Monday, December 29, 2014

Appreciation is due

With the amount of concern about high-stakes/high-frequency testing being expressed by community members at School Board meetings, you might be wondering if our local schools are in trouble. Rest assured: they are not.

Thanks to a December 16 School Board Workshop (agenda and presentation materials here), I have a better understanding of the state-mandated school testing process, and a much better appreciation for how well our schools are doing despite increasingly-burdensome state mandates.

Let’s begin with how well the schools are doing, because I fear we’ve not given those responsible the acknowledgement they deserve.

Earlier this month, the Florida Department of Education (DOE) released its annual high school report card, as required by state law (F.S. 1008.22 - Student assessment program for public schools and Rule 6A–1.09981 - Implementation of Florida’s System of School Improvement and Accountability).

The Collier County School District continued to beat state averages in terms of both the percent of A-graded schools (70% vs. 36%) and graduation rate (82.1% vs. 76.1%).


And they did this even as the number of top-rated high schools in Florida declined, at least in part reflecting the fact that the State raised the bar (school-grade scale criteria) in 2014, making it harder to get an “A” this year.

See the District’s December 18th press release for each high school’s grade and graduation rate.

According to the DOE report card, school grades communicate to the public how well a school is:
  1. performing relative to state standards,
  2. encouraging its students to participate and succeed in accelerated course offerings,
  3. graduating its students, and
  4. preparing its students for postsecondary education.
Even as we express our concerns over high-stakes/high-frequency testing, I think it’s important to recognize that many people worked many long hours to achieve these results. Given the recognition-in-passing by the Naples Daily News (see the buried mention in Saturday’s “Kicks&Kudos” editorial column), I would think any teachers or principals you know, as well as Superintendent Patton and School Board members, would appreciate your thanks for a job well-done:
  • Board Chair Kathleen Curatolo - curatoka@collierschools.com
  • Board Vice-Chair Julie Sprague - spraguju@collierschools.com
  • Board Member Erika Donalds - donale@collierschools.com
  • Board Member Kelly Lichter - lichteke@collierschools.com
  • Board Member Roy Terry - terryro@collierschools.com
  • Superintendent Kamela Patton - Patton@collierschools.com

In my next post, I’ll share what I learned about the state-mandated testing process.

___________________
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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Tonight's show will go on, but a question and an issue remain

Today's Naples Daily News editorial, "Sounding a good note on Collier student performances" (in print, "Chorus compromise beats battle in court") summarized the outcome of Tuesday's School Board meeting as it relates to tonight's Barron Collier High School (BCHS) choral concert at Moorings Presbyterian Church. Some excerpts:
There were welcomed conciliatory notes sounded ... to keep the Collier County school district out of a legal battle over using a church for student performances. The [School Board] addressed how to comply with its policies and stay within the parameters of a ruling in a court case in Utah....

The board majority [Curatolo, Sprague and Terry] made the right call in a 3-2 vote supporting the compromise presented by its attorney to enable a choral teacher or other music instructor to excuse a student from performing individual songs that he or she considers objectionable....

[Attorney] Fishbane's sensible solution diverges from the idea of allowing students to completely opt out of an entire performance. Instead, if a student or his/her parent objects to performing a religious song, the student is simply excused from the group for that song and rejoins it for pieces that are secular in nature. In that way, the student isn't singled out among peers for missing the entire performance. The location of the performance thereby also becomes secondary, because the student would be excused from the sacred song whether it is performed at a church, concert hall or in an auditorium.
So the short-run crisis has been averted. Attorney Fishbane and Superintendent Patton no doubt devoted many hours during the weeks since this firestorm erupted to find what the Naples Daily News called a "sensible solution" so tonight's BCHS concert can take place at Moorings Presbyterian Church as planned.

Presumably, this is what the choir members and their parents wanted.

I think we and they should applaud Mr. Fishbane and Dr. Patton for finding a responsible compromise. And we should applaud Ms. Curatolo, Ms. Sprague and Mr. Terry for supporting their recommendation.

However one question and one issue remain in my mind.

My question

According to BCHS Principal Caraker's October 29 letter to parents referred to in my previous post, concerns about BCHS Chorus performances being held at Moorings Presbyterian Church were raised by parents and the ACLU a year ago. In May, with the goal of supporting the choir program when the ACLU advised it was considering legal action, the District "did a careful review of both the propriety of the performance literature content as well as the venue issue." While allowing the May concert to go forward at the church, the District "concluded that a search for alternative venues providing a multi-site balance was appropriate moving forward."

The Barron Collier High School Combined Choir with Alumni
at the Moorings Presbyterian Church, Naples, FL

So why did BCHS find itself, in late October 2014, with an "unsanctioned event that did not comply with administrative procedures" that was scheduled "without [Principal Caraker's] knowledge?"

Did BCHS Choir Director Todd Peterson have the responsibility for finding alternative venues and ensuring that they were scheduled and approved according to the school's administrative procedures? And if so, why did he not do so, and how has or will this failure be dealt with?

My remaining issue

The crisis over the December BCHS Choral concert is behind us, but if the current performance schedule follows that of the past, the next concert will take place in March. This situation must not be allowed to happen again.

Mr. Fishbane made clear at Tuesday's School Board meeting that in his legal opinion, no current District policy or administrative procedure addresses the matter of cocurricular-activity venue or program content objectionable to a student or parent on the basis of their religious beliefs. He said the Board has the option to decide through ongoing discussion over the next few months if they want to address these issues through policy and suggested a possible way for them to do so.

This will be a difficult and contentious process, but surely ours is not the first School District to be faced with this issue. We don't have to reinvent the wheel. I suggest that Mr. Fishbane and staff identify best practices in this policy area for consideration by Dr. Patton and the Board as soon as possible. And I look forward to the resolution of this matter well before the next BCHS Choral concert, in a calm, inclusive, respectful manner that avoids litigation.

And again, Mr. Fishbane and Dr. Patton, thank you for your diligence and hard work to get this matter resolved so that tonight's show can go on. And thank you, Ms. Curatolo, Ms. Sprague and Mr. Terry, for your support.

___________________

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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Support the School District's compromise

When I started writing this post, my working title was "A matter of acoustics, or separation of church and state?"

Fortunately, I came across the Naples Daily News editorial "School administration on right course with BCHS choral compromise," and realized I was writing the wrong story. While I am a strong defender of the separation of church and state, the threatened lawsuit over this matter would be costly in terms of both time and money, and its outcome is by no means certain. So I support the current Barron Collier High School compromise, and I hope you will, too.

The underlying situation is that the High School Choir's Fall Concert was cancelled late last month with 24 hours notice. The parents of the choir members were informed of the cancellation in an October 29 letter from the school's principal, Tammy Caraker.

No wonder I started down the path I did. These are just some of the many Naples Daily News articles on the subject:
October 28 - ACLU threat led to canceled Barron Collier choral concert

October 30 - Barron choir students, alumni, parents join in unity outside school

November 11 - Barron Collier choir flap lands at the School Board's doorstep

November 20 - Majority of Barron choir students opt for an ‘F' instead of singing at Gulf Coast High
Principal Caraker's October 29 letter provided this background:
Since late 2013 especially, there have been concerns from parents and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) regarding whole choir performances, required as part of this co-curricular course (of which the four choir performances are part of the academic grade), being limited solely to the Moorings Presbyterian Church venue. Last May, we worked to support the choir program when the ACLU advised it was considering legal action to halt the May event from proceeding at the Moorings Presbyterian Church venue. As a part of our support, the District did a careful review of both the propriety of the performance literature content as well as the venue issue. Nevertheless, we concluded that a search for alternative venues providing a multi-site balance was appropriate moving forward.
According to a November 17 letter to the parents, a compromise is currently in place. Two of the school's four annual concerts will be held at a secular venue, and two will be held at a church venue. Principal Caraker wrote:
Our intent is to honor the multiple sensitivities and religious concerns of our participating students as well to maintain a pedagogically rich and diverse musical program and not risk losing the ability to use a church venue.
The Naples Daily News editorial pointed out that what's at stake is a lawsuit by the ACLU and subsequent involvement of the Liberty Counsel, "a national public interest law firm specializing in constitutional law, particularly free speech, religious freedom, and church-state matters" whose mission is "Restoring the Culture by Advancing Religious Freedom, the Sanctity of Human Life and the Family." See Libery Counsel's October 30 letter to Superintendent Patton offering "a pro bono defense of the Collier County Schools, should it do the right thing by the students and be challenged [by the ACLU] on this issue."

Four community members urged the Board to hold the concert at the church at last month's Board Organizational Meeting, when the matter wasn't even on the agenda. They, or others, are sure to be out in force at next Tuesday's meeting, when it is. See the Parents' Rock Facebook page here and Erika Donalds' page here.

Our School District's focus - both time and money - should be on education. Our children, our administrators, our School Board and our community don't need the distraction or expense of a major, high-profile lawsuit. Compromise is the right approach.

Please let our School Board and Superintendent know you agree by emailing all six of them as soon as possible:

  • Kathleen Curatolo - curatoka@collierschools.com
  • Erika Donalds - donale@collierschools.com
  • Kelly Lichter - lichteke@collierschools.com
  • Julie Sprague - spraguju@collierschools.com
  • Roy Terry - terryro@collierschools.com
  • Superintendent Kamela Patton - Patton@collierschools.com

And join me at the School Board meeting next Tuesday, December 9 at 5 PM (get directions). Let the Board hear your views in person, as I plan to do. This is a hot-button issue which is sure to draw a crowd.

___________________

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The first post-election School Board meeting (Part 1)

My gut-wrenching disappointment with most of the mid-term election results has subsided to a dull ache. I keep reminding myself, "Voters get the government they deserve." Maybe someday enough people will realize the importance of the mid-term and local elections to change the status quo. I sure hope so.

In any case, it's time to move on, and I'm turning the attention of Sparker's Soapbox to the Collier County School Board. What effect will new members Erika Donalds and Kelly Lichter have on District policy and Board operations? As I've shared in the past, there's reason to be concerned.

Last Tuesday, Donalds and Lichter were sworn into office, along with Roy Terry, who was elected to a second term. (Board Members Kathleen Curatolo and Julie Sprague were most recently elected in 2012; their terms will end in 2016.)

Yesterday, and again today, I watched the video-on-demand replay of this new Board's organizational meeting. I didn't attend in person because I had assumed, based on the Agenda, that the meeting would be uneventful. Boy, was I wrong.

My head is still reeling, not so much from the results of the votes that were taken, but more from the tone of several of the interactions between Board members, members of the audience, Board attorney Jonathan Fishbane, and Superintendent Kamela Patton. Already, I fear a repeat of some of the Board governance issues that resulted in the District being placed on "warned" status by the accreditation agency. For more on this, click here.

The meeting began at 8 AM. I estimate that the auditorium was about one-third full, seemingly (based on their later behavior) with supporters of Donalds and Lichter.

After the swearing-in, the next item of business was "Election of Officers." Terry nominated Curatolo to be Chair. Lichter nominated Terry to be Chair. Terry declined the nomination, saying he appreciated the support. There was no discussion. The vote was taken.

All those in favor of Mrs. Curatolo for Chair, say aye. Those opposed, say nay. The vote was 4 to 1. Kelly Lichter cast her first vote as a School Board member against Curatolo.

The next item on the agenda was "Meetings and Times." To put what happened in context, it's important to know that over the summer, Donalds and Lichter, along with defeated candidates Jacob Winge, JB Holmes and Thomas Andler, signed something called "Contract with Collier County, Florida" drafted by local attorney and parent Doug Lewis. As reported by the Naples Daily News, Lewis "issued a challenge to all candidates to sign his contract, to indicate support of initiatives he deemed important. From emails obtained by the Daily News, it appears Lewis got involved and began reaching out to candidates after the approval of Superintendent Kamela Patton’s contract extension this summer."

The "contract" begins:
We, the undersigned candidates for [School Board], publicly declare that, with 3 seats being contested on August 26, 2014, a new School Board majority will have the authority and ability to pass major reforms described herein.... Further, we solemnly pledge that, during one or more of the first 3 regular Board meetings after our election..., we will bring up for vote, the following major reforms...
This least-troubling of the seven "reforms" listed in the "contract" fit right into the agenda:
Require Board meetings to commence on or after 5:30 PM in order to give all parents and working taxpayers the opportunity to attend and participate.
Community members Joseph Doyle and "contract" author Lewis, speaking during a public comments portion of the meeting, requested a 5 or 5:30 start time. Lichter made a motion that meetings start at 5 PM with the business meeting starting at 5:30 PM.

During the Board discussion that followed, Curatolo and Sprague offered some historical perspective, explaining why the current 4 PM start time had been chosen in the past, which I found helpful. These are some of the things they mentioned:

  • Board meetings have been held at different times over the years. The current 4 PM start time was a compromise that seems to meet most people's needs.
  • Some parents work second shifts, and a 5:30 start time would mean that they would have to miss the meetings.
  • Even with the 4 PM start time, the public recognitions portion of each meeting is the first thing on the agenda. The business part of the meetings starts later.
  • Going to a time-certain start to the business portion of the meeting might mean less time to recognize the children who are being honored and whose work is being showcased.

Lichter said, "I just keep hearing a lot of what’s happened in the past, and I think we have to focus right now on moving forward ..., and I think that’s why I’m sitting here today. So I ask that we listen to our constituents on these concerns and [look forward, not backwards.]

Curatolo replied, "With all due respect, Mrs. Lichter, that’s why we’re ALL sitting here today." Her comment was met by jeers from the audience.

Almost 20 minutes later, following another comment by Curatolo about the meeting start time, Lichter was recognized by the Chair to speak. Here's my transcript of what happened next:
Lichter: Before I have my discussion topic, Ms. Curatolo, I respectfully ask, now that you are Board chair, please stop with the condescending remarks and the disrespect that I often see you give public speakers at meetings. This is a new time. [Applause from audience]

Patton: Again, I ask you to hold your applause.

Lichter: We heard public speakers today, and they, and I’ve heard it multiple times at these meetings, and maybe for you coming to these meetings is just voting for things, but it’s about listening to the public, and this is what we’re hearing.... [Applause]

Fishbane: I think we .. Ma’am, I think there’s a civility issue...

Lichter: Mr. Fishbane. The civility issue, we’ve already seen. I’ve never seen you come down on Ms. Curatolo when there’s been a civility issue. [Long, loud applause]

Fishbane: I HAVE spoken to Ms. Curatolo….

Lichter: So we should just call the motion.

Fishbane: I agree.
It was disturbing to watch. I was distressed by the way Lichter spoke Curatolo. While watching the meeting, and going back over this exchange in particular, I did not experience her as condescending. Rather, I saw a sincere desire to help the new members understand the decisions made in the past. Lichter's "Please stop with the condescending remarks" was itself, in my view, condescending AND inappropriate. I was also surprised and disappointed by the hostile way several audience members behaved.

The discussion continued, with Terry commenting:
Whether we like it or not, even though we make decisions here [presumably a reference to Lichter's comment about "just voting for things"], the focus of this Board should be on the students of this District. This doesn’t mean we don’t listen to parents and other people and take that into consideration. But the reason [the meeting start time] was put at 4:00 was basically to involve the students in the meeting, and I can honestly say to everybody involved that when students do participate, … they take a good deal of pride …
To which Donalds responded:
I’m actually shocked at the pushback on this item, and the importance that students’ performing is playing in this decision. I absolutely value students performance and showcasing what they’re learning. However, parent involvement is the number one indicator of student achievement. That is what we should be concerned with…. I’m surprised, Mr. Terry, because I know that you did support having later meetings in the past.… I don’t understand the change of heart there, and I’m really disappointed with the focus on performances and students hanging around, when the business of the school district – in your own words, what the state charges us to do, is what we should be concerned with.
Ultimately, the motion to move Board meeting start times to 5 PM, with the business portion of the meeting starting at 5:30, was passed 3 to 2, with Donalds, Lichter and Terry voting for, and Curatolo and Sprague voting against.

The vote was met with loud applause and cheers from the audience.

With that vote, one of Lewis's "Contract with Collier County's" seven "major reforms" was achieved.

___________________

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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 www.colliervotes.com.

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 www.sparkers-soapbox.blogspot.com, and "like" me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sparkers.soapbox. 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 letters@naplesnews.com or submit it online at http://www.naplesnews.com/send-a-letter/.

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.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Regarding proposed Amendment 2

This guest post by Michael Reagen provides excellent information for voters’ decision-making about Amendment 2, Use of Marijuana for Certain Medical Conditions. Dr. Reagen is a citizen member of The Fort Myers News-Press Editorial Board, and this opinion piece appeared in the News-Press Sunday, October 12. It is republished here with his permission, because I too will vote no on Amendment 2. But its appearance does not constitute endorsement by Dr. Reagen of any of my past or future posts.

Michael Reagen
Vote No on Amendment 2
By Michael Reagen, Naples

By absentee ballot, I voted “No” on Amendment 2 and I hope 60 percent of Floridians will also vote “No.”

Years ago, I directed the Institute for Drug Abuse Education at Syracuse University and edited a book of papers by experts on illicit drug use, including marijuana or “MJ,” as we called it then. Since then, I have had mixed feelings about the legal classifications, law enforcement obligations and criminal penalties for growing, selling, possessing and using MJ … all issues for maybe another column because they are complicated aspects of our complex society. So, before voting, I read, asked questions and thought a lot.

I am now convinced Amendment 2 is not a good proposal and I enthusiastically voted “No!” Here’s why.

Administration problems
If enacted, Amendment 2 will permit growing, buying, possessing and using medical MJ when recommended by a physician to treat certain medical conditions.

Among those urging to vote “No” on Amendment 2 are the Florida Medical Association, Florida Sheriff’s Association, American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, National Institute of Drug Abuse, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Association, Food and Drug Association, Drug Enforcement Agency, American Society of Addiction Medicine, and Drug Free Florida.

All of us seek pleasure, avoid pain and try to advance what we think is our personal advantage. But most in health care, science, law enforcement and human services professions live lives that are primarily motivated to seek social balance and the common good. If they are worried about the administration of medical MJ, so am I.

Efficacy issues
There is no credible scientific evidence recognized by the FDA that it has good health efficacy. Rather, considerable evidence exists to suggest regular use of MJ has the opposite effect and bad ramifications, including opening the door for use of more serious, addictive drugs to initially help folks feel happy. Surely, before we enact a law permitting a drug’s use to improve health, we should have rigorous evidence that it will do so.

Amendment 2 does say medical MJ may be used for treatment of a few illnesses and says regulations that will have the force of law must be developed by the Florida Department of Health and be reasonable, available and posit safe use. But the protocols for all of these have yet to be fully developed. And to do so properly will take a while.

Meanwhile, upon enactment, pressure will build on physicians and law enforcement. Florida, sadly, has seen its small share of doctors who have illegally profited from pushing pills. Many physicians, I am told, worry about pressure to prescribe MJ in the future.

Wrong process
Many public opinion polls suggest a large percentage of Americans are pessimistic about the future and deeply disenchanted by the lack of balanced problem-solving by our elected officials. Surely, we are gridlocked in Washington, and several state legislatures seemingly are not focusing on core infrastructures and human service issues.

Florida has a proclivity for using its constitutional amendment process to historically deal with issues involving gestating pigs to now medical MJ. Many, including me, view national and state constitutions, county and municipal charters as sacral in our secular society which should only be subject to rare, thoughtful and well-studied changes. Many believe our elected officials, our legislators … those elected to make policy … should carefully and thoughtful enact laws to minimize unintended, rippling consequences.

I voted No to Amendment 2 because I think the Legislature should take the time to properly study and deal with the issue of legalizing the medical use of a now illicit drug.

My votes for Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner and Chief Financial Officer

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services “supports and promotes Florida agriculture, protects the environment, safeguards consumers, and ensures the safety and wholesomeness of food.”

The Department of Financial Services is responsible for Insurance, Treasury, State Fire Marshal, Banking and Finance.

The officials who head both departments, along with the Governor and Attorney General, make up the Florida Cabinet, which sits as a collective decision- and rule-making body for the state. The Cabinet oversees numerous boards and commissions that significantly affect the economy and daily lives of Floridians, including:
Many people don’t realize the power Cabinet members have, not only over the departments they oversee, but in all matters controlled by the Executive Branch of Florida’s government.
Reflecting the concern that a single person might exercise too much power, Floridians ratified the Florida Constitution of 1968, affirming the independence of Cabinet members by deleting the phrase, “the Governor shall be assisted by” the Cabinet. This gave each member equal footing with the Governor on matters that come before the Governor and Cabinet so that Cabinet members were no longer expected, constitutionally, to capitulate to the Governor’s wishes. (See “History of the Florida Cabinet.”)
Given each Cabinet member’s equal standing with the Governor in this decision- and rule-making body, our vote in these races is important, and my goal is to elect those who share my values. Should Charlie Crist be elected Governor, which now seems a real possibility, it will be important for him to have Cabinet member support to get things done.

Agriculture Commissioner - Thad Hamilton (D) vs Adam Putnam (R)

Thad Hamilton (D)
Thad Hamilton (D)
Thad Hamilton has over 40 years of experience in agriculture and environment, retiring after 36 years from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Services. He was honored by President George H. Bush for outstanding service in agriculture and the environment. He was in the U.S. Army from 1972–2000. He has an undergraduate degree in agriculture from the University of Arkansas in Pine Bluff. He ran unsuccessfully for Commissioner of Agriculture in 2010 as an Independent.

My web research revealed no smoking guns. However the Tampa Tribune wrote last week:
Hamilton faces an uphill slog: Polls show Putnam leading by as much as 12 points and the incumbent has raised more than $2.7 million and spent almost $789,000, including $205,000 on mailers late last month. Hamilton, who got 2 percent of the vote when he ran for the seat as an independent in 2010, has raised nearly $21,000. But he’s also taken out $13,000 in loans to finance his campaign, records show.
Adam Putnam (R)
Adam Putnum (R), incumbent
Adam Putnam is a fifth generation cattle rancher and citrus grower from Polk County, FL. He was a member of the Florida House of Representatives from 1996–2000 and the U.S. House of Representatives from 2001–2011. He returned to Florida to run for state Agriculture Commissioner in 2010, and is now running for a second term. He has an undergraduate degree in food and resource economics from the University of Florida.

In its endorsement of Putnam, the Naples Daily News writes, “The main criticism he’s received in four years centers around his going along with other leading Republicans on a Texas hunting trip sponsored by the sugar industry, with its big stake in agriculture and water.”

This is a reference to news reports in July that Putnam, Governor Rick Scott, House Speaker Will Weatherford, incoming House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and perhaps other Florida politicians took “secret” hunting trips to King Ranch (Texas) that were, per the Tampa Bay Times, “orchestrated by and at least partially paid for by U.S. Sugar.”

Florida is the biggest sugar producer in the country, and the sugar industry is one of the biggest special interests in Tallahassee. With its reliance on agriculture and water in the Everglades Agricultural Area between Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades, its interests are frequently at odds with those of environmental groups. Putnam’s participation in these fundraising trips is, to me, a concerning conflict of interest.

Chief Financial Officer - Jeff Atwater vs Will Rankin

Jeff Atwater (R)
Jeff Atwater (R), incumbent
Atwater had a career in banking, serving as chairman, president and CEO of the Barnett Bank of Broward County and the Treasure Coast, and later as market president of Riverside National Bank for Palm Beach and Broward counties, before running for the Florida House in 2000. He served one term in the House, 2000–2002, and then two terms in the Florida Senate, 2002–2010. Atwater was elected CFO in 2010 and is now running for a second term. He has an undergraduate degree and a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Florida.

Of concern to me is that Atwater, who oversees the Office of Insurance Regulation, opposes Obamacare and presumably supported the 2013 insurance rate bill signed by Governor Scott that suspended for two years the state’s authority to set health insurance rates. According to the Palm Beach Post, Senator Bill Nelson urged the Governor to veto the bill, saying it would put consumers at risk of sky-high rate hikes.
Nelson’s criticism echoes that raised … by legislative Democrats who said the legislation appeared designed to shield state regulators from any fallout stemming from the Affordable Care Act. Among them would be Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater… Proponents of the legislation, however, said it is merely aimed at helping the state comply with evolving regulatory requirements under the federal health care overhaul.
Scott’s signing this bill is one of the things Charlie Crist has called him out about. He says that if elected, he will reinstate the insurance commissioner’s ability to renegotiate premiums for 2015 in time to affect those rates.

Will Rankin (D)
Will Rankin (D)
Rankin had a career in business development in the private sector before serving as the Director of Asset Management for the State Treasury of Ohio, overseeing the state’s $120 billion dollar public trust and retirement fund, in the 1990s. He has an undergraduate degree in Business Administration majoring in Economics from St. Xavier University in Cincinnati.

Rankin has an uphill battle, too. According to the Orlando Sentinel," Rankin has raised just $16,370, with virtually no paid media.

How I will vote

The Democratic challengers are competent, credible candidates with significant, relevant work experience. While the odds of either winning are slim, as I said earlier, it’s important to me to vote for competent candidates whose values and views of the role of government are similar to mine.

Further, if enough of us vote for these candidates, it might send a signal to people who might consider running in the future that there are voters in the state who will support them if they’ll take the risk and make the effort.

For these reasons, I’ll vote for Thad Hamilton for Agriculture Commissioner and Will Rankin for CFO.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

My votes for Collier Soil and Water Conservation District Board

Lake Trafford - restoration
completed in 2010
Florida’s 62 Soil and Water Conservation Districts and their governing boards of supervisors were established in 1937 as part of a nationwide response to the period of severe dust storms (the Dust Bowl) and other conservation problems that severely damaged the country’s ecology and agriculture during the 1930s.

According to Florida’s SWCD Supervisor’s Manual:
The powers of SWCDs and supervisors are quite broad, and relate to the development and implementation of soil and water conservation practices on private lands. These duties are performed in conjunction with federal, state, regional, and local partners through funding and technical assistance. Funding programs include state and federal cost-share for environmental protection practices, as well as federal disaster relief and emergency watershed projects.
The Collier SWCD administers two Mobile Irrigation Labs (MILs), which:
… conduct extensive irrigation system evaluations…. The information gathered is used to make recommendations for improvements to the system for water conservation and for the health of the plants….

Follow-up evaluations are conducted after improvements are made to measure actual water savings and to improve MIL procedures. Both potential and actual water savings number in the millions of gallons per year, and the MIL is considered to be an effective conservation program by numerous government agencies.
If you’re concerned about your home irrigation system’s water usage, you can schedule a MIL visit to identify potential problems.
The MILs also participate in outreach and education in coordination with the Rookery Bay Natural Estuarine Research Reserve, the University of Florida Best Management Practices program, the University of Florida Extension Service, and the Master Gardener program.
In Florida, District governing bodies are made up of five Supervisors elected in nonpartisan, district-wide elections to four-year terms. Supervisors are volunteers, receiving no compensation other than reimbursement for travel expenses.

Incumbents Bruce Reichert (Group 1, treasurer) and Dennis Vasey (Group 3, chairman) would have been on our ballot this year, however they had no challengers so are automatically reelected.

Incumbents Clarence Tears, who had been appointed to fill a vacant seat, and James Lang (secretary) each have challengers. I requested meetings with all four candidates, and, with my friend Susan Calkins, met with the two incumbents. Neither challenger responded to my invitation.

Group 4 - James Lang vs Jared Jones

James Lang
James Lang is a customer service manager with the City of Marco Island Water Department.

I found no Facebook or Twitter presence. A 2008 article in the Marco Island Eagle reported that “Lang is pushing residents to take steps both big and small to conserve water during the drought….” My web research also revealed that Lang is Commander, Marco Island VFW Post #6370.

Mr. Lang has served on the Collier SWCD Board eight years, but this is the first time he has had a challenger. When asked, he told Susan and me that he didn’t really want to serve another term, being seventy years old and still working, but is willing to run because he thinks protecting our water resources is so important. He helped Susan and me understand what the Mobile Units do, and how important it is to have their local presence.

No campaign finance reports have been filed.

Jared Jones
Jared Jones notes on his campaign Facebook Page that he’s “very pleased to announce that I have been endorsed by the Libertarian Party of Collier County,” and shares why he’s running for the Collier SWCD. Here is an excerpt:
The state of Florida is charged with the responsibility of soil and water conservation throughout the state…. [W]e don’t need two (2) government entities doing the same thing…. I believe the citizens of Collier County will benefit greatly by this board being dissolved…. It’s time to be fiscally conservative and do what fiscal conservatives talk about…. cutting waste and finding ways to save money! It’s a no brainer. We need to end the redundancy of government. Our soil and water conservation will not be affected by the dissolution of this unnecessary board….
The Facebook page notes that:
He has a background in Construction Engineering Inspection (CEI). As a roadway and bridge inspector, Jared assured the protection of lakes, rivers, creeks and canals from construction debris and run off. He has first hand experience with soil and water through his experience in earthworks. He’s been a consultant for Collier County, Florida Department of Transportation and the F.A.A. to name a few.
His personal Facebook page trumpets his support for “Adrian Wyllie and Greg Roe, Libertarians for Governor and Lieutenant Governor of Florida,” and lists his membership in 23 Facebook Groups, including “Opt Out Collier,” “Collier Tea Party,” “America, Here’s Your Wakeup Call,” and the like.

Nine campaign finance reports filed since July 2014 show a total of $269 in monetary contributions, $33 in-kind, and expenditures of $108.

Group 5 - Clarence S. Tears Jr. vs William Tolp

Clarence Tears
Clarence Tears has had a decades-long commitment to keeping Florida’s water clean and safe, including 33 years in water resource management. From 1996 - 2012, he was Director of the Big Cypress Basin, overseeing the response to and management of water resource issues in Collier County.

Mr. Tears’ LinkedIn page shows an engineering degree from Miami Dade College (1988) and an MBA from International College (1991). He served as Command Chief of the Homestead, FL, U.S. Air Force Base from 2007–2011.

Tears, who is now retired, was appointed to the Collier SWCD Board to fill a vacancy; this is his first run for office. In meeting with Susan and me, he was passionate about the need to put environmental protections in place, especially now with the economy improving and development picking up. His role in previous environmental protection efforts was impressive. He seemed most proud of the successful restoration of Lake Trafford. Like Mr. Lang, when asked, Mr. Tears told Susan and me he didn’t really want to run, but “with my background and connections in government, I think I can make a difference.”

No campaign finance reports have been filed.

William Tolp
I found no Facebook presence for William Tolp. He did not respond to my invitation to meet through his private Twitter feed @WilliamTolp1.

The Libertarian Party of Collier County’s endorsement of William Tolp says:
While this office is relatively unknown to the public, the [Collier SWCD] Board has an annual operating budget of over $200,000. William Tolp brings a strong background in relevant fields that make him well-suited for this position. [Note: I can’t find what that background is.] Tolp is bright, articulate, passionate, and dedicated to the principles of limited government. We trust William Tolp to find and eliminate redundancies and unnecessary expenditures in the Board’s bloated budget and to defend the interests of Collier taxpayers while ensuring that all necessary functions are handled appropriately. We believe that his voice is much needed on this board.
Mr. Tolp ran unsuccessfully for State Representative from District 75 on the Libertarian Party ticket in 2012.

Eight campaign finance reports filed since July 2014 show only one contribution to his campaign, by himself for $50.

My decisions

The drinking water supply for those of us in the southern part of the state is the Everglades. Protection of our water resources is essential. It seems to me extremely beneficial to have elected community members – people who know our area, our economy, our businesses, our needs – participate in state water quality and land-use management programs, and in the administration and oversight of funds which provide state financial assistance for installing soil and water conservation practices.

The most recent published Collier SWCD financial statements show fiscal 2012 revenue and expenses of about $200,000. To Mr. Jones’ and the Florida Libertarian Party’s comments about redundancy of government: the statements note that the District received 97% of its funding from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the South Florida Water Management District, and that the District owns no land or buildings for its operations. Office space is provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture at no cost. I fail to see the redundancy, because to me,
who better than local citizens – volunteers! – with a passion for protecting our water to represent our best interests in these matters?

I will vote for Jim Lang for Soil and Water Conservation District Group 4 and Clarence Tears for Group 5.