Monday, June 20, 2016

An update on the Collier School Board elections

About a month ago, I outlined the state of the two School Board races and explained why I will be voting for Stephanie Lucarelli for District 2 and Erick Carter for District 4. A lot has happened since then, so here’s an update.

As a reminder: all Collier voters can vote in both the District 2 and District 4 races regardless of your party affiliation or where you live.

The future direction of public education in Collier County is at stake in what is clearly an ideologically-driven election. Lucarelli and Carter are strong supporters of public education and the District’s Strategic Plan, appreciate the current Superintendent (without being apologists; they acknowledge that more can and should be done), and – importantly – want to work within the system and the law for change.

Their opponents Penta and Dixon align with the right-wing Florida Citizens Alliance and Tea Party incumbents Erika Donalds and Kelly Lichter. They are critical of current policies and programs, couch their intent to get rid of the Superintendent in terms of wanting to rewrite the tool used for her annual evaluation, and claim “federal government overreach” in the schools.

Here is a summary of the money raised through May 30, from the Collier County Supervisor of Elections website:

I encourage you to review the list of people who have contributed to each of the candidates’ campaigns; I’ve made it easy by compiling the data in one PDF document here. And if you haven’t made your contributions yet, or would like to donate again, please see the instructions at the end of this post.

Campaign developments since my previous post:

District 2

Importantly, two of the initial four District 2 candidates, Gene Ungarian and John Brunner, have withdrawn from the race, leaving just Stephanie Lucarelli and Louise Penta. This means that District 2, like District 4, will be decided in the August primary.

Stephanie Lucarelli
for District 2
Lucarelli ( was the only candidate who collected the ~1800 signatures needed to avoid paying the $1,500 qualifying fee, a testament to her determination to do so as well as her early (November 2015) start.

Penta, who was endorsed by the Collier County Republican Executive Committee, has in the past month more clearly aligned herself with the libertarian-leaning Florida Citizens Alliance (FCA), whose stated focus is “Stop Federal Overreach and Restore our Individual Rights, Guaranteed Under the Constitution.”

For example, a June 14 post on her website titled “School Board candidate Louise Penta calls for end to Common Core” is in keeping with FCA’s anti-Common Core initiative.

New to her website this month too are her responses to a FCA “Constitutional Survey for School Boards.” To the question “In your opinion, what are 2 current examples of the most egregious Federal overreach to its Constitutional powers that affect the County School Boards in Florida and what is your proposed remedy to each?,” Penta wrote:

“The federal government becoming so entrenched in public education. They add less than 10% to local education budgets, but contribute many rules to how it is spent. Public education needs to be returned to the states and districts. Article 1 Section 8, power to lay and collect taxes did not intend involvement to the point we now see. Also the 10 Amendment refers to the role of the States not the Federal government. My second example would be Common Core, the indoctrination of our children, not the education. It is all about big business and big government, starting with Bill Gates and all the way down. It needs to go away, we need to get back to a classical education. Blue Zone is working in the same aggressive manner and needs to be removed from our schools.”

She did not provide an answer to the survey’s requested “proposed remedy to each.”

The money: As can be seen in the table above, Penta is far and away the winner of the money race, both in terms of the personal loan to her campaign ($15,000 vs. Lucarelli’s $6,000) and the significantly larger average contribution ($512 vs. $120). Also of note is Penta’s $100 contribution from current School Board member Kelly Lichter and her husband Nick.

One of Lucarelli’s three $1,000 contributions is from me; another is from the Collier Teacher’s Union PAC.

District 4

Erick Carter
for District 4
Erick Carter ( and Lee Dixon ( are the two candidates in the District 4 race.

Dixon, who was also endorsed by the Collier County Republican Executive Committee, made news this month with the revelation that he had used harsh language, including calling national female commentator Sunny Hostin a “racist c–t,” on Twitter in 2013. See “Collier school board candidate shuts down Twitter account after vulgar comments noted.” According to that article, he also made derogatory comments online about the elderly: “In a 2013 comment attached to a Foursquare check-in to Naples Costco Wholesale store, Dixon’s Twitter account included a comment: ”Holy s—. Aren’t these blue hairs supposed to be at their cardiologist or getting a hip replaced this time of day?"

By way of explanation, Dixon told the Naples Daily News, “This was three years ago and it has nothing to do with Collier County education issues today. Listen, we’re all sinners.”

Also this month, Dixon signed a letter, called the “2016 Contract with Collier County Voters,” in support of ten “major education reforms” “aimed at returning a voice to parents and teachers, protecting our students, and improving the quality of our local educational system.” In signing the letter, he promised to bring up those reforms during the first three regular board meetings after taking office. This, of course, mirrors the 2014 “Contract with Collier County” signed by current School Board members Erika Donalds and Kelly Lichter. As I wrote in August 2014, “Candidates for elected office should not commit to ANYTHING in advance. They need the flexibility to consider the facts and circumstances of each decision, with appropriate community input AT THE TIME.”

As in the District 2 race, the Florida Citizens Alliance candidate (Dixon) has outraised the candidate I support (Carter). Of note among Dixon’s donations: $1,000 from Charter School operator FORZA Education Management, a total of $256.12 from Nick Lichter, $100 from Parents ROCK president David Bolduc, contributions from former conservative Collier County School Board members Linda Abbott ($25) and Steve Donovan ($200), $100 from Naples City Councilman Sam Saad III and $100 from frequent litigant against the Collier County Public Schools and critic of Superintendent Patton Steven J. Bracci.

Of note among Carter’s donations: $1,000 from me, $1,000 from the Collier Teachers’ Union PAC and $250 from state representative Kathleen Passidomo.

What’s with the Anti-Common Core theme?

As long-time readers know, I’ve been writing about the anti-Common Core mantra of the Florida Citizens Alliance for years. See, for example:

I fully expect this to continue to be a defining issue in these School Board elections.

Please contribute to our candidates NOW

School Board member Erika Donalds raised $80,000 for her successful campaign in 2014, and District 2 candidate Penta is well on her way there, with three months to go before election day. If you possibly can, please make a contribution to our candidates now.

For Stephanie Lucarelli, contribute online at or by check payable to Elect Stephanie Lucarelli mailed to 494 Seagull Ave., Naples FL 34108. Please print, complete and include this form.

For Erick Carter, contribute online at or by check payable to Erick Carter 2016 Campaign mailed to 1373 Wisconsin Dr. Naples, FL 34103. Please print, complete and include this form.

Thank you for wanting the best possible public education for ALL Collier students.

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.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Get ready to vote for the Constitutional Officers

Every four years, all five of Collier County’s constitutional officer positions are up for election. They are:

  • Sheriff
  • Property Appraiser
  • Tax Collector
  • Supervisor of Elections
  • Clerk of Courts

These positions are elected at-large by all voters in the county in partisan elections, so generally only registered members of a political party may vote in that party’s primary election, with the final decisions made in the November general elections. However, if all the candidates for an office have the same party affiliation and the winner of the primary will not face any opposition in the general (i.e. no write-in or third-party candidates have qualified), then all registered voters can vote for any of the candidates for that office in the primary election.

In this post, I will tell you about the candidates who have filed to run for each of the five offices, which offices will have August primaries and who can vote in each, and who I expect to vote for in August.


Incumbent Kevin Rambosk is running for reelection to a third term, having served as Sheriff since 2008. His only challenger is No Party Affiliation (NPA) candidate Carlos Gutierrez, so there will be no Sheriff primary in August.

Property Appraiser

With only two Republicans running, this race will be decided in the August primary that will be open to all Collier voters, regardless of party affiliation.

Abe Skinner
Abe Skinner (R)

Incumbent Abe Skinner has filed to run for reelection, having served as Property Appraiser for 25 years, and before that as a member of the Appraiser’s staff since 1962. He says he has “continually improved technical access to the County’s real estate information,” and that he, with his staff, “developed one of the finest GIS (Geographical Information Systems) in the state.” A self-described fiscal conservative, he says the current budget for the Appraiser’s Office is “only 1.1 percent more than it was eight years ago.”

Skinner attended the University of Florida and attained the International Association of Assessing Officers’ Certified Florida Appraiser (CFA) designation.

Skinner’s campaign website is He has raised $11,300 through April 30, all from Naples, including a personal loan of $1,000.

Richard Lussy
Richard Charles Lussy (R)

Lussy is Managing Director at Richard C. Lussy & Associates in Naples and a licensed Certified General Real Estate Appraiser and Real Estate Sales Associate. He has a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Montana in Finance, Real Estate, Personnel Management and General Business, and attained the Senior Real Property Appraiser (SRPA) and Member Appraisal Institute (MAI) designations from the Appraisal Institute.

Lussy was Property Appraiser and Director of Real Property in the Martin County, FL, Property Appraisal Office in 1988, but soon went out on his own in Richard Lussy & Associates. In 1992 he undertook what was to become a total of seven unsuccessful election challenges to the incumbent Martin County Property Appraiser, receiving 20.8 percent of the votes in 1992 and a declining share subsequently. His last attempt was in 2012.

He explained his losses as follows: “I have been denied right to confront accusers in 100% jury trial verdicts, Florida Bar Association lawyers as judges control both Florida lawyers & police through falsified public record used to smear-defame me with repetition of libel per se ad nausea infinitum. This again by falsified public records while denying correction of falsified public records these 24-years in Florida by denying no brain Florida Statute 839.13(2)(d) as defined within this Candidates Talk.” I find this statement incoherent and disturbing.

Lussy’s member profile on the Appraisal Institute website is here. I could find no website or social media presence.

Lussy has raised $3,050 through April 30, primarily a personal loan of $3,000.

Tax Collector

Larry Ray
Larry H. Ray (R)

As of now, only incumbent Larry Ray has filed to run. If no one challenges him before the June 24 qualifying deadline, his name will not appear on the ballot and he will automatically be considered elected at the November General Election.

Ray has a Bachelor’s in Business Administration from the University of Missouri. Upon graduation, through the ROTC program, he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the US Army. He served for 23 years, including as the Chief of the Force Structure Branch of US Army Europe with responsibility for the allocation of resources, both personnel and equipment, for the Army in Europe. While in the Army, he received an MBA from Washington University, where he also was an Assistant Professor of Military Science.

Upon moving to Naples in 1991, Ray joined Naples Community Hospital as Vice President of Facilities and Constructions, overseeing several expansion projects. In 2007, he joined the County Tax Collector’s Office as Compliance Officer, and was elected the following year to succeed incumbent Guy Carlton, who had announced his retirement.

I found no campaign website or social media pages. Ray has raised $200 through April 30, a personal loan.

Supervisor of Elections
Jennifer Edwards

Jennifer J. Edwards (R)

As of now, only incumbent Jennifer Edwards has filed to run. If no one challenges her before the June 24 qualifying deadline, her name will not appear on the ballot and she will automatically be considered elected at the November General Election.

Edwards earned her Bachelor’s from the University of Kentucky and her Master’s from Eastern Kentucky University. She has served as the Supervisor of Elections since 2000 and prior to that, held several positions during a 13-year tenure with the Collier County Manager’s Department including Budget Analyst, Assistant to the County Manager and Human Resources Director.

Edwards is a State Certified Supervisor of Elections and was awarded her Master Florida Certified Elections Professional (MFCEP) designation from the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, which she has served as Treasurer, Secretary, President Elect, President, and Past President. She has also earned a Certified Elections Registration Administrator (CERA) designation.

Her LinkedIn page is here; I found no campaign social media pages or website. She has raised $610 through April 30, of which $600 is a personal loan.

Clerk of Courts

The Clerk of Courts election will likely be the most hotly contested, expensive and interesting to watch.

As with the Property Appraiser race, with only two Republicans running, it will be decided in the August primary that will be open to all Collier voters, regardless of party affiliation.

Long-serving incumbent Dwight Brock is being challenged by District 2 County Commissioner Georgia Hiller, who resigned last week to run for the post. The animosity between the two is well known. See, for example, “Showdown: Feud erupts between former allies Brock, Hiller over bank selection, auditing power” in September 2014, in which “Brock called Hiller’s accusations a political ploy, saying the commissioner plans to run for his seat in 2016.” Later that year, Hiller criticized Brock's use of an out-of-state investment manager. More examples here.

In addition, there have been disputes between Brock and the Board of County Commissioners (BCC) over the Clerk’s authority to audit County records, the authority of the BCC to invest County money and choose banks to hold County funds, and, in 2015, the BCC’s delegation of authority to County staff to approve invoices up to $50,000. See here.

Most recently, Brock has held up payments to the County’s longtime advertising firm for lack of sufficient supporting documentation. See here.

Separately, Brock was sued in 2014 by a local independent investigative reporter over the amount he charged for records she sought in her investigation of Brock’s audit of an organization founded by his 2012 political opponent. See here for a Naples Daily News report and here for an article by the reporter.

See also “Collier clerk race attracts big money for Georgia Hiller, employee donations for Dwight Brock,” Naples Daily News 5/16/16.

With that overview of some of the issues underlying this election, here is some brief information about each candidate.

Dwight Brock
Dwight Brock (R)

Brock has a Bachelor’s degree from Florida State University, a Master’s in Business Administration from Stetson University and a law degree from Nova Law Center. He is a Certified Public Accountant and a member of the Florida Bar. Brock worked in the State Attorney’s Office prior to being elected Clerk of Courts for Collier County in 1993.

On his campaign website, Brock writes, “For several years, my office has tried to work with the Board [of County Commissioners] to ensure that controls were in place to protect public funds. During this time there has been an increasing lack of open competition on bids for public goods and services, competition which achieves the lowest price to the tax payers. There has also been an increase in the number of unauthorized contracts amounting to millions of dollars and spanning multiple years…. My role, the role you elected me to perform, is to protect you and your money.”

Brock has raised $25,260 through April 30, including a $10,000 personal loan and $7,850 from out-of-county. There have been 12 contributions of the maximum $1,000, including one from Prosperity Florida, a political committee whose mission is “to foster and promote accountable, efficient and limited government throughout Florida, while promoting reform through market solutions.”

His campaign website is, his Facebook Page is here and his LinkedIn Page is here.

Georgia Hiller
Georgia Hiller (R)

Hiller has Bachelor’s degrees in accounting and international business and a Master’s in Business Administration from Florida Atlantic University, and Law degree from Florida State University. She is a Certified Public Accountant, licensed real estate broker, and member of the Florida Bar. She has served on the BCC representing District 2 since 2010, having no challenger to her reelection in 2014.

She has worked for a “Big Eight” global accounting firm as a financial auditor, specializing in government entities and distressed financial institutions. She also served as the finance director of a large non-profit organization.

In January 2015, Hiller announced plans to run for the State House District 106 seat currently held by Kathleen Passidomo, but dropped that plan early this year to run instead for County Clerk.

Hiller has been critical of Brock’s suing the County over payment of invoices, which she called “wasting taxpayer money.” In 2014, she challenged Brock’s selection of the bank to hold County money, claiming he usurped the BCC’s power.

Hiller has raised $67,950 through April 30, including $9,750 (14%) from out-of-state. Of the total, $11,500 (17%) is a personal loan, $23,067 (34%) is from individuals (including former Commissioner Fred Coyle) and $23,750 (35%) is from businesses (including real estate, development, land investment, engineering, construction). Hiller’s largest donor, according to the Naples Daily News, is Stock Development, which gave $8,000 “through various companies it operates about a month before Hiller and the rest of the commission voted down a proposal to try to bring the spring training site of the Atlanta Braves to land owned by Stock. Hiller received another $1,000 that day from attorney Rich Yovanavich, who frequently represents Stock and a handful of other developers before commissioners.”

I am unable to find a campaign website or LinkedIn Page. Her personal Facebook Page is here.

How I will vote

I have been quite impressed with the services and professionalism of all five of the Constitutional Officers and their staffs, to the extent of my personal involvement with them over the years.

In summary, and assuming no one else files to run for any of the offices before the end of the qualifying period on June 24:

Sheriff - With no Republican challenger to incumbent Kevin Rambosk, the race will not appear on the August ballot. Rambosk will face NPA challenger Carlos Gutierrez in November.

Property Appraiser - With only two Republicans having filed, the race will be decided in August in a primary open to all Collier County voters. I will vote for incumbent Abe Skinner.

Tax Collector - With no challenger, the race will not appear on the August ballot, and Larry Ray will automatically be considered the winner.

Supervisor of Elections - With no challenger, the race will not appear on the August ballot, and Jennifer Edwards will automatically be considered the winner.

Clerk of Courts - With only two Republicans having filed, the race will be decided in August in a primary open to all county voters.

I endorsed Brock in 2012; click here to learn why. I concluded that “Dwight Brock has served Collier County well as ‘watchdog’ over expenditures of taxpayer funds. He is a man of principle who takes quite seriously his responsibility to uphold the law. His combination of professional training and on-the-job experience far exceeds that of his opponent.”

I am leaning toward endorsing Brock again this year, however I’m not yet ready to make a final decision. There will be Naples Daily News Editorial Board interviews, and hopefully candidate forums in the coming months, which will be important sources of information, as are and will be the donors to each candidate’s campaigns.

I’ll let you know what I decide.

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.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Get ready to vote for Board of County Commissioners

Growth management, economic development, low-income and workforce housing, and protecting the environment are the issues I’m focused on in this year’s Board of County Commissioners (BCC) elections. 
Some - but not all - Collier County voters will have the opportunity to vote in the BCC primary in August. In this post, I’ll show you how to find out if this election will be on YOUR ballot and tell you something about the candidates you will have to choose from in August.
Will this election be on your ballot?
Unlike the School Board, whose members are elected at-large by all voters in the county, County Commissioners are elected only by those who live in their commission District. 
Also unlike the School Board, whose elections are nonpartisan, County Commission candidates run as members of a political party. And since Florida is a closed primary state, only registered members of a party may vote in that party’s primary election. 
Which Collier County Commission seats are up for election this year?
Commissioners serve four-year staggered terms with no term limits. In presidential election years, Districts 1, 3 and 5, currently held by Republicans Donna Fiala, Tom Henning and Tim Nance, respectively, are up for election. To find out which District you live in, click here
With no Democrat running in District 1 and just one running in each of Districts 3 and 5, there will be no Democratic Party County Commission primaries in August. As I’ve suggested in the past, if you are not a Republican, you might consider changing your party affiliation so you can participate in electing the Republican to run against the Democrat in November. To review or update your voter registration information, including party affiliation, click here.
In addition, the District 2 seat currently held by Republican Georgia Hiller may be on the ballot, since she has filed to run in the August primary for Clerk of Courts against incumbent Dwight Brock. Since Florida is a “resign to run” state, Hiller will have to resign her Commission seat by June 10, although the resignation doesn’t have to take effect immediately. Potential candidates would have until June 24 to file and qualify to run. 
If you live in Districts 1, 2, 3 or 5, read on to learn about the Republican candidates in your District’s primary.
District 1
Donna Fiala
As of now, only incumbent Republican Donna Fiala has filed to run. If no one challenges her before the June 24 deadline, her name will not appear on the ballot and she will automatically be considered elected at the November General Election.
Fiala has served on the County Commission since 2000. She is a fierce defender of her East Naples District, most recently supporting the controversial Gateway Triangle development and opposing locating any more low income housing in the District. 
Fiala has raised $24,330 through April 30, including nine contributions (two from out-of-county) of the maximum $1,000 (37%), $850 from out-of-state, and a personal loan of $50. I am unable to find a campaign website or current Facebook page.
District 2

If incumbent Georgia Hiller resigns from the BCC by June 10, this seat will be on the August ballot. Since the seat is not otherwise up for election this year, no one has filed to run for it. However, James D. Carter has filed to run in 2018, and raised $2,500. (Hiller has raised $67,950 through April 30 for her Clerk race, which I’l be writing about in a future post.) 
If you live in District 2, pay attention to what happens in the coming weeks. Carter can easily switch his filing to the 2016 election, in which case he would be unopposed unless another candidate gets in before June 24. If a Republican but no Democrat files and the race will be decided in the primary, all District 2 voters, regardless of party affiliation, would have the opportunity to vote.
District 3

With incumbent Tom Henning not seeking reelection, five people have filed to run for the District 3 seat.
Registered Republicans who live in the District have the opportunity to choose in the August primary among Ron Kezeske, Burt Saunders and Russell W. Tuff. The winner of the election will face Democrat Annisa Karim and No Party Affiliation (NPA) Atom Joseph McCree in November. 
Ron Kezeske
Ron Kezeske
Kezeske is CEO of Hawkey Capital, a small, private investment management firm formed in 2014 that targets start-up and growing businesses in Florida and Texas. Previously, he was Executive Manager of Refined Energy, LLC, a private equity firm that “invests in and develops oil and gas projects … currently focused on drilling shallow oil and gas wells in-and-around southern New York.” He founded his first investment-based company, National RE/Group, Inc., in 2011 while attending and completing law school.
Kezeske has a BS in political science and government from the University of Wisconsin and a JD from Ave Maria School of Law. He is a member of the Collier County Republican Executive Committee, the Naples Men’s Republican Club and the GAIN (Growing Associates In Naples) Class of 2015; Vice President of Community Outreach of the Naples Jaycees; and a Lifetime Member of the National Riflemen (sic) Association. He previously sat on the county’s public safety authority and code enforcement board, and is involved with the Naples Jaycees and Naples North Rotary.
His political views are “Conservative” and his interests are “local government” and “liberty,” according to his campaign Facebook page. He is for “responsive representation, reputable growth and resourceful community services,” according to his campaign website at His LinkedIn page is here
Kezeske has raised $8,870 through April 30, virtually all through personal loans ($7,000) and in-kind contributions ($1,652).
Burt Saunders
Burt Saunders
Saunders, a partner at Gray Robinson Attorneys in Naples since 2004, is currently a lobbyist for Collier County. He previously served as an Assistant Dade County Attorney, Collier County Attorney, Collier County commissioner (8 years), Florida state representative (4 years), and Florida state senator (8 years).
He has a BA in physics from the University of South Florida, a JD from the William & Mary Law School, and a Masters in International and Environmental Law from the University of Miami School of Law.
His focus issues are roads (fix and invest for the future); community (protect and preserve Collier’s natural environment to drive tourism and attract economic opportunities); health and safety (proper funding and training for the Sheriff’s deputies; a strong partnership between the County and local health care systems); and taxes (keep taxes low; cut unnecessary government regulations).
Saunders has raised $38,900 through April 30, including $15,000 (39%) in personal loans and 16 contributions of the maximum $1,000 (41%). Funds from out-of-county total 17% of the funds raised, including five contributions of $1,000.
His campaign website is at, his Facebook Page is here and his LinkedIn page is here.
Russell Tuff
Russell W. Tuff
Tuff is Managing Partner at Social-Impact, a PR firm he launched in 2011 specializing in Internet marketing. He also runs Tuff News Media Consultants and is a staff musician at Trinity-by-the-Cove Church. Before going out on his own, Tuff had a career in publishing, including almost six years as Executive Editor of EW Scripps.
Tuff is president of the Golden Gate Civic Association. Previous community involvement includes Collier County Planning Commissioner, Director - Naples Area Chamber of Commerce, Member - Golden Gate Master Plan Committee, Member - Collier County Republican Executive Committee, President - Golden Gate Chamber of Commerce, Founding President - Golden Gate Visitor Center, Charter Member - Naples Area Tourism Board, Charter Member - Collier County Tourism Alliance, Member - Collier County Economic Advisory Council, and more. 
He says, “The improving economy offers us a second chance to learn from past mistakes, maintain and expand infrastructure, live within our means and hold government fiscally responsible” and that he is running to ensure the county plans “appropriately” for the the future and addresses infrastructure needs. 
He has a BA with a double major in history/political science and business administration and a minor in religion from University of Jamestown, and a Education for Ministry (EfM) certificate from the University of the South School of Theology.
Tuff has raised $16,365 through April 30, including a $1,000 personal loan, two $1,000 contributions and $600 from incumbent Tom Henning. All but $130 comes from within the county.
Tuff’s campaign website is at, his personal web page is here, his LinkedIn profile is here and his Facebook Page is here
District 5

As in District 3, with incumbent Tim Nance not seeking reelection, five people have filed to run for the District 5 seat.
Registered Republicans who live in the District have the opportunity to choose in the August primary among Randolph Cash, William “Bill” McDaniel and Douglas L. Rankin. The winner of the election will appear on the ballot along with Democrat Tamara A. Paquette in November. Independent Marvin D. Courtright is running as a write-in candidate.
Randolph Cash
Randolph Cash
Cash is president and owner of Flamingo Air Management, Inc., an aviation operations consulting business. After receiving a degree in politics and public affairs from the University of Miami School of Business, he joined the army and served in Northern Iraq, Korea, Turkey, Germany, and Somalia. He retired as a Major after 22 years of active service in 1999. 
His civic involvement includes Commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States Golden Gate Post 7721, Collier County Republican Executive Committee, Collier County Veterans Council, Golden Gate Estates Area Civic Association and the Immokalee Chamber of Commerce. 
Cash’s platform issues are to preserve our quality of life and protect the environment through managed growth, bring hospital services and create economic development opportunities to eastern Collier County, advocate for affordable housing, and ensure quality fire and EMS throughout the County. He has specifically mentioned the need for a stop light in Immokalee, work on a number of bridges in the Estates and help with the failing sewage treatment facility in Everglades City.
Cash has raised $10,150 through April 30, including a personal loan for $5,000, contributions from businesses sharing his personal address totaling $2,000, and $1,150 from out-of-state. 
His campaign website is, his Facebook Page is here and his LinkedIn Page is here.
Bill McDaniel
William “Bill” McDaniel
McDaniel is the owner of Big Island Excavating, Inc., in Naples and Lazy Springs Recreation Park in Hendry County. In 2012, he ran unsuccessfully – though with the Naples Daily News endorsement – for the District 3 seat then held by Tom Henning. He served as chairman of the county’s East of 951 Horizon Study Committee which looked at growth issues in Golden Gate Estates from 2006 to 2008, and on the Rural Land Stewardship Committee which made recommendations about changes to the county’s RLSA growth plan in eastern Collier County from 2007 to 2009. In 2013, he was appointed by Governor Rick Scott to the Board of the Collier County Housing Authority (CCHA) and currently serves as its chairman. The CCHA owns and operates Farm Workers Village in Immokalee. Its director was fired in 2015 for misusing federal funds. 
Two companies McDaniel owns are at least two years late paying property taxes and owe a total of more than $140,000 to Collier and Hendry counties, according to the Naples Daily News last month. 
His campaign priorities are tax and spending cuts, streamlining the county permitting process, and term limits for county commissioners.
McDaniel has raised $22,210 through April 30, of which 21% was from out-of-county. There were 13 contributions of the maximum $1,000 (59%), of which seven share the Naples address of his Big Island Excavating and Lazy Springs businesses, and two share an address in Punta Gorda.
His website is at, his Facebook Page is here and his LinkedIn Page is here
Douglas Rankin
Douglas L. Rankin
Rankin is an attorney practicing in real estate, wills, trusts and estates, and corporate and business law at his own firm in Naples. He began his career as an accountant with his family firm in Bradenton. He has a BA from the University of South Florida College of Business Administration and a JD from the University of Florida. 
A self-described “true Conservative Republican,” Rankin is a member of the Collier County Republican Executive Committee and, as its State Committeeman, is one of 37 board members of the Republican Party of Florida. He is also a segment host and sponsor, along with the Florida Citizens Alliance, of the Joe Whitehead talk radio show.
Rankin’s District 5 community involvement includes helping to stop expansion of the Quarry next to the populated Estates, which he says would have driven Estates and District property values down, and helping to stop a “home for mentally disturbed youth” being put in the Estates. He told the Immokalee Bulletin that he played a “small part” in helping get the Immokalee business incubator grant, along with Rep. Matt Hudson.
He has served on the Golden Gate Master Plan Committee, the East of 951 Study Committee, the Collier County Foreclosure Task Force, and the Collier County Productivity Committee. He has been on the board of Habitat for Humanity of Collier County since 1997.
Rankin’s campaign website is at, his Facebook Pages are here and here, his LinkedIn Page is here, and his law firm’s website is here.
Rankin has raised $6,825 through April 30, of which 44% is from himself and 32% is from out-of-county (including two $1,000 contributions).
* * * * * *
Based on the research I’ve done to-date, I have preferences in both the District 3 and 5 races, however I’m not yet ready to make a final decision. There will be additional candidate forums in the coming months, as well as Naples Daily News Editorial Board interviews, all of which will be important sources of information.
I did find reviewing the campaign finance reports to be quite interesting, as several candidates received early support from people I know. I’ll be monitoring these filings as they come in over the coming weeks and months as well. 
I’ll let you know what I decide. 

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

Monday, May 23, 2016

Get ready to vote for Collier County School Board

In School Board elections less than a year away, I encouraged readers to start monitoring the candidates for School Board. It was clear that this would be an important election, with the future direction of Collier County public schools at stake. I knew that we would need many more, and more informed, voters this time around than the paltry 18 percent of registered voters that voted in 2014. 
As early as last August, two then-members of the Collier County Republican Executive Committee filed to run for the seats held by incumbents Kathleen Curatolo (District 2) and Julie Sprague (District 4) in what is supposed to be a nonpartisan election, and started raising money. They were John Brunner and Lee Dixon, respectively. Click here for what I had to say about the two back then.
The state of the race today
Curatolo and Sprague are not seeking reelection, leaving both races wide open. In addition to Brunner in District 2, Louise Penta and Stephanie Lucarelli have filed to run. In addition to Dixon in District 4, Erick Carter has filed to run. 
Based on their websites, statements at candidate forums (April 14, May 6, and May 18), letters to the editor and Facebook posts, it is clear that Brunner, Penta and Dixon align with the current School Board minority, and that Lucarelli and Carter align with the current Board majority. 
In this post, I’ll share some of the research I’ve done about each of the candidates, and tell you who I’ll be voting for and why.
District 2
John Brunner
John Brunner
Brunner, a Navy veteran, has 20 years of teaching experience in public, private, charter and home schools. His two children attend a local private school. He has a BS in education from Western Kentucky University and a Masters of Education from FGCU.
An online bio identified Brunner as “the leader and visionary of The Christian Classical Academy of Naples,” a school that closed due to “financial hardships” in 2014. At the candidate forum on May 18, which I attended, he said, “As a society, we have to get over the idea that public money going to private and religious schools is OK for pre-K but not when they get older.”
After his Christian Classical Academy closed, Brunner taught at Mason Classical Academy, the charter school founded by minority Board members Kelly Lichter and Erika Donalds, but is no longer listed on staff there. His LinkedIn profile shows no current employment. 
Brunner shares the minority Board members' distrust of the Superintendent and opposition to recent majority Board decisions. At the April 14 SWFL Citizens Alliance candidate forum, Brunner, along with Dixon and Penta, said he supports a separate attorney to represent the Board, an anonymous whistle-blower program, and rejecting all federal funding to avoid what they refer to as Common-Core-mandated testing.
He proposes a new "Office of the Inspector General" within the District to “field concerns of parents, conduct audits, review programs, maintain effective systems of control, provide impartial feedback, oversee the improvement of operations and identify fraud, waste, abuse and illegal acts.” 
Brunner opposes CCPS’ participation in the Blue Zones Project. In a letter to the editor, he wrote, “Do we want the government telling people what to eat and how to live? … The district is a government organization. As important as nutrition is for learning, I take issue with any government organization dictating lifestyles to its citizenry.”
Brunner’s campaign website is, and his Facebook pages are here and here. He has raised $18,620 through April 30, including 13 contributions of the maximum $1000 (70%) and $2,500 (13%) from out-of-county. He has made no personal loans to his campaign.
Stephanie Lucarelli
Stephanie Lucarelli
Lucarelli, a former middle-school science teacher, has four children currently attending three different Collier County public schools, including one who is gifted and one with special needs. She has a BS in Natural Resource Management and a teaching certificate from Rutgers University.
Lucarelli has a strong personal interest in ensuring that Collier County Public Schools provide a quality education for children of all abilities and all ages. Her volunteer activities demonstrate that commitment. During the past 12 years, she has served on the CCPS Head Start Policy Council, the Naples Park Elementary Parent Teacher Organization, the CCPS Accreditation Team Parent Committee and as Vice President of the Naples Park Parent Teacher Organization. 
As a former teacher active in her children’s classrooms, she is well-aware of the challenges teachers face. She says, “Our teachers need to be trusted to make the best decisions regarding their students, as well as given more autonomy over their classrooms.” 
Lucarelli supports the District’s participation in the Blue Zones Project, and sees no need to hire an internal auditor. She clearly understands that the Florida Standards are not Common Core, and that to reduce the amount of testing in our schools, we need to lobby the state legislature to change the law. At the May 18 candidate forum, she said “That’s money we’ve already collected here in Collier County. [Rejecting it] would make us the laughing stock of the whole country.”
Lucarelli’s campaign website is, her Facebook pages are here and here. She has raised $14,200 through April 30, including two contributions of the maximum $1000 (14%) and $505 (4%) from out-of-county, and a personal loan of $6,000.
Louise Penta
Louise Penta
Penta, a retired operating-room nurse, serves on the board of The Immokalee Foundation and was recently named Mentor of the Year by the State of Florida. She has an RN degree from Newton Junior College.
The District believes that “access to the tools and resources of a world-wide network and understanding when and how these tools are appropriately and effectively used are imperative in each student’s education.” But Penta disagrees. At the SWFL Citizens Alliance Marco Island forum, she said, “these devices don’t belong in schools,” and that teachers spend too much time monitoring what students are doing on their devices to make sure it aligns with the given directions.“ She said the District should go back to ”classical education,“ where children learn ”to write properly, read good literature, and develop math skills that will set them up for life."
At the most recent candidate forum (which I attended), she said Florida’s Voluntary Pre-K Program should be mandatory, “especially with our diverse population,” but offered no suggestions for how to pay for it.
When asked at the May 18 forum if she would vote to “fire or retain Superintendent Patton,” Penta said, “She’s done a lot of good things, but I would want a more comprehensive evaluation of her so we could make a good decision about what has to be done.” At the April 14 Citizens Alliance Forum, she was more ominously vague, saying, “I have my own personal opinions not to share here tonight. But when a policy comes up to the School Board, decisions have already been made by the Superintendent and her Cabinet behind closed doors. That needs to change. Control needs to go back to the School Board, and get it out of the Superintendent’s hands!” – said very emphatically, and to applause. 
Penta, along with District 4 candidate Dixon, was endorsed by the Collier County Republic Executive Committee. These are the CCREC’s first endorsements in School Board elections in at least a decade, according to the Naples Daily News – a clear indication of partisanship in what are supposed to be a nonpartisan elections. (For important context about this issue, see “Local GOP decides not to censure School Board chairwoman.”) According to the CCREC endorsement, “She supports internal auditing and legal representation of the board.” 
Penta’s campaign website is, her Facebook pages are here and here. She has raised $38,850 through April 30, including 18 contributions of the maximum $1000 (46%), $1,400 from out-of-county (4%), a personal loan of $15,000 (39%), and $100 from Nick and Kelly Lichter.
District 4
Erick Carter
Erick Carter
Carter, a graduate of CCPS’ Lorenzo Walker Technical College (LWTC) Cosmetology Program, has been co-owner of Salon Zenergy in Naples for the past 18 years. Further during that time, he has served as a LWTC guest instructor and student intern host, and as a national training course instructor for Conair, Rusk Products and Martin Parsons Inc. His one child attends a CCPS middle school. 
As a parent, local business owner/entrepreneur and graduate of a CCPS adult learning program, Carter has a strong personal commitment to career and technical education. 
Carter, like Lucarelli, opposes the proposal to reject federal funding in order to opt out of testing requirements. On his Facebook page he wrote, “Rejecting the federal funding eliminates $59 million from our budget, which will have to be raised locally for essential programs like Exceptional Student Education, English as a Second Language and lunch subsidies for low income students. You’ve already paid for this funding through your federal taxes. If we reject the funding, you will be forced to pay for it a second time.”
In response to a question at the most recent candidate forum, he expressed strong support of Superintendent Patton, citing these accomplishments under her leadership: reduced the budget (by $54 million over the past five years); increased the District’s graduation rate (from 72.5% in 2011 to 84.3% most recently), and started an entrepreneurship program (in 2013; most recently enhanced with INCubatoredu). 
Carter supports the Blue Zones initiative. On his Facebook page, he wrote he is “glad that our students are learning to make healthier choices,” and pointed out another benefit as well: potentially saving the District “millions of dollars in health care costs,” which could then make more resources available for our children’s education.
Carter has been endorsed by Dr. Michael Reagen, and Brenda and Pat O’Connor
Carter’s campaign website is, his Facebook pages are here and here, and he has raised $9,500 through April 30, including one contribution of the maximum $1000 (11%), $365 from out-of-county, and personal loans of $3,500.
Lee Dixon
Lee Dixon
Dixon is a member of the Collier County Republican Executive Committee and serves on the North Naples Middle School Advisory Committee. He began his career as a golf course superintendent in 1992, and is currently the golf course Grounds Manager at Miromar Lakes. He has three children, including one with special needs. He said his experience with his autistic son and the education system
 in the county and state prompted his run for School Board.
Dixon has many connections to critics of the School Board majority. He is (or was) vice president of Parents ROCK, the group formed by Board member Erika Donalds. Donalds “liked” his May 9 “Meet the Candidate” Facebook post and invitation to his May 19 fundraiser). Following announcement of Dixon’s candidacy, Nick Lichter, spouse of Board member Kelly Lichter, posted, “Looking forward to watching my friend Lee Dixon campaign for Collier School Board,” and subsequently contributed to his campaign. Kelly Lichter and Doug Lewis, author of the 2014 “Contract with Collier County,” were members of the Host Committee for Dixon’s Campaign Kick-Off Party. 
Last year, during public comments before a School Board meeting about of the selection of Kathleen Curatolo as Board Chairman, Dixon called her “completely unqualified for the position.” He’s against CCPS’ participation in the Blue Zones project, telling ABC7 that ”the idea that an outside entity wants to come in and dictate to parents what they can and cannot put in their kids lunch box is very troubling."
Dixon has been endorsed by the Collier GOP Executive Committee, the Alliance for Religious Freedom and former Collier County School Board member Steve Donovan.
Dixon’s campaign website is, and his Facebook pages are here and here. He has raised $15,156 through April 30, including three contributions of the maximum $1,000 (20%), $255 from Nick Lichter, and $1,615 (11%) from out-of-county. He made no personal loans to his campaign. 
How I’ll vote … and why
There is no doubt that the outcome of this election will determine the future direction of our Collier County public schools. 
I want a School Board that supports the 2017 - 19 Strategic Plan recently approved by the Board majority with a 3–2 vote. I want a School Board that wants to prepare Collier’s students for success in the highly digital and STEM-oriented 21st century. I do not support changing the current curriculum or way of teaching to one more aligned with the “classical education” of the past. 
I trust our qualified teachers and administrators to choose age-appropriate, factually-accurate instructional materials, and cannot imagine handing that responsibility over to any untrained layperson, parent or not, as supported by the Board minority. 
I have confidence in the current Administration’s stewardship of the District’s financial resources and see no need to hire additional staff to do more. As presented at the August 2015 School Board meeting, the District undergoes three major external audits: Financial, Internal Funds and the state’s Florida Education Finance Program, and conducts 135 internal, self-assessment and monitoring audits of various kinds, many required by State or Federal departments and agencies. The current audit function is extensive, no doubt costly and time-consuming, and there is absolutely no evidence of a problem that would justify hiring an internal auditor. 
I oppose rejecting federal funding with the hope of being able to then disregard federal laws and directives. I can’t imagine how we would replace the current Title I funding for our low-income schools, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act funding for our ESE programs, Title I funding for our migrant students, Head Start funding for our Pre-K and early-learning students, Title II funding for teacher training, and more. Further, I don’t know that rejecting the funding would be legal, and I would not support suing the government to find out.
In the August School Board elections, I will vote for Stephanie Lucarelli in District 2 and Erick Carter in District 4.
* * * * * * * * * *
Asked about the success of his wife’s August 2014 election campaign, Nick Lichter said:
Understanding the benefits of early voting was a big learning point for us. A lot of people who don’t have children don’t participate in the school board election. But early voting targeting was effective in winning their vote.
Lichter was right. If you share my concern about the future of our Collier County public schools, please share this post and urge your friends to vote in August for Lucarelli and Carter.

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