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Importantly, two of the initial four District 2 candidates, Gene Ungarian and John Brunner, have withdrawn from the race, leaving just Stephanie Lucarelli and Louise Penta.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 (www.votelucarelli.com) 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 (www.erickcarter.com) and Lee Dixon (www.leedixon2016.com) 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 candidate who aligns with the  views of the Florida Citizens Alliance (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 www.votelucarelli.com 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 www.erickcarter.com 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.

Note: As originally published on 6/20/16, we referred to District 2 candidate Lee Dixon as "the Florida Citizens Alliance candidance," which suggested that he was endorsed by that group. FCA does not endorse candidates. The sentence was revised on 7/4/16 to refer to him as "the candidate who aligns with the  views of the Florida Citizens Alliance."



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

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.

Sheriff

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