Friday, December 30, 2016

Not the sexiest topic

“It’s not the sexiest topic the new Collier County Commission could start with in 2017, but it’s certainly one of the most important.”

I couldn’t agree more with that statement in a recent Naples Daily News Editorial titled “Important hand off on long-term growth plans.”

The County’s population will grow to almost half a million by 2040 from 345,000 today, according to a report by the Regional Economic Research Institute at Florida Gulf Coast University. That’s a lot of change to be planned and managed! And our five County Commissioners, including the three who were newly elected this year, will decide how that growth will happen.

The issues are many and controversial: The environment. Clean water supply. Fracking. Sea level rise. Beach replenishment. Infrastructure. Economic development. Affordable housing. Parks and recreational facilities. And with each issue, decisions must be made, not only about what to do, but how to pay for it.

What better time than the start of the New Year to resolve to become better informed about our County government?

Tuesday’s Collier County Commission (BCC) Workshop on Strategic Planning and Growth Management is a great way to start!

Here are the main items on the Agenda, along with some brief observations I made while reviewing the materials to be presented:

Strategic Planning 2017

Some interesting changes to the County’s Strategic Plan will be first up at Tuesday’s meeting. The Vision is unchanged, but the Mission will now explicitly address the future:

Vision: “To be the best community in America to live, work, and play.”

Mission: “To deliver high-quality and best-value public services, programs, and facilities to meet the needs of our residents, visitors, and businesses today and tomorrow.”

The County’s six Strategic Focus Areas are unchanged:

Collier County Strategic Areas of Focus

Each Focus Area is supported by a new Strategic Goal to provide clarity, and continues to be justified by a set of Community Expectations. Some significant changes to those Expectations are proposed, most of which I agree with, although I’m curious about how Staff came up with them.

For example, in Growth Management, three new Expectations are proposed:

  • Evaluate, monitor, and plan for the effects of sea level rise.
  • Develop integrated and sustainable plans that manage water resources and solid waste.
  • Conserve, preserve, monitor, and manage natural resources in partnership with external stakeholders.

I’m pleased and encouraged to see these, and hope they will be accepted by the Commissioners with little need for debate.

In Community Health, Wellness, and Human Services, these significant changes are proposed:

  • Improve Support access to health care and wellness services. 
  • Address the needs of the community’s senior, disabled, working poor veteran and indigent populations. 

Where did these proposals come from and what will they mean for our community? Is the County explicitly saying it will play no role in improving access to health care, or in addressing the needs of the working poor? This is an area where clarification is needed, and where we can let our opinions be heard.

In Economic Development, Staff proposes explicitly stating the County’s targeted industries, which had not been done previously:

  • Promote our community as a year-round destination of choice for leisure, business, sports, and eco-tourism

This, too, is an area where community input is especially important. It has been sought in many fora in the past, but if you haven’t weighed in yet, now could be your last chance.

Update on the Eastern Collier County Planning Area Restudies

In 2015, the BCC agreed to spend $1.3 million over the next four years to redo and update (restudy) four existing plans for areas in the eastern part of the county where the future growth will take place. These areas are referred to as:

  • The Rural Fringe Mixed Use District (green)
  • The Golden Gate Area Master Plan (orange)
  • The Rural Lands Stewardship Area (blue)
  • The Immokalee Area Master Plan (yellow)


According to Tuesday’s Agenda and the Workshop Materials, Staff will give an overview of the County’s approach to growth management. Then they will review the purpose, history and status of these four area restudies. Since the Rural Fringe restudy was the first to begin, most of the focus of the presentation and discussion will be on that effort, specifically highlighting key issues needing resolution or direction from the Board prior to the public hearing phase. Then they will report on the outreach efforts to-date on the Golden Gate restudy. And finally, they will ask for Board direction on the future timing of the other two restudies.

As a 13-year resident of Collier County who reads the local paper and tries to stay informed, I have some knowledge about what’s happening in the eastern part of the County. I’ve been to the heavily agricultural area of Immokalee on several occasions, and visited the planned community of Ave Maria two or three times. I’ve had meetings and attended events at the County Offices and Community Center in Golden Gate, and was Principal for a Day at Golden Terrace Elementary School. From reading the newspaper and speaking with friends more involved than I am, I have a high-level understanding of some of the challenges Commissioners face in trying to satisfy the various parties interested in how development happens “out there.” But I'm not as informed as I would like to be.

So I am looking forward to learning more about Collier County’s growth management history and plans at Tuesday’s Workshop. With three brand new Commissioners, hopefully the presentation will be at a level that doesn’t assume in-depth knowledge.

It is important that we Collier voters and taxpayers become informed about what’s happening while these plans are still in the restudy phase. I have no doubt that the decisions our County Commissioners will make will affect our future quality of life.

Let’s make sure we are pay attention and participate in the process.

When and Where

The Workshop will be Tuesday, January 3, 2017, beginning at 1 PM, in the Board of County Commissioners chambers, third floor, Collier County Government Center, 3299 Tamiami Trail E., Naples, Florida 34112 (get directions). I hope to see you there!

And if you can’t make it, email your thoughts and questions to the Commissioners (find yours here):

District 1 - Donna Fiala - DonnaFiala@colliergov.net
District 2 - Andy Solis - AndySolis@colliergov.net
District 3 - Burt Saunders - BurtSaunders@colliergov.net
District 4 - Penny Taylor - PennyTaylor@colliergov.net
District 5 - Bill McDaniel - BillMcDaniel@colliergov.net



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 www.sparkers-soapbox.blogspot.com, “like” me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The School Nurse Program at Collier County Public Schools

As promised in my last post, I am returning my focus to Collier County Public Schools and our state and local government, now that the 2016 elections are behind us. I look forward to sharing what I learn with you in the weeks and months ahead.

This first post-election piece was inspired by Ann Campbell, chairman of the League of Women Voters of Collier County’s Social Policy Committee, who was formerly a nurse.

Last season, Campbell and her Committee were concerned about the downsizing of the Collier County Public Schools (CCPS) nursing staff that accompanied the renewal of the District’s contract with Naples Community Hospital for the school nurse program. The renewal had been approved unanimously by the School Board at its March 10, 2015, meeting following public comments, a presentation by Eileen Vargo, Coordinator of Health Services for CCPS, and Board discussion.

From the Executive Summary that accompanied the Board Agenda Item:

The School Health Services Act, Florida Statute 381.0056, requires health services be provided in accordance with a local School Health Services Plan, developed jointly by the County Health Department and the District School Board. Pursuant to statute, the Plan must include, at a minimum, provisions for: health appraisals; nurse assessments; nutrition assessments; health records reviews; vision screenings, hearing screenings, scoliosis and growth and development screenings; referral and follow-up of suspected or confirmed health problems; meeting emergency health needs; referral of students to appropriate health treatment; consultations with parents or guardians regarding the need for health care; maintenance of records; health counseling; required medication administration and medical procedures; prevention of communicable diseases; preventive dental services; and health needs of students with disabilities.

The approved three-year contract with NCH began at an annual cost of $2.6 million. There are provisions for annual increases based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics Medical Consumer Price Index (MCPI) not to exceed 5% per year and any new costs to support district expansion and the addition of new schools. This state requirement is an unfunded mandate.

The CCPS Health Services web page is here.

I attended a meeting last month arranged by Campbell for her Committee with Eileen Vargo, CCPS Director of Health Services, and Christene Parker, RN, Naples Community Hospital, Director of the CCPS School Nurse Program, to find out what impact the changes had over the school year. With her permission, below is Campbell's summary of the meeting.

Background: Twenty years ago, in 1996, The League of Women Voters of Collier County supported the establishment of the current school nurse program under the auspices of Naples Community Hospital (NCH). Prior to that time, K – 6 students received screening (vision, hearing, spine) via the Health Department. Students’ medications were retained by and administered by school secretaries. NCH administration became concerned about the number of, often preventable, visits of school children to the Emergency Room. They stepped up to introduce a pilot school nurse program in the schools. It made a difference. 
Over the years, the NCH program has expanded to include nurses in every school at least part time and athletic trainers in all high schools. The program has had a positive impact in Collier County Schools even though it didn’t meet the nationally recommended ratio of one nurse to every 750 students. 
In May 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics announced a policy recommendation that there should be at least one full time nurse in every school to deal with the increasing complexity of health problems among the students. 
School health nurses are often the only health care professional that students meet. The nurses intervene to reduce unneeded emergency room visits; identify critical problems requiring prompt attention by medical providers; help to reduce absenteeism; and provide support to school administration, teachers and staff. They promote a safe, healthy environment and facilitate parent involvement in the health of their children. 
There are no national guidelines for school nursing. Some states have requirements such as one nurse with advanced training in each district. No mandate exists for certified school nurses (now a recognized specialty). Florida neither mandates nor funds school nurses. It is left to county school districts to provide this important service.
Today in Collier County, there are 47,000 students being served in 50 schools. Eileen Vargo reported that CCPS Health Services and the NCH-sponsored School Nurse program work together with the Florida Department of Public Health in Collier County, Florida’s Vision Quest (providing testing and eyeglasses), The University of Florida College of Dentistry, and others to deliver high quality school health services to Collier’s students. Health needs run the gamut from seizure disorders, mental health crises, infections, minor injuries, to tube feedings and respirators. There are 2,400 children with life-threatening allergies, 100 with insulin dependent diabetes. Many of the students require individual health care plans. As the medical acuity of individual students increases, leadership must continuously evaluate how to place nursing staff to meet the needs of the children in a cost-effective manner. 
The “Lead” RN, in a “truly professional nursing role,” assesses the health needs of the children and is responsible for the training of Assistants in first aid, supportive care and more. Nurses (RNs and LPNs) are paired with Assistants in the schools according to the acuity of the students’ needs. 
Thirty schools have nursing coverage five days a week, up from 21 to 23 last year. That led to an adjustment in the other schools with five schools covered four days a week, ten covered three days, two covered two days and two with coverage one day a week. A typical day for a school nurse might involve 60 student visits or more. 
We asked Eileen Vargo about the challenges she sees at this time. Among them are: 1. Staff vacancies — there is a need to recruit and retain qualified and experienced staff; 2. The growing number of students with chronic health conditions, requiring medications or procedures at school — and the impact on staffing needs; and 3. Providing nursing services to medically fragile students in our ESE (exceptional student) special classes while also providing care for all students.
Christene Parker, who came on board to head the NCH program just before school started this year, brings a wealth of experience from her work in school nursing in New Jersey. She sees the purpose of the school nurse program as focusing on the health and wellness of all the students, thereby putting into place appropriate strategies to maintain student health and support attendance. She speaks enthusiastically about encouraging professional development for her staff to enhance nursing skills and foster critical thinking and decision-making. Christene reminds us that school nursing is an area of practice that is unlike nursing in a hospital or clinic; the school nurse works independently, with a great deal of autonomy in a community setting.


We learned a great deal during our visit with Eileen and Christene and we thank them sincerely for allowing us to get a picture of the great work that they are doing. We think one of the other challenges for children in Collier County might be matching their insurance (or lack of it) with local pediatricians in a timely manner when they are referred for care by the school nurse. Of course, we would like to see more funding for the program so the increasing needs of the children can be safely met. We hope to follow this issue and support the School Nursing Program in any way that we can.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Scientific reviews have documented that school health programs can have positive effects on educational outcomes, as well as health-risk behaviors and health outcomes." It's important for voters to be aware of the many challenges faced by Florida school districts that go beyond teachers, tests and textbooks. Attending to the health needs of its students is just one of them. Many thanks to Ms. Campbell for arranging this meeting and allowing me to share her summary.
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Friday, December 2, 2016

My brief dive into how Collier County voted

Having gotten over the shock of Donald Trump’s election, I found myself wanting to better understand the results in the context of my own community. How conservative is Collier County compared to the state as a whole? Were the results pretty much the same throughout the County, or were there pockets that voted significantly differently?

While our 87 percent voter turnout was the highest in the state (see “Voter turnout in Collier was No. 1 among Florida counties, helping Trump win”), was there a similarly strong participation at all levels of government, or just in the high-stakes, highly-publicized presidential contest?

So I did some digging into the Collier County vote results and additional information I requested from the Supervisor of Elections Office. In this post, I’ll share the highlights of my review, and some thoughts about what I learned.

How conservative is Collier County compared to the state as a whole?

The county has long been so overwhelmingly Republican that in most recent elections, no Democrat could be convinced to run.

This year, admirably, there were two notable exceptions: Democrats Annisa Karim and Tamara Paquette ran for County Commission in Districts 3 and 5, respectively. But their Republican opponents Burt Saunders and Bill McDaniel won, with 66 and 56 percent of the votes, respectively.

Based on the results of the November elections, that strong Republican bias continues. In each of the contests for federal office (Table 1), the Republican candidate won Collier County with at least 60 percent of the votes. And in each case, the win was stronger here than in the state or Congressional district as a whole. In fact, Donald Trump won Florida with less than 50 percent of the vote.

Table 1

For details of Collier’s 2016 General Election results, click here; for Florida’s results, click here.

As of today, 51 percent of Collier registered voters are Republican, 24 percent are Democrat, and the rest are No Party Affiliation or other parties. These figures are updated daily at www.colliervotes.com.

Collier County has been and continues to be solidly Republican and much more conservative than the state as a whole.

Were there pockets of the County that voted differently?

Not only did Republicans carry the County, they carried all but five of the 60 precincts (Table 2). It is not surprising that precincts located in East Naples, Golden Gate, River Park and Immokalee went for Clinton, as they are some of the lowest income areas of the county. But interestingly, Rubio carried two of the five: precincts 156 in East Naples and 324 in Golden Gate.

Table 2

I was disappointed, though not surprised, to learn that the precinct I live in went slightly more heavily for Trump and Rubio than the County as a whole. For County results by precinct, including how the precinct you live in voted, click here.

While there are a few pockets of the County in which a majority voted differently, for the most part, the County voted Republican.

Did the strong voter turnout carry to the down-ballot races?

When a voter casts a ballot but doesn’t register a vote in one of the races on it, it registers as an “under vote.” I was again disappointed, but not surprised, to learn that Collier’s record high voter turnout did not mean a similar degree of voter participation in the less-well-known and publicized races.

Table 3

Table 3 shows that, as would be expected, the smallest percent of under votes was registered in the presidential election. Just one percent of the Collier voters who cast a ballot chose not vote for any of the presidential candidates. Ninety-nine percent did.

However moving down the ballot, the number of people who left votes blank increased. Three percent didn’t vote in the U.S. Senate race. Five percent didn’t vote in the Congressional District 19 race.

The under vote was significantly higher, meaning a significantly smaller percentage of people voted, in the State House or Senate races than in the County Commission races. For example, the under vote in the County Commission races was less than 10 percent, while the under vote in the Legislative races was more than 20 percent.

I can think of at least four possible explanations for this:

  • Voters knew less about the State offices and candidates than the local ones, and didn’t want to make an uninformed vote;
  • Voters were more motivated to vote in the County races, where there were both Republicans and Democrats on the ballot, than in the State races, where there were only Republicans;
  • Voters didn't vote in the State races since, with only a Republican and a “Write In” to choose from, the outcome was virtually predetermined;
  • Voters knowingly or unknowingly cast an invalid vote, e.g. by writing in a name other than that of the “ghost” write-ins who qualified or filling in the “Write In” oval but leaving the line for the candidate’s name blank.

The last is what I did to protest the “write-in loophole” that had closed the Republican primaries for those races.

Moving further down the ballot, the percent of under votes continued to increase. Between 26 and 28 percent of voters didn’t vote in the Fire District races, a third didn’t vote in the Mosquito Control District races, and 35 percent didn’t vote in the Soil and Water Conservation Board race.

The strong voter turnout did NOT carry to the down-ballot races.

What’s next?

Maybe that’s just how it’s always been, and maybe that’s how it is everywhere. But is that acceptable? Shouldn’t some voter education group try to do something about it?

The Naples Daily News, the League of Women Voters and others hosted Candidate Forums and made them widely available, but the questions asked of the candidates assumed a certain basic level of understanding of the issues that I suspect many voters don’t have. Many of those for whom English is a second language would surely have had trouble following the debate.

Perhaps the under vote figures could be examined by precinct to learn how pervasive the problem is and try to identify the reason(s) for it. Once that is known, more and different forms of voter outreach and education can be explored and planned. I’d be interested in readers’ thoughts and suggestions.

In any case, I am closing my book on the 2016 elections for purposes of this blog. I’m looking forward to continuing to learn and write about the Collier County School District and public education in Florida, as well as other aspects of Florida government in Sparker's Soapbox going forward. I hope you’ll continue to follow me.



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Friday, November 4, 2016

Don't take chances! Check your ballot status

A friend just emailed to ask if I was familiar with the website “ShadowVote.com.” She said, “It claims to be a nonpartisan vehicle for encouraging voters and offers a link to check on your absentee ballot. Is it legit??”

My friend was right to be suspicious. Don’t take any chances by clicking on links to unknown websites – especially one purporting to want to protect your vote.

Instead – Confirm that your ballot has been received directly with your Supervisor of Elections office.

If you’re a Collier County voter, go to www.colliervotes.com/Vote-by-Mail/Status-of-Request. Here’s what you will see:



Enter your last name, birth date and the house number of your residence address, and click Submit.

On the page that will then appear, you should see a recap of the information the Supervisor of Elections has on file for you: name, voter registration system ID, birth date, address, party affiliation, and voter status.

Below that, under "Future Elections," you should see information about the current 2016 General Election. This is what I see, highlighted in yellow, confirming that I “submitted a mail ballot:”



When I click on the grey “Show My Mail Ballot Information” button, a window opens where I can see the address to which a ballot was sent to me ("Ballot 1 destination"), the date it was sent (October 4), and the date my returned ballot was received by the Supervisor of Elections office (October 28):



Presumably if I had not requested a mail ballot, or if it had not been received, it would show that – in which case I would have an opportunity to do something about it before Tuesday: either vote on the last day of Early Voting (Saturday, 11/5) or vote in person on Tuesday, 11/8, Election Day at my precinct, the address of which is shown right there on the page.

If you have any questions at all, please call the Supervisor of Elections Office at 239–252-VOTE (239–252–8683).

This election is too important to take anything for granted. Please check the status of your ballot NOW!



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 www.sparkers-soapbox.blogspot.com, “like” me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Get ready to vote in the Soil and Water Conservation District election

Election Day is November 8
All Collier County voters have the opportunity to choose between incumbent James M. Lang and challenger Robert ‘Rob’ Griffin for the Group 4 seat on the Collier Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) Board.

Group 2’s Incumbent, Nancy J. Ritchie, who was appointed to the Board in February due to a vacancy, is unopposed and will be automatically elected.

Some background

Soil and water conservation first became a national policy and priority in 1935 in response to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, to encourage the active support of landowners on the local level. Today, there are over 3,000 soil and water conservation districts throughout the country essentially sharing a single mission: to coordinate assistance from all available sources—public and private, local, state, and federal—to develop locally-driven solutions to natural resources concerns.

The Florida Legislature passed its Soil and Water Conservation Law (Chapter 582 of Florida Statutes) in 1937. There are 58 such Districts in Florida today (list); the Collier County District was established in 1984. Its website is at www.collierswcd.org.

The Collier SWCD administers two Mobile Irrigation Labs (MILs), both for the purpose of promoting water conservation. The Urban MIL serves Collier County; the Agricultural MIL serves Collier, Lee, Hendry, Glades and Charlotte counties.

The MILs provide irrigation system evaluations and conduct conservation education and outreach programs in cooperation with the Big Cypress Basin of the South Florida Water Management District, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and/or the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The Collier SWCD has been advised by the Collier County Comprehensive Planning Department that it may also enter into negotiations with landowners interested in obtaining certain Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) credits, perform various types of land assessments and evaluations necessary under a Restoration and Management Plan (RMP), and execute approved RMPs.

In Florida, Soil and Water Conservation District governing bodies are made up of five Supervisors elected in nonpartisan, district-wide elections to staggered four-year terms. Supervisors are volunteers, serving without pay.

The Collier District’s current year budget is $195,000. Its funding comes almost entirely from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the South Florida Water Management District.

On this year’s ballot: Supervisor, Seat 4

James M. Lang
James M. Lang - incumbent
James Lang, a former customer service manager with the City of Marco Island Water Department, has served on the SWCD Board for ten years. He told me when he was running two years ago, and again this year, that he believes protecting our water resources is extremely important and he worries what might happen if he didn’t run. His challenger two years ago had been endorsed by the Libertarian Party of Collier County and local conservative talk radio host Joe Whitehead, and noted on his campaign Facebook Page at the time that he wanted to dissolve “this unnecessary board.”

Robert ‘Rob’ Griffin
Rob Griffin is challenging incumbent Lang, but I was unable to find any information about him online.

Neither candidate has filed any campaign finance reports for this election.

How I will vote

I will vote for Jim Lang for another term on the Collier SWCD Board.



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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Get ready to vote in the Fire District elections

Election Day is November 8
If you you are among the almost 300,000 Collier County residents of the Greater Naples Fire Rescue District and North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District, you have the opportunity to vote for one or more Fire Commissioners. Please see “Get Ready to Vote in the November Elections” for an overview of how fire service is provided and overseen in Collier County and the fire district consolidations underway.

Greater Naples Fire Rescue District (GNFR)

The Greater Naples Fire Rescue District was created in 2015 by the merger of the former East Naples and Golden Gate Fire Districts. GNFR provides services to more than 150,000 residents in a 304 square mile area within Collier County. Its fiscal 2017 General Fund Budget is $32.6 million, funded largely by property taxes. For more information, see the District’s Strategic Plan here and its Annual Report here.

Under terms of the merger agreement, the eight-member Board of Fire Commissioners will reduce to five by 2018.

These are the choices on this year’s ballot for residents of the GNFR, with links to bios if provided to the League of Women Voters of Collier County (LWVCC):

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

North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District (NCFR)

The North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District was created in 2015 by the merger of the former North Naples and Big Corkscrew Island Fire Districts. The NCFR serves more than 143,000 residents in a 264 square mile service area (map here). Its fiscal 2017 General Fund Budget is $34.7 million, primarily funded by property taxes. Its Strategic Plan is here and its Annual Report is here.

As with the GNFR, by terms of the merger agreement, the eight member Board of Commissioners of NCFR will reduce to five.

These are the choices on this year’s ballot for residents of the NCFR, with links to bios if provided to the LWVCC:

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

The Issues

While the matter of whether or not fire service in Collier County should be consolidated seems to have been settled, there is still disagreement over, among other things, how fast it should happen and how well it has gone to-date.

Some point out the risks of moving too quickly, wanting to ensure promised savings and benefits are being realized being consolidating further. Others suggest the firefighters, with their multiple layers of chiefs and union interests, are dragging their feet to hold on to jobs which may be eliminated as a result of consolidation.

In “Shouting “Fire” in Collier County,” local blogger Dave Trecker wrote that “Debates about fire protection and ambulance service are always fulsome and often contentious. And that’s as it should be. After all, lives and property are at stake.” In that post, he shared his take on “two of the most contentious issues:” “timing and cost of further consolidation,” and “lying to the voters.” It’s worth the read.

Brent Batten’s column “Firefighters union offers blurred vision” sheds an interesting perspective as well.

How I will vote

I have found the issues involved in fire district consolidation, and where Emergency Management Service (EMS) fits in, confusing and difficult to follow over the years. I know that change is hard, and often threatening to those affected.

But I believe that, with the expected explosion of population growth ahead, now is the time to put in place a county-wide fire control and rescue system that is well funded, well staffed and efficiently run, to ensure the future safety of all of us.

I attended candidate forums to hear from each of those running. Those forums confirmed the great respect I developed over the years for Norm Feder and Jim Burke, incumbents/candidates in GNFR, and Steve Hemping, an incumbent/candidate in NCFR. I believe that their business backgrounds, career experiences and service to-date on their respective Boards have served and will continue to serve us well as the Districts execute their merger plans. I have no personal knowledge of the other candidates.

I agree with the Naples Daily News that “Collier County, with a population of about 350,000, doesn’t need a dozen fire departments, each with its own hierarchy plus the administrative and overhead costs it entails.” I also agree that “while we consider progress toward fire district consolidation key to a better Collier County, we value elected leaders who will on occasion challenge elements of what’s unfolding.” And I agree that “fire department consolidation must be completed first before considering blending in the county’s Emergency Medical Services ambulance system “down the road.””

So it’s no surprise that I agree with the Naples Daily News’s endorsements. Their editorials sum up well the reasons for each of their choices. I encourage you to read them:

For Greater Naples Fire District

Editorial: Cottiers, Hemping best for Greater Naples
- Seat 6: Charlie Cottiers
- Seat 7: Steve Hemping

Editorial: Page, McMahon round out Greater Naples fire
- Seat 2: Jeff Page
- Seat 5: Chuck McMahon

For North Collier Fire District

Editorial: Choice between North Collier fire incumbents
- Seat 1: Chris Crossan
- Seat 2: Jim Burke

Editorial: Lombardo, Feder for North Collier fire seats
- Seat 3 - Norman Feder
- Seat 4 - Chris Lombardo

/////////////////////////

My final post this election season will be about how I will vote for the Soil & Water Conservation District Group 4 seat. It will be out later this week.



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 www.sparkers-soapbox.blogspot.com, “like” me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

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 (www.cmcd.org), 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.

Communication

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.

Conclusion

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 www.sparkers-soapbox.blogspot.com, “like” me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.