Monday, November 3, 2014

If you haven't voted yet...

Election Day - November 4
Tuesday, November 4, is your last chance to participate in the 2014 mid-term elections.

You can no longer vote at any early voting site. You MUST vote Tuesday at your precinct. If you requested an absentee ballot and haven't mailed it yet, I suggest you vote in person Tuesday. Be sure to BRING THE MAIL BALLOT WITH YOU.

You can find your precinct location, check the status of your absentee ballot (if you submitted one), and much more, at the Collier Supervisor of Elections' website

Here is a summary, with links back to the underlying posts, of how I voted:

For Governor & Lieutenant Governor - Charlie Crist & Annette Taddeo

For Attorney General - George Sheldon

For Chief Financial Officer - William “Will” Rankin

For Commissioner of Agriculture - Thaddeus Thad Hamilton

For District Court of Appeal Merit Retention - Yes for Judges Allenbernd, Silberman and Sleet

For School Board District 3 - Kathy Ryan

For Soil & Water Conservation Group 4 - James M. Lang

For Soil & Water Conservation Group 5 - Clarence S. Tears, Jr.

For Amendment 1, Water and Land Conservation - Yes

For Amendment 2, Use of Marijuana for Certain Medical Conditions - No

For Amendment 3, Prospective Appointment of Certain Judicial Vacancies - No

In addition, I voted FOR the North Naples / Big Corkscrew Fire District Merger, and for Bob Naegle for North Naples Fire District Board.

Please share this post with your friends. You and they can subscribe to Sparker’s Soapbox by email at, and "like" me on Facebook at Thank you!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Guest Post: Study the Candidates

I completely agree with this letter to the editor of the Naples Daily News by School Board member Julie Sprague. It was published on October 23 and is reprinted here with her permission.

There is a very important election coming on Nov. 4 that will determine a new School Board member serving our district for the next four years.

When I joined the board in 2008, the school district had been placed on "warning" status by the school accrediting organization SACS CASI for two consecutive years and was in jeopardy of losing its accreditation because of board dysfunction.

Collectively over the past several years, the present five School Board members have worked diligently to restore our accreditation to full status, bring stability and respect back to the district and renew the faith from our constituents. Sadly, Barbara Berry and Pat Carroll, whose combined service to our district is over 20 years, will step down in November. Their leadership will be sorely missed.

We need strong, rational leadership to fill this void — someone who will continue to work together with present board members and the superintendent to address the educational challenges we face.

There are very distinct differences between the candidates running for the board. Study them carefully and choose a candidate who clearly supports our traditional public schools, understands your views and has the best interest of all of our Collier County students as their central focus.

Please exercise your right to vote. Approximately 80 percent of voters did not cast a ballot in the primary election for School Board in August. Allowing 20 percent of voters to select someone to fill a four-year term is not acceptable. Sitting idly by and hoping for the best is not an option. There are 45,000 kids depending on you.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Guest Post: School Board Election Significant for All

This post by John Lynch appeared in a Naples Daily News online blog called "Political Point of View by Collier Democrats" on October 22. It appears here at Mr. Lynch's request; he asks that readers share it with others. I urge you to do so. Vote for Kathy Ryan for School Board.

School Board Election Significant For All
by John Lynch

There are not many dramatic School Board Elections. In the case of the run-off election between Erika Donalds and Dr. Kathy Ryan, a serious consequence is in the making:

1. Mrs. Donalds is a staunch Tea Party organizer. A founder of the Tea Party in Collier County and an integral member of Collier Freedom Council 912. She was the campaign manager for her husband, Byron Donalds’ unsuccessful run for Congress under the Tea Party banner. It should be noted that Byron Donalds is a vice-president of Mason Classical Academy. Mrs. Donalds describes herself as an “advisor” to MCA, though a search of records shows that she has had other posts at the Academy. She is closely allied with Kelly Lichter, the founder of MCA, who has been elected to District 1.

2. Mrs. Lichter shares the same political beliefs as Mrs. Donalds and has been active in Tea Party politics along with her husband in the Collier Freedom Council 912.

3. The Tea Party represents a particular world view, one that denies the role of a federal government, does not accept the authority of the State and will engage in obstructive politics to foster its aims. This world view is isolationist and convinced of the belief that our public school system is a failure; that teachers are liberal plants whose task it is to warp the minds of children. An extreme characterization? Not if you have attended meetings at which speakers are shouted down in an organized way. All knowledge and wisdom, even about the technical aspects of education, are subordinate to the wishes of a vocal minority. The sham debates sponsored by another Tea Party group, the Southwest Florida Citizens Alliance, were built to showcase the campaigns of the two Tea Party candidates.

4. Mrs. Donalds is an accomplished financial professional. She rose to prominence over several issues by founding a parents’ group. The two issues she brought to the public were of some importance; not enough to qualify her for board membership. The first issue was lack of consultation over contracts for after-school programs. The second was the installation of a cell phone transmission tower on a school property. She used these concerns to begin to build her campaign. She has not campaigned about the many other cell towers on the property of many other schools. We have not heard much lately about her objections to the re-vamped after-school programs. These issues are ‘thin gruel’ justifying a rampage through our schools.

Then there is the issue of campaign funds. Mrs. Donalds has accumulated over $80,000 in campaign funds. At least in Collier County, this is new in a school district election. You can see the list of donors by going to the Supervisor of Elections website . Thousands have come from outside the County, notably from political action groups. For a non-partisan election, it would seem that this race has taken on the very same characteristics that we find in the blood sport of our political environment.

What is the interest and goals of these outside contributors? It is part of a nation-wide efforts to build the most radically conservative political machine from the ground up.

What does this portend for the future? All it will take in the next round of elections is to vote in one more school district board member of a similar stripe to Mrs. Donalds and Mrs. Lichter to have a board composed of a Tea Party majority. At the very least, with the election of Mrs. Donalds, we are in for controversy and delay. Further support of our public schools will be eroded by the approval of many more charter schools, the good and the bad. The Naples Daily News series of articles illuminates this.

Dr. Ryan is a consummate education professional. She has the wisdom and the intellect to guide us through to the next evolution of education. She has spent her life in service to the students of Collier County and has been particularly successful with both the advantaged and the disadvantaged. Is she the polished campaigner with an overwhelming fund-raising capacity? Probably not. Some will say this is a virtue. Our children do not need experimentation and radical change. They need steadiness, structure and dedication. Will Dr. Kathy Ryan be able to shepherd us through the tangle of educational theory, technological advance, and changing demographics? We have no doubts about this.

Friday, October 17, 2014

We need to do something about this

I care very much about public education. I am proud of the way our School Board returned civility and professionalism to Board meetings, after being on the brink of nearly losing the District’s accreditation because of the behavior of prior members of the Board.

For that reason, I was very disturbed to learn that Sports CLUB, parent/attorney Steve Bracci and Parents ROCK are appealing the decision a Florida judge reached a few months ago in favor of the School District after a year-long battle. The judge ruled that the District was completely within its rights when it approved the decisions of six elementary school principals to replace Sports CLUB with another after-school program provider.

Not only am I disturbed that our District and our School Board (which is also named in the appeal) are being put through this process, but I am concerned because one of the School Board candidates on the ballot now - Erika Donalds - is the founder of Parents ROCK.

For some history on this issue, click here.

In addition to founding Parents ROCK, Ms. Donalds was significantly involved in the formation of Mason Classical Academy, a Hillsdale College public charter school that opened in Collier County last month. Her husband Byron is Vice President of MCA’s Governing Board. According to her bio on the website of The Joe Whitehead Show, Ms. Donalds also serves on the governing board of the Collier Freedom Council, as the Treasurer for the Collier County Young Republicans, and as a Precinct Committeewoman on the Collier County Republican Executive Committee. She is also involved with the Naples Tea Party, the SWFL Citizens Alliance and the Republican Women’s Club of Naples.

Her bio also says, "As a grassroots activist, Erika has worked on a number of campaigns and was the Campaign Manager for her husband Byron Donalds’ campaign for US Congress in 2012."

Ms. Donalds has said if she is elected, she will not be involved in any volunteer organizations. However her leadership, vision and passion for Parents ROCK cannot be denied. She is the one who brought the group together. She is the one who directed its activities. She is also the one who is providing guidance about how parents can opt out of testing.

I certainly have no problem with grassroots activism; I’ve been a grassroots organizer myself. But I do have concerns with the possibility of the founder/leader/visionary of a group that is suing the School District and the School Board serving on the very Board she is suing.

The importance of the race for the District 3 School Board seat between Erika Donalds and Kathy Ryan cannot be overstated.

I strongly support Kathy Ryan and urge you to do all you can to help her get elected.

In particular, letters to the editor would be very effective. Email your letter (250 words max) to or submit it online at

If you share my concerns, please forward this email to other voters in your circles of influence. Let them know their vote is important - and why. Ask them to vote for Kathy Ryan for School Board District 3.

Thanks for your interest in our schools.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

How I will vote: summary

Election Day - November 4
Over the past weeks, I’ve shared the research I’ve done in order to decide on the candidates and issues on my 2014 Midterm Election ballot.

Here is a summary, with links back to the underlying posts, of how I will vote:

For Governor & Lieutenant Governor - Charlie Crist & Annette Taddeo

For Attorney General - George Sheldon

For Chief Financial Officer - William “Will” Rankin

For Commissioner of Agriculture - Thaddeus Thad Hamilton

For District Court of Appeal Merit Retention - Yes for Judges Allenbernd, Silberman and Sleet

For School Board District 3 - Kathy Ryan

For Soil & Water Conservation Group 4 - James M. Lang

For Soil & Water Conservation Group 5 - Clarence S. Tears, Jr.

For Amendment 1, Water and Land Conservation - Yes

For Amendment 2, Use of Marijuana for Certain Medical Conditions - No

For Amendment 3, Prospective Appointment of Certain Judicial Vacancies - No

If you will be voting by mail, please be sure that you sign the back of your ballot with the signature that will match the one on file with the Supervisor of Elections office. If your signature has changed or you are unsure if your signature will match, NOW is the time to make sure there won’t be a problem. Call the Collier County Supervisor of Elections at 239–252-VOTE and ask them how you can check your signature.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

My vote on Amendment 3, Prospective Appointment of Certain Judicial Vacancies

As I learned in “Voting for Judges: Where to Begin?,” Florida’s governor appoints justices of the Supreme Court and judges of the District Courts of Appeal.

A judicial appointment may be necessary when a justice or judge reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70, fails to qualify for a retention election, or fails to secure a majority of votes during his or her retention election.

According to the Florida Constitution, a vacancy exists at the expiration of the term being served. A vacancy cannot be filled prospectively.

That’s the situation Amendment 3 wants to change.

Amendment 3 would require a governor to prospectively fill appellate court vacancies, not wait until the end of the outgoing judge’s term of office.

More than 60 percent of the Florida Legislature (including Collier’s Senator Garrett Richter and Representatives Matt Hudson, Kathleen Passidomo and Carlos Trujillo) approved the proposed Amendment on a party-line vote (Republicans for, Democrats against) in the 2014 Legislative Session. They said it’s needed to avoid the “enormous burden [that would be placed] on the remaining members of the court” “if a judicial nominating commission is forced to delay the beginning of its proceedings until a judge leaves office.”

From the League of Women Voters of Florida Education Fund 2014 Nonpartisan Voter Guide:
In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that Judicial Nominating Commissions could begin their interviewing and nominating process prior to a judicial vacancy occurring, but an appointment could not be made until after the justice’s or judge’s term actually expired.

Because it is possible for a justice’s or judge’s term to end on the same day that a new Governor takes office, the Florida Supreme Court’s 2006 opinion can be read as authorizing the newly sworn-in Governor to fill those vacancies….

In a situation in which a judicial vacancy is created on the first day of a new Governor’s term, Amendment 3 would authorize the outgoing Governor – rather than the newly elected Governor – to appoint the successor judge or justice.
The matter is not a hypothetical one. Three Florida Supreme Court justices will have reached the mandatory retirement age and are scheduled to step down in January 2019, when the term of the governor elected next month - Rick Scott or Charlie Crist - ends.

According to the Orlando Sentinel’s “Reject Amendment 3” editorial,
Ironically, the three justices are the same ones — Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince — whom Republican leaders in the Florida House tried to marginalize in 2011. Those leaders hatched a plan to relegate the justices to a new criminal appeals court and create three new high court vacancies for Scott to fill, but the scheme stalled amid bipartisan opposition in the state Senate.

These are also the same three justices who drew unprecedented opposition from the Republican Party of Florida in their retention elections in 2012. Scott would have filled those vacancies if the justices had lost their seats, but voters kept them on the bench.
The Naples Daily News, which has yet to take an editorial position on the Amendment, printed a guest commentary by Former Supreme Court Justice Harry Lee Anstead, who served on Florida’s highest court from 1994 to 2009. Justice Anstead wrote:
Don’t be fooled. This is not a simple clarification. It is a wholesale change from what our constitution currently allows. There can be no confusion when the constitution is already clear on its face on the question of when judicial vacancies occur….

This process has provided for timely and orderly replacement of retiring justices and other Florida judges for more than four decades. If there are delays in an appointment, as there have frequently been, the chief justice has long used several options for ensuring the work of the court moves forward without interruption. The chief justice has the authority to either extend the service of a retiring justice until the appointment is made, or the chief can appoint a temporary replacement from other sitting judges. Both alternatives have been utilized repeatedly over the years to provide for smooth transitions. This history proves any alleged crisis of delay in processing the court’s cases is a false threat.
The Tampa Bay Tribune says:
We agree clarity is needed but think this proposed amendment offers the wrong solution. A governor who just lost an election or is leaving because of term limits should not be allowed to pack the court with like-minded jurists on the way out the door. That authority would be better vested with a newly elected governor who has just won a popular vote. Or perhaps a compromise of shared authority between the outgoing and incoming governors might be a fairer solution.
Regarding that suggestion, the Tampa Bay Times pointed out that in 1998:
The Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission began vetting candidates under outgoing Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, but Chiles and incoming Republican Gov. Jeb Bush jointly chose Quince from the JNC’s list of nominees. Lawmakers could easily require such a schedule in statute. Or the 2017 Constitution Revision Commission could offer other fairer solutions.
The Tampa Bay Tribune also supports having the Constitution Revision Commision consider the matter:
…[W]e think that process would be better left to the state’s Constitution Revision Commission, which meets again in 2017 and will have a chance to tackle the question before the three jurists retire in 2019. The commission meets every 20 years to consider possible amendments for voters to decide.
The League of Women Voters of Florida, too, says “vote no on 3.”
The League of Women Voters of Florida has been concerned with justice in Florida since the League began here seventy-five years ago… At all times, the League has advocated for an independent judiciary, free of political influence….[T]he League cannot support an amendment that could be used to undermine the independence of the judiciary; that is why we do not support Amendment 3.
So who, other than the Republican members of the Florida Legislature, supports the Amendment? I could find just two endorsers: the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Farm Bureau.

The Florida Chamber says it supports Amendment 3 because it:
  • Clarifies existing constitutional language to specify that the outgoing governor appoints incoming Florida Supreme Court Justices and district court of appeal judges if a vacancy occurs at the same time as the outgoing governor’s term ends.
  • Cannot be solved through legislation and must be passed as a constitutional amendment.
  • Prevents the possibility of legal challenges and confusion when governors change and judicial vacancies occur.

The Florida Farm Bureau, whose mission is “to increase the net income of farmers and ranchers, and to improve the quality of rural life,” endorsed the Amendment but gave no rationale for its support.

How I’ll vote
The editorials I read are compelling. I’m especially persuaded by Justice Anstead’s guest commentary. This Amendment is a solution in search of a problem. The system works just fine for now. If there’s a need to address the possibility of legal challenges and confusion when governors change and judicial vacancies occur, the 2017 Constitution Revision Commission is the right place to deal with it.

As Justice Anstead wrote:
The scheme proposed in Amendment 3 gives a departing governor the power to tip the scales of justice for partisan reasons on the way out the door, with impunity. And, therein lies the easily identified real intent of this amendment.
I will vote no on Amendment 3.

Regarding proposed Amendment 1

This guest post by Susan Calkins provides excellent background for voters’ decision-making about Amendment 1, The Florida Water and Land Conservation Amendment. Ms. Calkins is a retired professor of anthropology/sociology, Florida Master Naturalist engaged in environmental policy issues, graduate of the Greater Naples Leadership Master’s Program, and recipient of 2007 Jefferson Award for Public Service. The post appears here with her permission, because I too will vote yes on Amendment 1. But its appearance does not constitute Ms. Calkins' endorsement of any of my past or future posts.

Amendment 1 Needs Your YES vote
By Susan Calkins, Naples

Susan Calkins
The citizens of Florida have long been committed to the protection of the natural resources of their state, a state soon to be the third largest in the nation. Article II, Section 7 of the Florida constitution states, “It shall be the policy of the state to conserve and protect its natural resources and scenic beauty.” For years, voters have supported funding to do just that.

In 1972 the Florida Legislature passed the Land Conservation Act, creating the Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL) program, designed specifically to “protect environmentally unique and irreplaceable lands.” In 1979 this program was replaced by the Conservation and Recreation Lands Program (CARL), which established a land acquisition/management advisory council and made other significant administrative changes to the program.

In 1981, at the urging of Governor Bob Graham, two more programs – the Save Our Coast and the Save Our Rivers – were established to fund the purchase of critical coastal lands (SOC) and the acquisition and restoration of water resources (SOR). The SOC program resulted in the purchase of more than 73 miles of coastline and thereby significantly increased the number of coastal state parks. The SOR program largely funded Everglades restoration efforts.

By 1989 Florida was experiencing a major population “boom.” Irreplaceable, sensitive environmental lands had begun to disappear at an alarming rate. The pace of land acquisition, hampered by the year-to-year funding mechanism, could not keep up with development.

In response, Governor Bob Martinez appointed a Commission on the Future of Florida’s Environment. The Commission concluded that at the current rate of growth, the state would lose 3 million acres of wetlands (our freshwater recharge areas) as well as over 500 endangered and threatened species. They advised a more aggressive source of funding for conservation was needed. Consequently, in 1990 the Legislature approved the Preservation 2000 Act that provided for the sale of $3 billion in bonds over a 10-year period, providing $300 million per year from 1991–2000. The program was not only successful, preserving almost 2 million acres of land for conservation and resource-based recreation; it had the strong support of the general public.

In 1999 the Florida Legislature, with the support of Governor Jeb Bush, passed the successor to the Preservation 2000 Act — the Florida Forever Act. Although using the same source and amount of funding ($300 million a year), this new act made several changes to the previous program. Besides organizational changes, there was a greater emphasis on water resources and supply, and a new emphasis on purchasing conservation easements on lands such as existing farm and ranch lands.

Like its predecessor, Preservation 2000, Florida Forever was popular with the citizenry, no doubt because Florida was still losing land to development at a rate of nearly 500 acres per day. Hence in 2008, the highly successful Florida Forever program was reauthorized at the amount of $300 million per year for another ten years.

However, the Great Recession saw the Florida Forever program decimated; in 2010 funding for the program was cut by an estimated 95 percent. During the 4 years of Governor Scott’s administration, the Legislature diverted conservation trust fund dollars elsewhere, primarily to the newly created Department of Economic Opportunity.

Between 2011 and 2014, just less than $29 million went to Florida Forever conservation projects. Protection of our waters and environmentally sensitive lands appeared to have lost the bipartisan support it had enjoyed for so many years. And just at a time when conservation lands were more affordable.

In response, a coalition of civic and environmental organizations created the Florida’s Water and Land Legacy campaign to petition for a constitutional amendment, which would dedicate 33 percent of existing real estate transfer fees (“doc stamp” tax) toward water and land conservation.

Approximately a million Floridians signed petitions to put the Florida Water and Land Conservation Amendment on the Nov. 4 ballot.

If passed, Amendment #1 would dedicate less than 1 percent of the state’s annual budget to conservation. The amendment does not create a new tax. And it is of limited duration, expiring in 20 years. It does not change or affect land use regulations; it is only a funding source.
The Florida Water and Land Conservation Amendment

TITLE: Water and Land Conservation - Dedicates funds to acquire and restore Florida conservation and recreation lands

SUMMARY: Funds the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to acquire, restore, improve, and manage conservation lands including wetlands and forests; fish and wildlife habitat; lands protecting water resources and drinking water sources, including the Everglades, and the water quality of rivers, lakes, and streams; beaches and shores; outdoor recreational lands; working farms and ranches; and historic or geologic sites, by dedicating 33 percent of net revenues from the existing excise tax on documents for 20 years.
Do we need this amendment now?

Yes. We can no longer afford to have the conservation and protection of our natural resources dependent upon the whims of the Legislature. Remember, we will soon be the third largest state in the U.S.; in fact, we may be right now. Our rapid population growth has continued to put tremendous pressure on our natural resources, and the task of protecting them is more critical than ever.

The Florida Forever program has identified over two million acres of environmentally sensitive lands still in need of protection – among them lands necessary to protect water quality. Since the vast majority of Floridians get their drinking water from groundwater sources, conserving our wetlands, and the lands which buffer our springs and rivers, is essential to us.

Unfortunately, a recent report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration identified southwest Florida as a “hot spot” for recent wetland loss. These wetlands are vital; they trap floodwaters, recharge groundwater supplies, remove pollution and provide fish and wildlife habitat. One-third of Floridians are dependent upon our most precious and endangered wetlands, the Everglades, for their drinking water supply.

In addition, most of our bays and estuaries, rivers and lakes currently do not meet the State of Florida 2010 water quality standards for safe public use. Locally, Naples Bay is an impaired (polluted) water body under both the federal Clean Water Act and the Florida Watershed Restoration Act (F.S. 403.067). And polluted waters (think toxic algae blooms) have been tied to the death of scores of dolphins, birds and other wildlife, not to mention a record number of manatee deaths (829 last year). These impaired water bodies not only threaten our wildlife and our quality of life; they also put Florida’s 65 billion a year tourism industry at risk.

Wetland areas and water bodies like Naples Bay can be restored and protected — but it is a costly task. We have accomplished a great deal as a state when it comes to protecting our natural resources and our scenic beauty. But we still have work to be done.

If we want to save our “paradise” for ourselves and for future generations, we need 60% of voters to say YES to Amendment #1, the Florida Water and Land Conservation Amendment. YES.