling that mission, setting the millage rate, approving the budget, and overseeing the expenditure of taxpayer money. Therefore, in evaluating the candidates, I looked for relevant education, experience, community service, and opportunities to assess their judgment.


In view of the charges of insufficient communication, I explored the CMCD website for information about past and future planned treatment activity and precautions that should be taken by the community. I noted some obvious areas that needed improvement, to which the Executive Director responded promptly, writing that, “We at CMCD recognize that our notification program has some room for improvement, and we are doing something about it. Going forward, it is our goal to provide notice of planned treatment up to 48 hours in advance, as well as update changes to the plan as soon as possible following a decision to change them.”

It is easy to find out about past treatments by entering an address and a date range in a search box on the District’s website. You can also sign up to be notified by email, text or phone about upcoming mosquito treatments in your area. The District also recently introduced a mobile app for iOS and Android devices, from which you can also access that information, and uses Facebook (596 “Likes”) and Twitter (@CollierMosquito - 78 followers) to communicate planned treatments and other news.

While there is some educational material on the website ( e.g. Mosquito Facts, Diseases), it was not as easy as it should be to find guidance about how to prevent mosquito bites and precautions to be taken before, during and after spraying.

My take-away: There is a lot the District could do to improve communication, and they should make this a priority.

The Money

The position pays $400 per month, or $4,800 a year. See “In the Know: Why do we elect commissioners for mosquito control?,” a 2012 article in the Naples Daily News.

From the Collier County Supervisor of Elections website), I learned that fundraising and spending has been focused on Seat 4, in which Andreas Roth and Joshua Costin are challenging incumbent David Farmer.

Campaign Finances Reported as of 10/19/16

Farmer (Seat 4) contributed $85 of the $3,440 he received through 10/14. He received contributions from District 1 Commissioner Donna Fiala ($50), former District 5 Commissioner Jim Coletta ($100) and Naples City Councilman Reg Buxton ($497 in-kind). In addition, a total of seven people who listed their occupation as engineer or contractor contributed a total of $1,100.

Roth (Seat 4) and Chapman (Seate 5) are self-funding their campaigns.

Seat 5’s incumbent John Johnson and other challenger, Alan Hamisch, have raised and spent nothing on the race, nor has Joshua Costin, the third candidate for Seat 4.

My take-away: I am impressed that Roth and Chapman are self-funding their campaigns. I am also impressed by the show of support by the community leaders who contributed to Farmer’s campaign.

The Candidates

With this information, I decided to limit my research to incumbents Farmer and Johnson and their two active challengers, Roth and Chapman. I then looked for information about the candidates online, seeking information about their education, experience, track record of community service and judgment.

Seat 4 - David Farmer, Incumbent

David Farmer is seeking re-election to Seat 4, having served on the CMCD since 2010. I pieced together his background from a number of online bios here, here, here, here and here.

Farmer has a BS in Civil Engineering from the University of Florida (1996) and an AA from Edison Community College (1993). In addition to serving on the CMCD, he is currently:

David Farmer - Campaign Facebook Page Cover Photo
His civic involvement includes:

  • Director, Big Cypress Basin Board (unpaid gubernatorial appointment)
  • A former Chairman of the SW Florida District Council of, and a National Instructor for, the Urban Land Institute (ULI)
  • Rural Lands Stewardship Review Board
  • East of 951 Horizon Oversight Committee
  • Collier County Value Adjustment Board
  • Golden Gate Fire Department Citizens Advisory Board
  • Golden Gate Estates Land Trust Board
  • Leadership Collier Graduate 2011

His “Re-Elect David Farmer” website and Facebook Page highlight endorsements from County Commissioner Donna Fiala, Golden Gate Estates civic leader Peter Gaddy, water expert and Collier Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor Clarence Tears, community business leaders Russell Budd and Alice J. Carlson, and Naples High School’s Senior Army Junior ROTC Instructor LTC (Ret) Paul Garrah.

Seat 4 - Andreas Roth

I had great difficulty finding out about Andreas Roth, having searched all the usual sites: no candidate statement was filed on the Supervisor of Elections website, there is no LinkedIn profile, and he did not provide the candidate profile requested by the League of Women Voters of Collier County.

Andreas Roth - Campaign Facebook Page Cover Photo
A Google search for “Andreas Roth Collier mosquito” revealed a campaign Facebook Page, a post titled “Is Naled, the primary pesticide the Collier Mosquito Control District sprays, safe for our children?” published 10/6/16 on the GreenMedinfo blog, endorsements by the Collier County Democrats and the Libertarian Party of Collier County, and a number of letters to the editor of the Naples Daily News and campaign-related events.

Further searching Facebook revealed a reply by Roth to an 8/30/16 Facebook post in which unsuccessful Collier School Board candidate Lee Dixon thanked his supporters. Roth wrote, “I was sorry to hear the results. We really need people of your caliber in office to fight for our children and parental rights. Thank you for trying to make change for the better for all of us.”

According to his personal Facebook Profile, Roth works at Astron International Inc., a privately-held company about which I was could find no information, and at Air Transport International, an Ohio-based charter airline. He studied Professional Aeronautics at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Daytona Beach Campus.

A bio accompanying the GreenMedinfo article says that he and Seat 5 candidate David Chapman "are concerned fathers trying to inform fellow residents of the dangers as well as the precautions that should be taken during aerial mosquito spraying to minimize the exposure to these toxic pesticides for adults, children and pregnant women.”

David Farmer
Seat 4 - My Decision

For Seat 4, I will vote to re-elect David Farmer. Our community is fortunate that someone with his education, breadth of experience, track record of community service, and local, state and national network of contacts is willing to serve.

Seat 5 - David Chapman

Chapman’s “Candidate Statement” on the Supervisor of Elections website (click here, then on Chapman’s name) makes the case for his election:

“While we need to spray, you need me as commissioner to ensure the CMCD is honest about the potential effects of these pesticides and greatly improves communication so that the citizens of Collier can form educated decisions regarding the level of precaution they want to take during a spray event. As a successful businessman who has founded and operated online communities with more than 300,000 members, I have the skills necessary to not only improve communication with the people of Collier County, but to develop software that will allow us to fight mosquitoes together.”

David Chapman - Campaign Facebook Page Cover Photo
According to a bio on his campaign website, Chapman is a “former professional baseball player turned successful businessman who has founded, developed, and operated some of the largest online communities in the world. He is a devoted husband and father and operates a 1.5 acre permaculture farm.” Click here to read why he decided not to accept donations to his campaign.

Similar statements were made in an interview with the Naples Herald on 8/24/16 and on his LWVCC Candidate Profile.

I was unable to find any online details or support for the claim that he “founded, developed, and operated some of the largest online communities in the world.” On LinkedIn, a David Chapman in Naples in the Internet Industry is Manager at TGO Logistics LLC, but there is no photo or other detail provided, and a Google search for that company turned up nothing definitive. A Google search on “David Chapman Permaculture” turned up a few mentions, but again, nothing helpful to me in trying to objectively evaluate the candidate’s qualifications for the position.

In a post dated 8/26/16 on Chapman’s campaign Facebook Page about a meeting he had with CMCD Executive Director Patrick Linn, Lead Researcher Dr. Mark Clifton and others, he said the recent hiring of Dr. Clifton “is the best thing the CMCD has done in years,” and that “Director Linn [is] intense, intelligent, and most importantly, he’s honest…. I strongly disagree with some of his opinions and positions (and vice versa), but that’s ok…. Honest people working together with the same goals but different ways of getting there can do amazing things together.”

Chapman offers a number of “Solutions” to address the issues that he thinks “Need to Change.” To the extent the premises of each issue are true, his proposed solutions are worthy of consideration.

Seat 5 - John F. Johnson, incumbent

John F. Johnson - Campaign Facebook Page Cover Photo
Johnson is seeking re-election to a fifth four-year term on the CMCD Board. Having served since 1988, he was unopposed in his race for re-election in 2012.

I was unable to find biographical information about Johnson in my online searches. He did not submit a Candidate Statement for the Collier Supervisor of Elections website, nor did he submit the candidate profile requested by the League of Women Voters of Collier County.

His campaign Facebook Page has just three posts:

  • A link to a YouTube video on mosquito bite prevention,
  • A personal statement titled “It’s All About the People,” which includes what he sees as some of his specific responsibilities as a Commissioner (which align well with my own view of a Commissioner’s role):

    • Define & Set Policies & Procedures
    • Set Millage Rate
    • Approve Annual Budget
    • Critique/Approve/Deny Expenditures of Tax revenue
    • Hire Executive Director & District Counsel
    • Define District Goals
  • An essay titled “Why I Support the CMCD’s Safe Practices Using Naled,” in which he wrote, "As an elected official I must make my decisions based on the facts. In summary they are:

    • Naled has been used safely & effectively for mosquito control since 1959.
    • The EPA and CDC deem this chemical to be safe when handled and used according to the label.
    • CMCD uses the minimum dosage found on the label; ½ of 1 ounce of naled per acre. This dosage has been shown to provide safe and effective mosquito control.
    • Importantly, the District has been using the active ingredient – naled – in an “ultra low volume” (ULV) dosage for more than 20 years.
    • Analysis and research conducted to the highest industry standards have repeatedly demonstrated outstanding control of high mosquito populations.
    • The EPA states there is no evidence that this chemical causes cancer, and further, there is no historical evidence of any such diagnosis.
    • Despite 10 naled-related calls to the Florida Dept. of Health from concerned citizens in the state, no confirmation of any pesticide exposure or illness has been demonstrated."

Further in that essay, he wrote, “I will never make a decision that affects the health & safety of the citizens of Collier County based on innuendo, fear, and/or internet science. The real facts are clear and I will not waiver from this position until the facts in evidence change. If you do not agree with this, I respect your informed decision to not vote for me.”

John F. Johnson
Seat 5 - My Decision

While I am impressed with Chapman’s passion and commitment, and applaud his desire to affect change from within the system, I am troubled by my inability to learn from an online search anything about his education, work experience, community service or qualifications for the position. I am also troubled by the debate between Johnson and Chapman about the science.

Johnson, with 16 years of experience on the CMCD Board, wrote that “Naled is one of the most effective, economical, and safest (when used according to the label) materials available to control mosquito populations.”

Seeming to disagree, Chapman shared, in a 9/26/16 post on his Facebook Page, a chart showing a 2014 summary of the total gallons of Naled used in each of Florida’s 21 state-approved mosquito control programs in which ranked Collier first. He prefaced the chart in the post with an emotionally-laden, hyperbolic sound-bite: “We spray more Naled than anywhere in Florida (and likely the world) in the name of mosquito control.” He distributed the same chart at a meeting of the Collier County Democratic Women’s Club on 10/15/16 and, using the same sound-bite, called it “Collier County’s dirty secret.”

Those statements and the way he chose to use and interpret data, caused me to question Chapman’s judgment and qualification for the position. He didn’t indicate the source of the chart or for what purpose it was prepared. He ignored the types of mosquitoes and conditions being treated in each of the programs in the comparison, and did not provide an ounces-per-acre comparison that would also be relevant. His approach was sensationalistic and sound-bite-based.

Johnson, on the other hand, wrote that “I will never make a decision that affects the health & safety of the citizens of Collier County based on innuendo, fear, and/or internet science. The real facts are clear and I will not waiver from this position until the facts in evidence change.” That’s the kind of person I want overseeing the scientists and experts making the day-to-day decisions of the CMCD.

Based on his long service with the CMCD, the fact that no one has said that he does not deserve reelection, and the sensible statements referred to above, I will vote for John F. Johnson for Seat 5.


Having begun this work knowing nothing about the CMCD, the issues or the candidates, I am amazed at how much I have learned. After reading some alarming letters to the editor, I resisted the temptation to jump to conclusions and took the time to try to learn “the other side of the story.” One of the first things I did was request a meeting with the incumbent who had raised the most money, David Farmer, who patiently answered my (at-the-time very uninformed) questions. In addition to the online research described above, I also watched a video made for me by a friend of the 10/15/16 presentation by Roth and Chapman to the Democratic Women’s Club. And I gave the matter a lot of thought before reaching my decisions.

For Seat 4, I will vote for David Farmer.

For Seat 5, I will vote for John F. Johnson.

Your vote doesn’t count any more if you get your ballot in early than it does if you vote 5 minutes before the polls close on Election Day, November 8. Be patient and take the time to do what you need to do to be an informed voter.

And help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can subscribe to Sparker’s Soapbox by email at, “like” me on Facebook at or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Friday, October 14, 2016

My merit retention decisions: revisited

In my last post, I wrote about the merit retention decisions Collier voters face and explained why I planned to vote YES to retain all three Supreme Court justices and ten District Courts of Appeal judges on our ballot. A few days later, a reader made me aware of an article published the same day as my post that caused me to reconsider how I will vote on two of the Supreme Court justices on the ballot: Charles T. Canady and Ricky L. Polston (bios here).

That article, by Martin Dyckman in the SaintPetersBlog, is titled "Donald Trump pick Charles Canady could bring ‘dog whistles’ to SCOTUS."

“Dog whistles”??

According to Dyckman, "Canady’s name … is a dog whistle to the anti-abortion lobby. As a member of Congress, he claimed credit for crafting the emotionally laden phrase ’partial birth abortion.’”

In “‘Partial-Birth Abortion:’ Separating Fact from Spin” in 2006, NPR reporter Julie Rovner wrote that then-U.S. Rep. Charles Canady (R-FL) used the term in a bill he proposed in 1995 that would make it a federal crime to perform a “partial-birth” abortion. She said the term had been initially coined earlier that year by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC).

Also, Dyckman said, Canady and Justice Polston, “the court’s other frequent conservative dissenter,” both “dissented in April [2016] when the majority agreed to stay Florida’s latest anti-abortion law, a 24-hour waiting period, while the court decides whether to hear an appeal on the merits.” The Court is scheduled to hear oral argument on the case (Gainesville Woman Care v. State of Florida) on November 1. More here.

Dissenting in the LWVF’s Redistricting Case

Further, I was reminded by Dyckman, both Canady and Polston dissented when the Florida Supreme Court threw out, in December 2015, the Republican Legislature’s congressional redistricting maps because they violated the “Fair Districts” amendment approved overwhelmingly by voters in 2010. See League of Women Voters of Florida v. Ken Detzner.

One of Trump’s picks for the Supreme Court

Finally, from the Dyckman article, I learned that Canady is one of 21 people Donald Trump said he would consider as a potential replacement for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. In a September 23 press release announcing the list of people from whom he would pick, Trump stated:

“I would like to thank the Federalist Society, The Heritage Foundation and the many other individuals who helped in composing this list of twenty-one highly respected people who are the kind of scholars that we need to preserve the very core of our country, and make it greater than ever before.”

The Federalist Society, according to its website, is “a group of conservatives and libertarians …. founded on the principles that the state exists to preserve freedom, that the separation of governmental powers is central to our Constitution, and that it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be…. This entails reordering priorities within the legal system to place a premium on individual liberty, traditional values, and the rule of law.”

The Heritage Foundation, according to its fundraising page, is “the most influential conservative group in America.” The group’s main website is here.

My decision

As I noted in my previous post, 84 percent of Florida Bar members who know them said Justices Canady and Polston should be retained in their positions.

But I don't like the positions they took on the issues brought to my attention by Dyckman’s article, and I am concerned about the implications of Canady’s inclusion on the Trump list. So I struggled with the question “Should my merit retention vote be based on whether or not I like a justice's interpretation of the law, or should it be based on his qualifications for the job and whether or not he is a ”good" judge?

According to the Florida Bar’s “Guide for Florida Voters: Answers to Your Questions about Florida Judges, Judicial Elections and Merit Retention”:

“Judges must be impartial, fair and understand the law. All judges may deal with cases that are either civil or criminal in nature. Knowledge in one particular area is not more important than the other. Judges should be selected based on their legal abilities, temperament and commitment to follow the law and decide cases consistent with a judge’s duty to uphold the law regardless of his or her personal view.”

That helped. Based on their dissents in the two cases mentioned, I don’t trust Canady and Polston to be impartial in deciding future cases that could come before the Florida Supreme Court relating to women’s access to abortion and reproductive health care, and Fair Districts – issues I care a lot about.

As a result, I will vote NO on the retention of Justices Canady and Polston, and YES on the others on my ballot.

Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can subscribe to Sparker’s Soapbox by email at, “like” me on Facebook at or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Get ready to vote for the judges

Vote by mail ballots have arrived, and my inbox is full of emails asking what to do about the judges. (They’re asking about other ballot questions as well, and at the end of this post, I’ll tell you what I plan to write about, and when.)

Of the 29 items on my ballot, 13 are related to judges. But it’s not as bad as it seems: all are merit-retention votes. In this post, I’ll explain what this means, which votes are on our ballot, and how I plan to vote.

What is a merit-retention vote?

Florida Supreme Court justices and District Courts of Appeal judges are appointed by the governor. But as explained by the Florida Bar:

"Justices and appeals court judges face the voters in merit retention elections every six years – except after their first appointments. Newly appointed justices and appeals court judges serve an initial term of at least one year and are then subject to the first merit retention reviews of their performances in the next general election.

"Only those judges receiving approval from a majority of the voters in the general election may continue in office for another six-year term. If voters choose not to retain a judge, a vacancy would be created and would be filled through the merit selection process, in which the governor would appoint one from three to six nominees submitted by a judicial nominating commission. Terms are staggered so that not all of the appellate judges face the voters in the same election."

Which merit-retention votes are on our ballot?

All Florida voters have the opportunity to vote for or against the retention of three Supreme Court justices this year. In addition, Collier County voters will vote on the retention of ten judges of the 14-county Second District Court of Appeal.

The lawyers who present their clients’ cases to the justices and judges on a daily basis are probably in the best position to know if they should be retained. So Florida voters are fortunate that every two years, the Florida Bar Association asks its in-state members to rate those up for retention of whom they have direct knowledge.

The names of those on our ballot, the percent of Florida Bar poll votes in support of their retention, and the governor who appointed them to the current position are:

Supreme Court justices

  • Charles T. Canady (84 percent) - appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist in 2008
  • Jorge Labarga (91 percent) - appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist in 2008
  • Ricky L. Polston (84 percent) - appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist in 2008

Second District Appeal Court judges

  • John Badalamenti (87 percent) - appointed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2015
  • Marva L. Crenshaw (87 percent) - appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist in 2009
  • Patricia J. Kelly (86 percent) - appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush in 2001
  • Nelly N. Khouzam (91 percent) - appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist in 2008
  • Matt Lucas (89 percent) - appointed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2014
  • Robert Morris (91 percent) - appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist in 2009
  • Stevan Travis Northcutt (92 percent) - appointed by Gov. Lawton Chiles in 1997
  • Samuel Salario, Jr. (88 percent) -  appointed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2014
  • Craig C. Villanti (90 percent) - appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush in 2003
  • Douglas Alan Wallace (88 percent) - appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush in 2003

Bios of these judges and justices are on the Florida Bar website here.

In addition to reviewing the Bar poll results, I Googled "Florida Merit Retention" for recent news about our ballot choices.

From an article in the Palm Beach Post, I learned that “No judge has ever been denied another six-year term since the system was implemented in 1976 after three elected justices were investigated, and two resigned, when an investigation found they allowed political cronies to influence their decision. Occasionally - most recently in 2012 when tea party activists targeted three high court justices - opposition has surfaced. None has emerged this year.”

From an Orlando Sentinel editorial, I learned that “All three [of the Supreme Court justices on the ballot] were appointed by former Gov. Charlie Crist, but Labarga normally votes with the court’s liberal majority, while Canady and Polston make up its conservative minority.”

I also learned, from a blog post in the Orlando Weekly, that Governor Scott has been “quietly at work shifting Florida’s courts rightward, leaving a judicial legacy that will far outlast his tenure.” In that regard, I noted that three of the judges on the ballot are Scott appointees: Badalamenti, Lucas and Salario. After reviewing their bios and Florida Bar ratings, I see no reason not to support their retention.

Referring to the Florida Bar poll, The Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board wrote:

"Such high ratings from lawyers who best know the work of the justices and judges, and the absence of controversy surrounding any of them, should be more than enough to persuade voters to retain them.

Critics of the retention process often point out that no justice or appellate judge has ever been rejected by voters. But that says more about the high caliber of justices and appellate judges in Florida, and the process for nominating them, than any defects in the system for evaluating them."

For more information about Florida’s judicial merit retention process, including a Guide for Florida Voters: Q and A about Judges, Judicial Elections and Merit Retention, related YouTube videos, and more, I recommend The Vote’s In Your Court.

How I will vote

In view of the strong support shown in the Bar’s merit retention poll, I will VOTE YES for the retention of the three Supreme Court justices and the ten Second District Appeals Court judges.

Upcoming election-related posts

There is just a month between now and Election Day (November 8), but vote-by-mail ballots are already out, and early voting begins October 24. My next priorities are to research and write about the Mosquito Control, Soil & Water Conservation District, and Fire District races, because while decisions made by those bodies are important to our quality of life in Collier County, they are receiving little press coverage.

If there’s still time, I’ll write about the two County Commission races, which have been and will continue to be covered. I won’t make my final decisions about them until I’ve watched the Naples Daily News candidate forum (postponed from last week due to Hurricane Matthew) and the Collier League of Women Voters’ forum to be held on October 17.

I sense a lot of election fatigue, and I understand that some want to fill out their ballots and be done with it. But there is much at stake, these are important decisions, and I don’t want to make mine in haste. Stay tuned.

Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can subscribe to Sparker’s Soapbox by email at, “like” me on Facebook at or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Get Ready to Vote on the Constitutional Amendments

There will be four proposed amendments on the November ballot. In this post, I’ll explain what they are, and tell you how I plan to vote and why.

For my explanations, I referred to the The League of Women Voters of Florida’s nonpartisan Voter Guide to the Amendments (LWVF Guide) and, in the case of the two Amendments sponsored by the Florida Legislature, to their staff’s Final Bill Analyses.

A YES vote by 60 percent of the voters is required for an amendment to pass.

Amendment 1 - Solar Energy
Sponsor: the Consumers for Smart Solar political action committee (PAC)

This ballot item has, in my opinion, a misleading title: “Rights of Electricity Consumers Regarding Solar Energy Choice.” Who wouldn’t want the right to choose solar? But there’s more to it than that.

From the LWVF Guide:

Amendment 1 is the utility-backed response to a third solar initiative that failed to make the 2016 ballot but would have allowed Floridians to buy power directly from third-party solar providers…. It essentially would enshrine in the state Constitution existing laws on solar energy” which ban "the third-party sale of electricity….

"In most other states companies are allowed to install solar panels on homes or businesses and then sell the power directly to the consumer, bypassing utilities altogether. Florida is one of only a handful of states that prohibit consumers from buying power directly from third-party solar providers.

The Consumers for Smart Solar PAC has raised over $21 million through September, largely from “fossil fuel and other monopoly utility-aligned groups” and spent almost $16 million.

Supporters say the amendment is needed to ensure state and local governments can pass regulations that protect solar-power consumers as well as utility customers. They say it guarantees consumers’ right to place solar panels on their home by “[placing] that right in Florida’s constitution, where politicians and special interests can’t tamper with it.” A key selling point is that it “makes sure that you are not forced to subsidize the energy choices of those who do.”

Opponents of the Amendment (functioning as a PAC called Floridians for Solar Choice, of which the LWVF is a member) say the Amendment would “enshrine in the Constitution existing laws that block solar growth in favor of existing utility companies like Duke Energy and Florida Power & Light by helping ensure their monopoly on the sale of power to Floridians.” As compared to the Amendment 1 sponsoring PAC’s $21 million, the Floridians for Solar Choice PAC has raised less than $2 million, largely through a grassroots effort.

My vote - I don’t want to see such a huge benefit to the big power companies enshrined in the Florida Constitution. With their enormous budgets and lobbying power, they have more than enough control over what happens in our state, and I don’t trust what they say is the intent of this Amendment.

I will VOTE NO on Amendment 1.

Amendment 2 - Medical Marijuana
Sponsor: the People United for Medical Marijuana PAC

From the LWVF Guide:

"Two years after a similar amendment narrowly failed, Amendment 2 is on the ballot to legalize the use of medical marijuana to relieve the symptoms of people afflicted with specific diseases and conditions.

"Amendment 2 differs from the 2014 amendment question by providing more specifics about which “debilitating medical conditions” would qualify for marijuana use by patients, with the approval of a physician. It also permits caregivers to assist patients in administering marijuana treatments and sets up a regulatory scheme, administered by the state Department of Health, that includes issuing ID cards to patients and caregivers. It does not provide legal cover to those who use marijuana outside the regulated use for medical conditions.

Current state law, passed in 2014, allows the use of non-euphoric cannabis for patients with medical conditions that cause seizures and severe muscle spasms. The Legislature also passed a law this spring that allows terminally ill patients to receive prescriptions for full-strength marijuana. As of mid-April, 24 states had laws permitting the use of marijuana for medical conditions….”

Supporters include Florida attorney John Morgan and the PAC People United for Medical Marijuana, which has spent $12 million since 2009. Supporters also include the ACLU of Florida, the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood and the Florida Democratic Party. (See list of endorsements here.)

Opponents include Dr. Allen Weiss, president and CEO of Naples’ NCH Healthcare System and member of the Board of Trustees of the American Hospital Association. In a Guest Commentary in the Naples Daily News, Weiss wrote:

"Marijuana has yet to undergo clinical trials or even serious clinical research. Consequently, no comprehensive, clinical knowledge of so-called “medical marijuana” exists….

“While Amendment 2 claims to be about “medicine,” it actually ignores 21st-century medical standards and outsources the traditional role played by well-trained pharmacists in dispensing medicine…. [S]ince marijuana is illegal under federal law and since pharmacies are federally regulated, pharmacists wouldn’t be allowed to participate in the process. Instead of depending on reliable pharmacists, Amendment 2 would introduce thousands of pot shops in Florida. What kind of medical professional would be working in these pot shops? The short answer is: No medical professional of any type…. And what if these untrained individuals make a mistake? They will receive unprecedented immunity under Florida’s constitution….”

Also opposing the Amendment are the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Medical Association, the Palm Beach County Substance Awareness Coalition and the Drug Free Florida PAC. This latter group has raised $9.2 million since its formation in 2014, and operates as “Vote No On 2.”

My vote - Current law already makes several provisions for the medical use of cannabis, and I am persuaded by the concerns expressed by Dr. Weiss and the medical community that there is not enough clinical knowledge about the effects of marijuana on patients’ therapy. I also worry about the possible proliferation of “pot shops” that could easily be a result if this Amendment passed. While the extent of the potential problem is hard to estimate, a 2015 analysis by the Florida Department of Health estimated that 440,552 patients in Florida would qualify, leading to 1,965 registered treatment centers. I don’t want “pot shops” to become Florida’s next “pill mills.”

I will VOTE NO on Amendment 2.

Amendment 3 - Tax Exemption for Disabled First Responders
Sponsor: The Florida Legislature (House Bill 1009)

From the LWVF Guide:

"Florida’s Constitution already grants a property-tax exemption to the spouses of first responders who die in the line of duty. Amendment 3 authorizes the Legislature to extend that exemption to first responders who are “totally and permanently disabled” from injuries they received in the line of duty. First responders are defined under existing law as police and correctional officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and paramedics.

The Senate and House voted unanimously to place this amendment on the ballot. State officials did not estimate how much the new exemption might cost local governments from lost property tax revenue…."

If approved, the Legislature would have to decide whether to provide full or partial relief from property taxes and how to determine that a disability was caused by the first responder’s service in the line of duty. Presumably at that time, they would come up with an estimate of the Amendment’s cost.

According to the LWVF, there does not appear to be any organized support or opposition to this amendment.

My vote - I have a problem in general with enshrining tax exemptions in the state constitution. Once there, they are difficult to change, and they limit legislators’ options each year when they have to balance the state budget. Preferably, all tax-related provisions would be made by statute, rather than amending the Constitution.

But putting tax exemptions in the Constitution is something Florida has long done. The prohibition of a state personal income tax is in the Constitution. The Homestead Exemption from property tax and the Save Our Homes Assessment Limitation are in the Constitution, as are Property Tax Benefits for Persons 65 or Older, Property Tax Benefits for Active Duty Military and Veterans and more.

Unfortunately, while Florida voters can amend the Constitution by referendum, they can’t make laws that way, bizarre as that seems. So my opposition to granting tax breaks by Constitutional amendment is not absolute as long as the breaks encourage what I consider to be a valid public policy and are fiscally responsible.

So, for example, I voted in August for Amendment 4, which provided property tax breaks for people who install solar panels on their home. I did so because I support the encouragement of solar energy as a matter of public policy and because the economic impact had been considered and seems appropriate (see Final Bill Analysis here).

In the case of Amendment 3, the fact that the Legislature did not require an estimate of the cost of this exemption before unanimously sending it on to the voters is galling. By way of explanation, the Final Bill analysis said:

“The Revenue Estimating Conference has not reviewed the joint resolution. However, if approved by the electorate the joint resolution alone will have a zero impact on local government revenue due to the need for further implementation at the option of the Legislature.”

Not a single legislator wanted to take the politically poisonous chance of voting against this benefit to disabled first responders, so they punted. They said, “Let the voters decide.” Once the amendment passes, I have no doubt they will implement it, regardless of cost. I find this troubling.

As a matter of public policy, Florida has already decided that active duty military and veterans who were honorably discharged with a service-related total and permanent disability may be eligible for a total exemption from property taxes. Amendment 3 would extend the same benefit to first-responders who die in the line of duty.

With great reservations about continuing down a slippery slope with no idea of cost or where or how to draw the line in terms of extending this same benefit to others (What about elected officials and other public servants?), I will VOTE YES on Amendment 3. I hope that when Florida’s Constitutional Revision Commission meets in in 2017–18, they seriously reconsider whether such exemptions belong in the Constitution.

Amendment 5 - Homestead exemption for low-income seniors

Sponsor: The Florida Legislature (House Bill 275)

From the LWVF Guide:

"Amendment 5 would ensure that low-income seniors who qualify for an additional homestead exemption as longtime residents do not lose that exemption if the value of their property rises. The exemption to the state Constitution was originally approved by voters in 2012. The law currently allows cities and counties to grant a full exemption from property taxes to people with the same age and income limits if: 1) the homeowner is 65 or older, 2) annual household income didn’t exceed $28,448 in 2015 (income limits are adjusted annually for inflation), 3) the just (market) value of their property is less than $250,000 and, 4) the homeowner has lived there for at least 25 years. The original intent was to ensure that long-time, low-income seniors don’t lose their homes because they can’t pay the tax bill. But seniors who now get the exemption would lose it if their home value tops $250,000.

“Amendment 5, which passed the House and Senate unanimously, would lock in the exemption permanently once a senior qualifies, regardless of how much the property increases in value. The amendment would take effect on Jan. 1, 2017, but is retroactive to 2013, which means a senior who qualified for the exemption in 2013, but lost it, would regain the exemption….”

Regarding the Amendment’s fiscal impact, the Final Bill Analysis said:

“The Revenue Estimating Conference determined the proposed constitutional amendment has either a zero or negative indeterminate revenue impact on counties and municipalities, reflecting the need first for approval by the voters, then the ability of local governments to choose whether or not to allow the exemption in their jurisdiction….”

As a matter of public policy, Florida voters approve granting tax-exemptions to low-income seniors who are long-time residents. It makes no sense to require a senior who still meets the income and all other requirements to start paying taxes simply because her property value rises above $250,000.

I will vote YES on Amendment 5.

Summary of how I’ll vote

  • Amendment 1 - NO
  • Amendment 2 - NO
  • Amendment 3 - YES
  • Amendment 5 - YES

Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can subscribe to Sparker’s Soapbox by email at, “like” me on Facebook at or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Get Ready to Vote in the November Elections

Election Day is November 8
With all attention focused on next month’s presidential and, to a much lesser extent, Florida U.S. Senate races, one would think that’s all there is. But after looking at my sample ballot and spending a morning last week on the Collier County Supervisor of Elections and Florida Division of Elections websites, I learned there’s much more at stake. In this post, I’ll give an overview of what will be on the ballot of Collier County voters, and in future posts I’ll share my research and recommendations on some of the choices we will have to make.

Federal Government

Of course, we’ll be choosing the next president. On your ballot - in this order - will be:

We will also be electing one of Florida’s two U.S. Senators. On your ballot will be incumbent Republican Marco Rubio, Democrat Patrick Murphy, Libertarian Paul Stanton and four No Party Affiliation (NPA) candidates.

And we will be electing our U.S. Congressman. Florida has 27 seats in Congress, all of which are on the ballot every two years. Collier voters live in either Congressional District 19 or Congressional District 25. Find your district here. If you live in District 19, you will choose between Republican Francis Rooney or Democrat Robert Neeld. If you live in District 25, you will choose between incumbent Republican Mario Diaz-Balart and Democrat Alina Valdes.

State Legislature

We will also elect our representatives to the Florida House and Senate. The state is divided into 120 House districts, whose representatives are on the ballot every two years, and 40 Senate districts, whose representatives serve staggered four-year terms.

Florida House: Collier County voters live in either House District 80 or House District 106. Find your district here. Both these elections were essentially decided in the closed August Republican primaries, due to a “write-in” loophole I wrote about in July. If you live in District 80, you will have the choice of Republican Byron Donalds or a space to write-in the name of someone else.  If you live in District 106, your choices will be Republican Bob Rommel or “write-in.” This picture shows what the choice looks like on my ballot.

Since voters really have no say at this point, despite these seats being on the ballot, I won’t be writing more about them than I did when they were Republican primary candidates here.

Florida Senate: As the result of the recent redistricting, all Collier County voters now live in new Senate District 28. As with the Florida House, the Florida Senate race was essentially decided in the primary won by Republican Kathleen Passidomo. You can learn more about her in my post here.

County Government

Board of County Commissioners: Collier County is divided into five county commission districts, each of which is represented by a commissioner elected to a four-year term by voters in that district. Find your district here.

Commissioners for Districts 1, 3 and 5 are elected in presidential election years; those for Districts 2 and 4, in midterm election years. For District 1, incumbent Republican Donna Fiala, in office since 2001, had no challengers so was automatically reelected. In District 3, Democrat Annisa Karim is facing Republican Burt Saunders for the seat held by Tom Henning since 2001. In District 5, Democrat Tamara Paquette is facing Republican Bill McDaniel for the seat held by Tim Nance since 2013. I plan to write about these two important County races in the coming weeks.

Constitutional Officers: Collier County’s five constitutional officers (i.e. elected officials whose office is mandated by the state constitution for non-charter counties like Collier) are elected to four-year terms in presidential election years in county-wide races. This year, only one of the five will be on the ballot in November: the Sheriff.

Those that will not be on the ballot are the Supervisor of Elections, Tax Collector, Property Appraiser and Clerk of Courts:

  • Supervisor of Elections Jennifer Edwards, in office since 2001, and Tax Collector Larry Ray, in office since 2009, were unchallenged so were automatically reelected. Both are Republicans.
  • Property Appraiser Abe Skinner, in office since 1991, and Clerk of Courts Dwight Brock, in office since 1993, had no Democratic Party challengers, so were re-elected in open primaries in August. Both are Republicans.

For Sheriff, incumbent Kevin Rambosk, Republican, in office since 2009, is being challenged by NPA candidate Carlos Gutierrez . I’ll be voting for Sheriff Rambosk.

Fire Districts

In Collier County, fire and emergency management services (EMS) are provided in a fragmented way that has long been the subject of criticism yet resistant to change. In 2006, a fellow member of the League of Women Voters of Collier County and I presented “County-wide Fire and EMS Service: An Idea Whose Time Has Come?” which provides an overview helpful to understanding the transition now underway.

As the result of referenda on the 2014 ballots of voters in several of the fire districts, fire service today is provided by five separately-managed fire departments:

Three of the five Fire Districts are overseen by elected Commissioners and of these, two have Commission seats on the November ballots of those who live in them: Greater Naples and North Collier.

Greater Naples (4 of its 8 seats on the ballot):

  • Seat 2 - East Naples Division: Al Duffy vs Jeff Page (incumbent, formerly with East Naples)
  • Seat 5 - Golden Gate Division: Tom Henning vs Chuck McMahon (incumbent)
  • Seat 6 - East Naples Division: Charlie Cottiers (incumbent, formerly with East Naples) vs Donna Dolan
  • Seat 7 - East Naples Division: George Danz (incumbent, formerly with East Naples) vs Steve Hemping (incumbent, formerly with East Naples)

North Collier (4 of its 8 seats on the ballot):

  • Seat 1 - Big Corkscrew Area: Christopher L. Crossan (incumbent, formerly with Big Corkscrew) vs Richard Hoffman (incumbent, formerly with Big Corkscrew)
  • Seat 2 - North Collier Fire District: Jim Burke (incumbent, formerly with North Naples) vs Ramon Chao (incumbent, formerly with Big Corkscrew)
  • Seat 3 - North Collier Fire District: Gail A. Dolan vs Norman E. Feder (incumbent, formerly with North Naples)
  • Seat 4 - North Collier Fire District: Chris Lombardo (incumbent, formerly with North Naples) vs Meg Stepanian

Only one candidate qualified to run for North Collier Seat 5 and for each of the three (of five) Immokalee Fire District seats up for election, so they are automatically elected. The Naples and Marco Island Fire Districts are overseen by their respective City Managers.

Will you have Fire Commission seats on your ballot? There is no “Find Your Fire District” web page, for some reason, so the easiest way to know is to look on your Voter Information Card. The photo of mine, at right, shows that I live in the Greater Naples (GN) District.

If you live in either the Greater Naples or North Collier Fire District, the next step is to find out which pre-merger District you live in, since that determines which of your District’s seats you can vote for. It’s a bit confusing while the consolidations are being phased in, so be sure to learn which seats will be on your ballot before its time to vote. How? Look at your Sample Ballot.

I hope to write more about the Fire Commission races in a future post. Meanwhile, I recommend “Shouting ‘Fire’ in Collier County,” by Dave Trecker, local blogger and vice president of the Collier Citizens Council, for a report on the recent Fire District candidate forums.

Mosquito Control and Soil & Water Conservation District Seats

The five members of the Collier Mosquito Control Commission are elected on a nonpartisan basis to four-year terms by voters District-wide. The District covers 401 of the County’s 1.475 million acres, including areas encompassing Naples, Golden Gate, the Estates, Marco Island and Immokalee. More here. If you live in the District, you’ll choose in November between the incumbent and two challengers for each of two seats.

The Collier County Soil & Water Conservation District is one of 62 such Districts in Florida. Two of the five supervisor seats are up for election this year, and the incumbent is unopposed in one of them. Voters will choose between incumbent Jim Lang, whom I endorsed in 2014 (be sure to read why here) and a challenger.

Constitutional Amendments

There will be four proposed amendments on the November ballot. The League of Women Voters of Florida has published a nonpartisan Voter Guide to the Amendments that provides a synopsis of each, explains what yes and no votes would do, and lists supporters and opponents of each. I hope to write more about the amendments in a future post.


Collier voters will have the opportunity to vote for or against the retention of three Florida Supreme Court Justices and ten Judges of the Second District Court of Appeal. The League of Women Voters of Florida’s nonpartisan Voter Guide to Supreme Court Justices the includes brief bios, key cases and FAQs provided by the Florida Bar that should be very helpful in deciding how you will vote. For information about the Second District Appeals Court judicial retention decisions, consider this information from Ballotpedia.

And more!

If you can believe it, these are not the only choices Collier County voters may have on their November ballots. But they are the ones facing most of my readers. Vote By Mail ballots will be going out soon, the last day to register is October 11 and early voting begins October 24.

I hope you can see how important it will be that you do some homework between now and November 8 so you will be an informed voter, and that you will be on the lookout for my future posts.

Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can subscribe to Sparker’s Soapbox by email at, “like” me on Facebook at or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Reflections on the August 2014 School Board Elections

District 2 - Stephanie Lucarelli
District 4 - Erick Carter
I couldn’t be happier with the outcome of the August School Board elections! The candidates I endorsed, supported, worked with and voted for – Stephanie Lucarelli for District 2, and Erick Carter for District 4 – won by double-digit margins: Lucarelli with 59.3 percent of the votes to Louise Penta’s 40.7 percent; Carter with 57.2 percent to Lee Dixon’s 42.8 percent.
See Table 1.

Table 1: School Board election results
That’s the big picture. In this post, I’ll dig into the numbers. Then I’ll compare the results to the election of August 2014, from which followed almost two years of frequently-contentious School Board meetings with lengthy and often uncivil public comments that ultimately brought us to where we are today. I’ll close with some personal reflections.

The numbers

It’s disappointing that fewer than one in three – 32.4 percent – registered voters participated in Collier County’s primary elections, although it beats the ~28 percent turnout in the 2012 primary. (Turnout in presidential election years is usually higher than for mid-term elections; in the 2014 primaries, turnout was just 21 percent.) Almost 62,000 ballots were cast. See Table 2.

Table 2: August 2016 voter turnout by party affiliation

Turnout varied considerably by party affiliation. See Table 2. Since many of the races were open to registered Republicans only, perhaps this was to be expected. But the very important School Board, Clerk of Courts and Property Appraiser races were open to all, as was the vote on state Constitutional Amendment 4, and Republicans represented a far greater percent of ballots cast (69 percent) than they did of eligible voters (52 percent). I am disappointed that so few Democrats chose to participate, though I understand they might resent being disenfranchised by the phony write-in candidate loophole I wrote about here.

The disproportionate participation of Republicans, combined with the Republican Executive Committee’s controversial endorsement of Penta and Dixon, make Lucarelli’s and Carter’s wins even more impressive. (See Collier GOP to regroup after School Board loss.)

Importantly, the trend toward convenience voting continued. Only 26 percent of those who voted waited until Election Day, and more than half voted by mail. See Table 3.

Table 3: Ballots cast

This “new normal” must be taken into consideration in the future by candidates and their campaigns, as well as by local organizations planing candidate forums and the newspapers and others that publish endorsements. The vast majority of voters make up their minds much earlier than they used to, so much of the money and energy spent on advertising and campaigning in the two weeks before Election Day may in the future be better spent differently.

As is usually the case, not everyone voted on every race or question on her/his ballot. The under-vote in the two School Board races averaged 11.3 percent, meaning about one in nine people who cast a ballot didn’t participate in those particular races. This a significant improvement over 2014, as I discuss below.

What a difference two years makes!

In 2014, I was dismayed by the low voter turnout in the primaries. Only 21 percent of the County’s registered voters voted, meaning four out of five did not. Democrats’ participation was far worse than Republicans’ (18 percent vs. 27 percent turnout). And as bad as that was, the under-votes were even worse. See Table 4.

Table 4: 2016 vs 2014 turnout comparison

The low turnout and significant under-votes combined with the fact that there were three candidates running for the District 1 seat enabled Kelly Lichter to be elected with a paltry 16,760 votes. While this was 51.4 percent of votes cast, it was just nine percent of all registered voters. See Table 5.

Table 5: 2016 vs 2014 Primary winners comparison

Two years later, I’m almost as happy about the increased voter participation and decisiveness of the wins in the School Board elections as I am about the fact that Lucarelli and Carter won. Voter turnout among both Republicans and Democrats increased by more than 50 percent, and the percent of under-votes in the School Board races dropped by almost 30 percent. See Table 4. As a result, unlike 2014 when the Board members elected in August received fewer than 18,000 votes each, this year, each winner received more than 30,000 votes. Far more people were engaged and cared enough to participate this year. See Table 5. These are excellent trends that I hope will continue.

I don’t believe the fact that it’s a presidential election year fully explains the higher voter participation. I hope my almost exclusive focus on the School Board in this blog over the past two years raised awareness of what was at stake. See, for example, my report on the first post–2014-election School Board meeting, in which I expressed dismay and concern about the tone of several of the interactions between Board members, members of the audience, the Board attorney and the Superintendent.

In addition, the Naples Daily News’s coverage of the School Board over the past two years and of the School Board election campaigns over the past several months must have played a big part. Looking back over the articles, editorials and letters to the editor I clipped, I can’t help but think that they too got the public’s attention. For example, in the months and weeks leading up to Election Day, the NDN:

  • reported on PACs created to support Lucarelli and Carter (here) and Penta and Dixon (here);
  • highlighted the increasingly partisan nature of what are supposed to be nonpartisan School Board elections (here);
  • hosted forums for the School Board candidates, live-blogged and tweeted highlights, and subsequently posted the video online (here); and
  • reported on “discrepancies” in how candidate Lee Dixon “characterized his time” at the University of Miami (here).

Separately, the Naples Daily News Editorial Board endorsed Stephanie Lucarelli (here) and Erick Carter (here) in their respective races, highlighting not only the experiences and character traits the two will bring to the Board but also the key issues at stake. Since some people vote based on the Naples Daily News endorsements, this too affected the results.

Another major difference in this election was the significant grassroots effort that formed and then evolved over the past year or so as parents, teachers and community members became aware of the issues. Social media played a huge role in growing the grassroots movement, engaging and connecting concerned voters and sharing information. Facebook was the venue-of-choice: if you weren’t following Collier County School Board Watch, Great Schools, Great Minds, The Coalition for Quality Public Education (C4QPE) and my own Sparker’s Soapbox Facebook Page, you missed out on much important activity.

Word-of-mouth, email chains and house parties were also extremely effective. People who had never done anything like it before were happy to help, reaching friends and neighbors who would have not been contacted otherwise.

Finally, the candidates themselves were tireless in their efforts: candidate forums, meet-and-greets, petition-gathering, parades, knocking on doors -- I don't know where they found the energy to do it all.

The Naples Daily News Editorial Board called the margin of victory in the School Board races “a statement of significant community support for Superintendent Kamela Patton,” and dedicated a post-election editorial to a call for civility, saying:

"We interpret Tuesday’s election results as voters sending a message that they’re weary of combative leadership. If that’s the message, we concur. Tuesday’s victories by Erick Carter and Stephanie Lucarelli … create an opportunity for a fresh commitment to civil, not uncivil, service when they’re sworn into office this fall."

Some personal reflections

The divisiveness surrounding this election goes back at least three years. One of the first signs that caught my attention was the angry, belligerent and (I believe) staged responses from some members of the public at a May 2013 School District information session about Florida’s Common Core State Standards. See Common Core: An Issue for the School Board Elections?.

Another early sign was the Contract with Collier County, Florida that the 2014 School Board candidates were asked to sign. Weeks before that year’s August elections, a local parent/attorney emailed supporters:

If, on August 26, we elect candidates from each of the three Districts who have signed the “Contract with Collier County," voters will have a Board majority that can return a voice to parents and teachers, protect our students, and improve the quality of our local educational system.

See SWFL Citizens Alliance wants control of the School Board.

Not gaining the majority they sought, supporters of the two then-newly-elected Board members took every opportunity over the following two years to insult the Superintendent and challenge and disparage the Board majority, especially the then-Chair. Some of the issues they raised had to do with:

  • the role of federal, state and local government in public education;
  • the role of parents and community members in the selection of instructional materials, curriculum and pedagogical methods;
  • how comparative religion is taught in the schools;
  • the appropriateness of holding co-curricular events in a church; and
  • the appropriateness of a prayer or invocation before School Board meetings.

These matters, about which people hold strong and differing opinions, merit community discussion and consideration, and I respect their right to bring them before the School Board. What concerned me, and still does, is the lack of civility with which some officials on the dais were addressed, the lack of respect for the views of others and, in some cases, for the law, and the unwillingness to accept, after appropriate Board consideration, the vote of the majority.

I think the higher voter participation and ultimately the elections of Lucarelli and Carter were more about the community’s determination that this uncivil behavior not prevail than about the candidates’ views on the ideological issues. The community understood the need for stability in District administration and in school leadership, and feared the loss of an excellent Superintendent and the changes that might bring.

People were also angry about the encroachment of partisan politics into what should be nonpartisan school board governance. Such encroachment received public attention just over a year ago when the Collier County Republican Executive Committee considered censuring the School Board Chair for not being “Republican enough,” and culminated with the CCREC’s endorsement, for the first time in at least a decade, of candidates in the nonpartisan School Board races. The fact that the then-CCREC Chairman was not reelected is surely further evidence of community dissatisfaction.

I fervently hope that the candidates who lost and their supporters, as well as the continuing School Board members, will take the lessons of this election to heart. It is possible to disagree without being disagreeable.

In two short years, there will be another School Board election, and three of the five seats will be on the ballot. I hope to see change. I intend to remain vigilant. I hope you will, too.

Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can subscribe to Sparker’s Soapbox by email at, “like” me on Facebook at or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.