Wednesday, August 2, 2017

July 2017 Month in Review - Local News

Last month, Collier County Commissioners and staff continued to discuss how to address competing needs to pay for new growth as well as improvements to existing aging infrastructure. The Naples City Council also considered growth-related issues in July. The Collier County School Board approved the District’s tentative FY 2018 budget and adopted 2018 legislative priorities, and the District introduced new and exciting opportunities for students.

Top stories: Collier County

  • Collier ponders how to tax for roads, affordable housing, land conservation to wipe out a backlog of almost $50 million. Read more at naplesnews.com.
    • Related: Sales tax hike considered in Collier County. A one percent tax would generate about $70 million a year, according to Commissioner Burt Saunders. Read more at FOX4now.com.
  • Collier backs down on tax increase to conserve land after “strong opposition” from local real estate agents, Republican committee members and state representatives.  It will instead ask voters in a 2018 referendum whether they want to bring back a special tax to fund Conservation Collier to buy and convert preserve land. Read more at naplesnews.com.
  • Changes coming to Immokalee impact fees. Collier Commissioners approved a measure that will allow developers and future property owners in Immokalee to pay impact fees over 10, 20, or even 30 years rather than upfront. Read more at immokaleebulletin.com.
  • Four sites owned by Collier County could be used for affordable housing. A decision on which, if any, of the lots to offer to developers will be made in September. Map here. Read more at naplesnews.com.
  • Collier looks to density to encourage more self-contained villages in the 77,000 acres immediately east of Collier Boulevard and north and south of Golden Gate Estates where planners expect a large part of the county’s projected population boom. Read more at naplesnews.com.
  • Collier approves closer-together high-rises near North Naples beach despite outcry from neighbors. Commissioners decided developers were following the code as it was written. Read more at naplesnews.com.
  • Estero the latest to bail on SWFL Regional Planning Council.. First Sarasota County, then Lee and Charlotte Counties left. And with Collier “on the brink of an exit,” the body is now starting to lose municipal members as well. Read more at naplesherald.com.
    • Related: Collier weighs halt in funding of Regional Planning Council; Immokalee’s “Promise Zone” funding might be at risk. Read more at naplesnews.com.
  • Collier County bans medical marijuana dispensaries, for now. Commissioners voted 4–1 to keep the dispensaries from opening until at least Dec. 31 so they can lobby state lawmakers for more control over the number of dispensaries that could open. Read more at naplesnews.com.
  • Work begins to keep Clam Pass in North Naples clear of sand for the third time in four years, just a year after a major dredging project. Read more at naplesnews.com.
  • Clam Bay manatee speed zone challenge set for September hearing in Tallahassee. The matter is the latest in a “long-standing feud” between Pelican Bay and the Seagate community over boating in Clam Bay. Read more at naplesnews.com.

Top editorials and commentaries: Collier County

  • Editorial: local sales tax - worth examining pluses, drawbacks.The County has much catching up to do on recession-delayed roads, bridges, parks and other infrastructure to manage both current and future growth. The question is how to pay for them. Read more at naplesnews.com.
    • Related Commentary: Sales tax possible way to pay for Collier projects. “We applaud” commissioners’ decision to determine where the “unmet critical capital needs” are, prioritize, and consider how to best fund them. By Michael Dalby, President and CEO - Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, at naplesnews.com.
    • Related Commentary: Tax increase discussions - enough already? People prioritize their needs and live within a budget. Counties should, too. By Janet Vasey, at naplesnews.com.
  • Commentary: Eye-popping number of high-end homes anchor Collier’s tax base, meaning the well-off pay a larger share of the cost of running county government and schools. By Brent Batten, at naplesnews.com.
  • Commentary: Ready, willing to remit bed taxes to Collier County. But “turning over personal identifiable information — including names and addresses — of our local hosts” to the County is “something we cannot do.” By Tom Martinelli, Policy Director, Airbnb Florida, at naplesnews.com.
    • Related Commentary: Home rentals a money vs. neighborhood issue. Very short-term, even daily, rentals in our residential neighborhoods “don’t belong” in our community. Read more from Bill Barnett, Mayor - Naples at naplesnews.com.
  • Commentary: North Collier, Immokalee fire discuss expanding “already successful” interlocal agreements to bolster efficiency. By Norman Feder, Chairman - North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District board of commissioners at naplesnews.com.
  • Commentary: How will ocean rise affect Collier County? There will be some inland flooding by 2050, and by 2100 many cities could be swamped. The timing is uncertain, but the end result is not. Read more from Linda Penniman, Vice Mayor - Naples, and Dave Trecker, vice chairman - Collier Citizens Council, at naplesnews.com.

Top stories: City of Naples

  • Plans show massive condo complex at former Naples Daily News site on Central Avenue. The project benefits from density bonuses approved by the Naples City Council. Read more at naplesnews.com.
  • Lawsuit charges Naples ignored precedent in denying redevelopment request. Developer wants to tear down and rebuild a single-family house at his property in Old Naples. Read more at naplesnews.com.
  • Naples officials considering no-boating zone near Lowdermilk Park. The proposal would exclude boating and personal watercraft within 500 feet of Lowdermilk’s coast at the beach end of Banyan Boulevard. Read more at naplesnews.com.

Top stories and editorials: Collier County Public Schools

  • School Board approves tentative $1 billion budget and a property tax millage rate of $5.1220 per $1,000, down from $5.234 per $1,000 this year. With increased property values, the lower millage rate will result in a 2 percent increase in dollars collected. The vote was 4–1. The board will vote again in September on a final budget, but the property tax rate is final. Read more at naplesnews.com.
  • Collier School Board adopts 2018 state legislative priorities. They include more time to implement new mandates, funding for major changes, and reduced testing. The 2018 legislative session begins in January. Read more at naplesherald.com.
  • Collier district expands Cambridge Programs to gifted and high-achieving elementary students. The district now offers the “rigorous curriculum aimed at developing critical thinking and skills fostering collaboration” in grades three through high school. It plans to expand it to kindergarten, first and second grades next year. Read more at naplesnews.com.
  • 14 Collier high school students attend National Flight Academy in Pensacola through a student enrichment program of the NAACP of Collier County in collaboration with School District. Read more at naplesnews.com.
  • Editorial: Collaboration makes Collier ready for children’s future. Behind-the-scenes over the past two years, a “blossoming network” called Future Ready Collier has drawn together about 40 organizations and public agencies to address two goals: to ensure all children are ready for kindergarten, and to make sure those finishing school will graduate on track to earn a degree or credential for employment. Read more at naplesnews.com.
  • Editorial: Local success a plus, state a minus for education in ’17. Kudos have come nonstop for Collier County Public Schools. Read more at naplesnews.com.

Election news

  • Roy Terry seeks re-election to Collier School Board District 5. Read more at naplesnews.com.
  • Also filed to run for election in 2018, according to the Collier Supervisor of Elections website:
    • Kathy Ryan - for School Board District 3
    • Andy Solis (REP) - for reelection to Board of County Commissioners District 2
    • Cecil G. Jorgensen (REP) - for Board of County Commissioners District 4
    • Candidates for County Judge Groups 1, 2 and 6
    • Candidates for Greater Naples Fire District Seats 3 and 4
  • 2018 Naples City Council candidates, according to Naples City Clerk website:
    • James Moon
    • Mitchell Norgart
    • Wynn Phillips

News happens daily! Stay current with Sparker’s Soapbox on Facebook at  fb.me/sparkers.soapbox.
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Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can read Sparker’s Soapbox online at www.sparkers-soapbox.com, subscribe to posts by email at tinyurl.com/subscribe-to-soapbox, “like” Sparker’s Soapbox on Facebook at fb.me/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Monday, July 31, 2017

July 2017 Month in Review - State News

With Florida’s 2017 legislative session fading into the distance and the 2018 election season getting underway, July’s top state government stories touch on the past, present and future, and include several pending lawsuits of interest.

Top stories

  • Florida mandate that school districts share capital revenues with charter schools is "credit negative," says ratings agency Moody's. The mandate marks the third effective reduction in the capital millage rate since 2008 and continued charter growth under the new formula will increasingly pressure traditional schools’ capital budgets. Read more from Moody's Investors Service via miamiherald.com.
    • Related: Schools of Hope will hurt classrooms. School superintendents from across the state railed against Florida's new 'Schools of Hope' charter school program during a state Board of Education meeting. Read more at baynews9.com.
    • Related: Lee Schools join HB 7069 lawsuit; no decision from Collier. School boards of Bay and Volusia Counties also voted in favor of legal action. Collier board chair Roy Terry said the issue deserves further board discussion before a decision is made. Read more from naplesherald.com.
    • Related: Will Florida lawmakers punish school board members for challenging HB 7069? No one has issued any threat. But "if history serves as a guide, that direction is not out of the question." Read more at tampabay.com.
  • Appeals court hears arguments in lawsuit over Florida’s public education system. The Florida Constitution requires the state to provide “a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high-quality system of free public schools” — but is that general standard something that can be measured? Read more at miamiherald.com.
  • Gov. Rick Scott’s ability to reshape Florida’s Supreme Court could depend on Monday or Tuesday. Three justices – who are scheduled to retire because they have reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 – face six-year terms that expire “at the end of the first Monday in January,” the governor argues. Read more at tampabay.com.
    • Related: Florida Gov. asks court to throw out lawsuit over justices filed last month by the League of Women Voters’ Florida branch and government watchdog Common Cause. Read more at apnews.com. See also my July 26 Sparker’s Soapbox post.
  • State gets 60 more days to prove need for 24-hour abortion waiting period. The law, enacted in 2015, has been blocked so far in a two-year legal battle. In granting the extra time, Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis "voiced skepticism" and indicated he might ultimately rule in favor of a request to declare outright that the mandatory waiting period is unconstitutional. Read more at miamiherald.com.
    • Related: Florida’s cost for losing lawsuits keeps growing. Between 2011 and early 2017, Florida spent more than $237 million on outside lawyers hired to defend the state. Gov. Scott recently agreed to pay $1.1 million to cover the legal bills of physicians and medical organizations who successfully challenged a law that restricted doctors’ ability to talk to patients about guns. Read more at sun-sentinel.com.
  • Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner handed over voter roll data to President Donald Trump’s election integrity commission after a federal judge in Washington, D.C., rejected a request to block data collection around the country. The commission had asked for additional information, but Detzner only provided what was allowed under state public records and voting laws. Read more at naplesnews.com.
  • Constitutional review panel announces committee assignments. The commission is empaneled every 20 years to go over the state constitution and suggest amendments that go directly on a statewide ballot. Collier school board vice chair Erika Donalds was named to chair the panel’s Local Government Committee and to serve on its Declaration of Rights, Education, and Rules and Administration Committees. Read more at saintpetersblog.com. See the Florida Constitution Revision Commission website here.
    • Related: Rick Scott names Tom Grady to constitutional review panel. In picking Grady, a Naples attorney and friend of Scott’s, the governor passed over the three alternates he previously selected to fill an empty seat on the commission. Read more at floridapolitics.com.  
  • A reliable Rick Scott ally, Pete Antonacci, named CEO of Enterprise Florida after less than two "turbulent years" as executive director of the South Florida Water Management District. Read more at naplesnews.com. See the Enterprise Florida website here.
  • State law requires detailed financial disclosures from people holding offices specified in the state Constitution, including state lawmakers, county commissioners and independently elected heads of county agencies. View 2016 disclosure forms at the Florida Department of Ethics website here.
  • Push to restore Florida felon voting rights gains steam, but obstacles remain. About 700,000 more signatures are needed by Feb. 1 to get the amendment on the ballot next year – and even then, it still needs more than 60 percent of the vote to become law. Florida is one of just four states to permanently bar felons from voting, even after they’ve served their sentences and probation. Read more at sun-sentinel.com. See the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition website here.


Top editorials

  • Tallahassee overreach on district capital tax dollars for charter schools. In a hurricane-susceptible state — and in a county like Collier where schools are the primary choice for evacuation shelters — "we consider it a miss" that omnibus education HB 7069 didn’t include any structural requirements for spending of those taxpayer capital dollars. Read more at naplesnews.com.
  • Florida’s micromanaging of public schools. "One of the most deceptive" bills signed by the Governor, dubbed a religious liberties bill by its supporters, will "muddy the waters in Florida schools and inevitably face constitutional challenges." Read more at tampabaytimes.com.
  • Public safety: progress but more to do. Crime is down; emergency response capabilities increased. But "more should be done" by our elected officials to address mental health and substance abuse challenges and reduce highway fatalities. Read more at naplesnews.com.
  • Sunshine scorecard a dark report for state, local lawmakers. Two Naples legislators, Reps. Byron Donalds and Bob Rommel, each had an "embarrassing" F-. Donalds lost points because he sponsored two potentially disastrous bills on open government. Both bills failed. Read more at naplesnews.com. View Sunshine Scorecard here.

Election news


2018 Race for Governor - Republican Primary

  • Leading GOP contender Adam Putnam supports allowing guns on college campuses and letting residents carry guns out in the open. Current Agriculture Commissioner Putnam, who oversees the office that processes concealed weapons permits, said there should be fewer “gun free zones” in the state. He would not say if he would repeal the ban on guns in stadiums. Read more at naplesnews.com.
  • Ron DeSantis and Richard Corcoran on collision course, "trying to get to frontrunner Putnam’s ideological right."  Even though Jack Latvala‘s rumored entry into the race could complicate things, the electorate may not be big enough for both of them to slug it out and still succeed against Putnam. Read more at thecapitolist.com.
  • Here’s the path to a Gov. Latvala. In a four-person race, it takes only 30 percent to win the nomination. When three of the four are likely to be fighting it out over "who is the purest hard-right conservative," and the fourth is "a political giant in the biggest battleground region" of Florida, the Clearwater Republican no longer looks like a long shot. Read more at tampabay.com.
  • June had three $2 million men. But it was Putnam whose fundraising "left no doubt" that he is the candidate of the Tallahassee establishment. Read more at tampabay.com.

2018 Race for Governor - Democratic Primary

  • The daughter of former Florida Sen. Bob Graham is now the clear frontrunner for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum "badly damaged" by an FBI investigation at his city hall. Read more at tampabay.com.
    • Related: Gwen Graham now taking on Adam Putnam over drilling, calling out the Republican candidate for not opposing President Donald Trump‘s efforts “to expand drilling off Florida’s beaches.” Read more at floridapolitics.com.
  • Philip Levine’s political committee raises $4 million for gubernatorial bid. Sending a message that he could be the Democratic gubernatorial candidate "best-equipped to compete financially" with the GOP nominee, Levine says he has considerably more than already-announced candidates. Read more at tampabay.com.
  • Florida Democratic party raised more money than GOP. In the three months ending June 30, the Florida Democratic Party raised $1.67 million, and the Republican Party of Florida raised $339,000. "That’s what happens when Gov. Rick Scott and the leading GOP candidate for governor in 2018, Adam Putnam, are busy filling their own campaign accounts instead of the party’s." Read more at tampabay.com.

2018 Race for Congress representing Collier County  

  • Money pouring in for Florida’s Congress members in tough districts. Republican Francis Rooney of Naples, in the 19th, raised $89,981, spent $57,435, and finished with $305,685. Republican Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami, in the 25th that includes easter Collier County, raised $296,319, spent $81,541, and finished with $748,837. Read more at floridapolitics.com.
  • U.S. Rep. Rooney launches re-election campaign, answers questions about business ties. Having distanced himself from the management of his businesses, Rooney said he can focus on what’s important to the residents of congressional District 19, including “getting money for the Everglades, fighting ISIS and defending conservative principles." Read more at naplesnews.com.
  • Naples Democrat David Holden says he’ll run for Congress next year, challenging Republican incumbent Francis Rooney. A financial adviser through Wells Fargo, Holden has a degree from Harvard and "a record of helping flip a few New York city council seats from red to blue." Read more at naplesnews.com.

See all candidates who have filed to-date with the State Division of Elections for state offices here. See all candidates who have filed to-date for county and local offices here.

Stay tuned for my next post, where I’ll report on July’s top county and local government news.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Florida League of Women Voters and Common Cause sue Rick Scott

The Florida League of Women Voters and Common Cause are suing Governor Rick Scott in the state Supreme Court to stop ”midnight appointments” of three justices to that Court. The suit was filed last month, following Scott’s statement in December that "I'll appoint three … justices the morning I finish my term.”

He was referring to the fact that three of Florida’s seven Supreme Court justices — R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince — face mandatory retirement on January 8, 2019, which will be Scott’s last day as governor.

An important constitutional question 

The civic groups want “final resolution” of a constitutional question that “has plagued the State for decades”: Who gets to appoint the new judge or justice when a seat opens on a Florida appellate court due to an expired term coinciding with the election of a new governor: the outgoing governor or the newly elected governor?

“The biggest impact any president can have on American society and on the American economy is who’s on [the Supreme Court],” former House Speaker John Boehner said. The same can be said about the impact of a governor at the state level.

In their petition, the groups warn that:
The importance of deciding this issue before Governor Scott attempts to make the subject appointments cannot be overstated. Not only would that invite a constitutional crisis, especially if his successor makes different appointments, but it would disrupt the functioning of this Court and any district court on which a similar vacancy might arise….
They urge the Supreme Court to hear the case itself, and not send it to the lower courts to decide. Although the 2018 election is "over a year away, there is simply not time" for the case to wind its way through the court system to reach final resolution.


Some history

Three decades ago, two Florida Supreme Court Justices faced mandatory retirement when their terms expired January 6, 1987. Then outgoing Governor Democrat Bob Graham announced that he would leave office on January 3, 1987, a few days before the end of this term, to be sworn in to the U.S. Senate.

According to a news piece at the time:
“Whether Graham or Gov.-elect Bob Martinez will appoint the new justices depends on whether the justices retire before Graham leaves office…. If [they retire] in December, Graham could appoint their successors, and the justices would receive about $3,500 in retirement benefits for January. But if they wait until Jan. 6 to retire, they will lose that month's benefits and Martinez will make the appointments.
It was reported later that, after consulting with one of his lawyers, Graham decided not to attempt to fill the positions himself in the weeks before he left office. Both justices stayed on through January 6, and incoming governor Martinez, a Republican, appointed their replacements.

A similar situation arose four years later. Governor Martinez had been defeated for reelection by Democrat Lawton Chiles, and one Florida Supreme Court Justice had reached mandatory retirement age. From a piece at the time:
Both Bob Martinez and Lawton Chiles think they should decide who fills a vacancy on the state Supreme Court that will occur just hours before Chiles replaces Martinez as governor. … Chiles said he thought he should make the appointment, citing the fact that four years ago Martinez, then an incoming governor, made two appointments to the bench.
Avoiding a confrontation with his successor, Martinez informed Chiles by letter that “My deep respect for the institution of the office of governor and for the precedent established by Gov. Bob Graham has led me to the determination that I will not name a successor ….”

Eight years later, both outgoing governor Chiles and incoming governor Jeb Bush, a Republican, wanted to replace a retiring justice whose last day in office would be Bush’s first.

In what was referred to as “an unusual act of job sharing,” Chiles and Bush agreed to separately interview four finalists and then see if they could agree. It was understood that whoever they picked could sway the court’s opinion on everything from property rights and abortion to the death penalty. "Both Gov. Chiles and Bush want this to be a very smooth transition and this is one way it could be," a spokesperson said at the time. They jointly named Peggy Quince, a Democrat.

All three justices Scott said he plans to replace were appointed by Democrat Chiles. The four who will remain in office were appointed by Republicans.
Current Justices of the Florida Supreme Court

More recent history

In 2014, Amendment 3 - Prospective Judicial Vacancies came before Florida voters. Put forward by the Republican-controlled legislature, it would have allowed the governor to "prospectively" fill a vacancy, meaning that the governor would have not needed to wait until a judge completes his or her term to pick a successor in situations where a judge reaches the mandatory judicial retirement age of 70, fails to qualify for a retention election, or fails to be retained through election.

Opposing Amendment 3 in a October 2014 editorial titled Reject Partisan Politics in Judiciary, former Florida Supreme Court Justice Harry Lee Anstead wrote:
The three anticipated Supreme Court vacancies specifically targeted by the amendment occur in four years and at the same time the term of an outgoing governor expires. Of course, appointments cannot be made until a position is vacant, hence the authority to appoint a replacement will belong to an incoming governor, and not the governor whose term has ended….   
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. Partisan advocates, frustrated by the public's rejection of their effort to remove these same three Florida justices in their retention elections in 2012, have audaciously found a new scheme to achieve their goals of stacking the court politically.   
It is a one-time gamble and a shortsighted strategy on multiple levels. First, it presumes Gov. Rick Scott is re-elected so he can make the appointments at the end of his second term. More importantly it cynically ignores the possibility that an informed Florida public will reject this blatant bid to politicize the judiciary. Floridians across the political spectrum have consistently agreed … on the importance of keeping partisan politics out of our courts. Voters have a chance to send that important message again this November, by voting NO on Amendment 3.
Amendment 3 failed, gaining just 48 percent voter approval, well short of the 60 percent needed to become law.


Now we have context

We now have context for Gov. Scott’s statement last December that he would appoint three more justices the morning of his last day in office. In the words of a recent Palm Beach Post Editorial:
This opportunity to flout the will of the voters is nothing more than a power grab. Actually, this could be the power grab to end all power grabs, as the last bastion of true partisan independence in state government would certainly be less so.
The need for the League of Women Voters/Common Cause lawsuit is clear. And as they argue in their petition, it should be decided quickly to clarify for voters and potential candidates what's at stake in the 2018 gubernatorial election. Will the to-be-elected governor choose the next three Supreme Court justices, or will Rick Scott?


The Governor’s response

This week Governor Scott asked the Court to reject the group’s petition. His response argues that the group has no right to sue before he actually takes an action that can be challenged, and that absent such act, there is no “constitutional crisis.” And if the petition is not dismissed on those grounds, Scott argues, it should be denied on its merits, because the judicial term expires before the incoming governor takes the oath of office.

Politics in the judicial branch

Political influences are a constant challenge to the independence of the courts and their ability to act as a check and balance, according to a report by the Florida Access to Justice Project. It's worth reading.

For example, a bill (HJR 121) was introduced in the most recent legislative session that would have put a constitutional amendment on the 2018 ballot to allow the Legislature to override state court decisions with a two-thirds vote. Fortunately, it died in committee.


What’s next?

The case is now before the three justices who are leaving and their four colleagues. They must decide who gets to name the successors.

Governor Scott should “acknowledge that the current Supreme Court can be trusted to render a fair decision," says a Daytona Beach News-Journal editorial:
With four justices appointed by Republicans (including Scott’s well-received recent pick, Justice Alan Lawson) and three by Democrats, the court is balanced, and justices have shown a pattern of open, thoughtful deliberation and unanimity that should bolster the confidence of the governor — and Floridians…. 
The governor should support the League of Women Voters’ call for a swift resolution, make his best case to the Supreme Court — then abide by its decision.
Hopefully that’s what will happen — and soon, before the 2018 governor's race really gets underway and the issue becomes even more political.

I appreciate the Florida League of Women Voters and Common Cause for taking up this important fight. For more information and to support them, visit thefloridavoter.org and fl.commoncause.org.


___________________________

Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can read Sparker's Soapbox online at www.sparkers-soapbox.com, subscribe to posts by email at tinyurl.com/subscribe-to-soapbox, "like" Sparker's Soapbox on Facebook at fb.me/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

June 2017 Month in Review - Local News

An improving economy and continued growth have created both the need and the opportunity for major infrastructure projects in our community. Last month, elected officials began discussing several upcoming decisions with long-term implications. They will be deciding not only what to do, but also how to pay for it all. Wherever you are for the summer, now’s the time to consider how these upcoming decisions will affect you and let your voice be heard.

Here is Part 2 of my Month in Review, highlighting top stories, editorials, and commentaries about Collier County, the City of Naples, and the Collier County School Board. For highlights of news from the state capital, see Part 1 of June in Review here.

Top stories: Collier County
  • County official says Collier planning well for growth. In the year ending June 30, 2016, the population of the Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island area grew 2.4 percent to 365,136. By 2040 the county's population is expected to reach more than 482,000. (NDN, 6/14/17)
  • Property values set Collier County record in 2016. Taxable value is a key input to the County Budget, which will be discussed by the board in September. (NDN,  6/12/17)
  • County weighs property tax increase, land conservation, backlog of projects. Commissioners gave their preliminary approval to raise the tax to bring back Conservation Collier in a 3-2 vote early this year, with Bill McDaniel and Andy Solis dissenting. Now that they are looking at hard numbers of next year's budget, they will have to vote again. (NDN, 6/15/17)
  • Trial sales tax balloon being floated around Collier County as a new funding source for roads, affordable housing, and environmental preservation. If a majority of commissioners agree, the tax could be on the ballot in November 2018 for voter approval. (NDN, 6/27/17)
  • Collier commissioners vote unanimously to raise bed tax from 4 to 5 percent, approve stadium and sports complex. The complex will cost $60 to $80 million and be paid for by issuing about $55 million of debt, using some of the tax increase to pay interest, using county general funds, and selling naming rights on the facility. (NDN, 6/13/17; Naples Herald, 6/14/17)
  • Commissioner seeks fee change to spur growth. Bill McDaniel is spearheading a pilot program that would allow impact fees to be spread over a decades-long period. The program could be rolled out county-wide if it goes well in an initial test area in a section of Immokalee. (WINK News, 6/29/17)
  • Commissioners agree to widen beaches, cap museum funding. The county will spend $2.5 million more a year to widen beaches and better protect them from erosion. About $1.5 million will come from the increased bed tax, leaving a funding gap partially made up by capping museum funding at $2 million, which is $500,000 below the current level. (Naples Herald, 6/27/17; NDN, 6/28/17)
  • Pine Ridge Road could see reconstruction to reduce congestion. The intersection at Livingston Road, just west of I-75, is the primary identified trouble spot. County officials say more than 55,000 cars a day flow through it as of 2016 and more than 75,000 are projected by 2040. (NDN, 6/8/17; Naples Herald, 6/15/17; )
  • County to build new ambulance station to keep up with growth along Collier Blvd. Commissioners set aside $2 million for it in a tentative budget to be finalized in September. The station will be large enough to fit a fire engine, should the Greater Naples Fire District decide to join the county at the site. (NDN, 6/24/17)
  • Commissioner Andy Solis brings community mental health program advocates together to talk strategy, need for aid. Seeks local plan to address the widespread mental health and substance abuse crisis facing the County. (NDN, 6/7/17)
  • County libraries to get more books, still far short. The increase in the Collier County budget would give county libraries a total of just over $1 million for books next year, which is still half of the $2 million-plus a year the county spent on books before 2008. (NDN, 6/25/17)

Top stories: City of Naples
  • Naples panel urges OK of $15 million 350-space parking garage at Fourth Avenue South and Fourth Street South. The City Council will consider the project for final approval in August. (NDN, 6/27/17)
  • City Council says no to closing Naples Pier at night; closing overnight parking at the Pier’s 12th Avenue South parking lot to be considered. (Naples Herald, 6/15/17; NDN, 6/14/17)
  • Habitat for Humanity plans home rehabbing in Naples' low-income River Park area. Naples City Council has signaled support for subsidizing the effort with revenue from the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency. (NDN, 6/25/17)
  • Three candidates file to run for Naples City Council seats in 2018: Jim Moon, a Naples attorney, Wynn Phillips, a former psychologist, and Mitch Norgart, a luxury real estate broker. Councilwoman Linda Penniman says she is running for a second four-year term but has not yet filed. (NDN, 6/24/17)

Top stories: Collier County Public Schools
  • Collier school district ranked fifth in the state by Florida Department of Education, up from 14th last year. It is one of 11 to earn an A rating, of the 67 districts in the state. Superintendent Kamela Patton credited “a focus on progress monitoring and ongoing adjustments to instruction.” (Sparker's Soapbox, 6/29/17; NDN, 6/29/17)
  • Superintendent's contract extended through 2021 by a 3-2 vote by the School board. Members Stephanie Lucarelli and Erick Carter echoed the concerns of many public speakers at the meeting that Patton would be stolen away by another district if her contract was not extended. Members Erika Donalds and Kelly Lichter voted no. (Naples Herald, 6/14/17)
  • School board votes to approve 5 textbooks with a 3-2 vote, unanimously rejects one, after hearing from more than 30 public speakers. The adoption process was contentious for both the board and the public and resulted in a lawsuit against the district. A judge denied the motion, allowing the board to proceed with the vote. (NDN, 6/1/17; NBC-2, 6/1/17)
  • Mason Classical Academy charter school board faces criticism, complaints about management. Just two of the six Mason board members who served during the school’s first academic year remain on the board. (NDN, 6/13/17)

Top editorials and commentaries

  • Editorial: Collier County commissioners are considering steps toward preserving important Southwest Florida sites in perpetuity. While the desirable goal of preservation seems simple, ongoing discussions involving key properties show the complexities involved. (NDN, 6/5/17)
  • Editorial: Collier sports complex could diversify tourism. We applaud the unanimous decisions reached by Collier commissioners and their tourism advisory board to pursue construction of an amateur sports complex. (NDN, 6/18/17)
  • Editorial: Options will abound for Collier tax manna. When there’s more money to spend, the tug-of-war begins among competing interests. We urge public participation in helping define priorities. (NDN, 6/27/17)
  • Editorial: Collier bed tax increase from 4 percent to 5 percent one of several good moves. Also good: changing the allocation of those funds. Beaches first at 42.6 percent; continued museum funding capped at $2 million; cut in tourism promotion avoided; agreeing to bond land purchase for amateur sports complex. (NDN, 6/28/17)
  • Commentary: Ball Fields Built on Sand. A destructive coastal storm, a fall-off in tourist funds, an unexpected call on county reserves. Big plans today — for ball fields and beaches — could end up as projects built on sand. (Dave Trecker, The Resident's Corner, 6/17/17)
  • Commentary: Mental health shortfall a major issue in Collier County. To try to solve the problem by reshuffling what we now have is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Innovative planning will be needed, but make no mistake about it, so will additional money. (Jerry Godshaw and Dave Trecker, Members, Community Paramedicine Roundtable, NDN, 6/28/17)

Let your voice be heard.
Take a few minutes to tell your county commissioner (find her/him here) how the upcoming decisions will affect you and how you want them to vote. Reach Naples City Council members here.

In case you missed it, some recent Sparker's Soapbox posts:

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



Saturday, July 1, 2017

June 2017 Month in Review - State News

The beginning of June was full of news about our state and local governments — so much so that I’ve split this Month in Review into two separate posts. In this one, I’ll share top stories about state government; in the next, I’ll report what happened in county and city government and the Collier County School District.

The big news at the state level relates to the final outcome of the 2017 Legislative Session. You’ll recall that it ended in May after House Speaker Corcoran and Senate President Negron struck a closed-door deal on a balanced budget that would pass both Chambers. They each got what they wanted, but the Governor’s priorities were ignored. It was clear something would have to be done to get the Governor to sign off on their budget before the June 30 end-of-fiscal-year deadline, and that played out in the early part of June.

There was another round of backstage negotiations, this time largely between Corcoran and Governor Scott, and another deal was struck. Scott and Corcoran got what they wanted, and Negron was left out in the cold. I described all the political maneuvering in Recapping Florida's 2017 Legislative Session - Part 3.

In addition to the education law changes I wrote about in Part 1, below are highlights and lowlights of the rest of what our elected leaders did for the people of Florida. Following that is an update on candidates who have filed or are rumored to be running for governor and other key offices in 2018.

Top stories: State Government

  • Legislature adjourns sometimes-bumpy Special Session after voting to improve funding for public schools, colleges, and universities, and revamping the way the state encourages economic growth. They also passed an implementing bill for the medical marijuana constitutional amendment the voters approved last year. (Florida Politics, 6/10/17)
  • 125 new Florida laws effective July 1. They include Florida’s $82 billion budget, along with $91.6 million in tax breaks and new rules regarding public notification of toxic spills. (The Ledger, 6/29/17)
  • Scott signs controversial HB 7069, shifting education from ‘traditional public schools.’ While the education omnibus bill offers changes for all kinds of schools in Florida, from requiring recess to reducing mandatory testing, it accelerates state tax dollar funding for profit and nonprofit charter and private schools, expands parents’ abilities to chose schools, and tightens Tallahassee’s controls over what local school boards can and cannot do. (FloridaPolitics.com, 6/15/17)
  • Florida’s 650 charter schools will see an extra $96.3 million, thanks to a controversial provision in a sweeping education bill Gov. Scott signed into law that forces school districts to hand over some of their local tax dollars. (Tampa Bay Times, 06/30/17)
  • Governor signed Religious Liberties bill into law. The bill requires public schools to let students lead prayers during the school day and at school-sanctioned events, such as assemblies. Students also cannot be punished for including religious materials in their course work, and may pray at school during non-course time. (Tampa Bay Times, 6/9/17); Miami Herald, 6/10/17)
  • New Florida law lets any resident challenge what kids learn in public schools, thanks to a new law that science education advocates worry will make it harder to teach evolution and climate change. Any parent or county resident can file a complaint, regardless of whether they have a student in the school system. (Washington Post, 7/1/17)
  • Florida law shifts burden of proof in ‘stand your ground’. Florida is now the first state with a law that spells out that prosecutors, and not defendants, have the burden of proof in pretrial “stand your ground” hearings. (AP, 6/9/17)
  • Bill expanding renewable energy tax break to commercial and industrial properties in Florida becomes law, after nearly 73 percent of voters approved the constitutional amendment during last August’s primary elections. The bill also makes renewable-energy equipment exempt from state tangible personal property taxes. (PalmBeachPost, 6/19/17)
  • Southwest Florida gets $35.9 million in funding for local projects in FY2018 state budget. Collier’s Sen. Kathleen Passidomo brought home $750,000 for local mental health funding through the David Lawrence Center and $400,000 for a food bank that helps feed poor seniors in Collier and Lee. Rep. Bob Rommel got $500,000 for the Goodland Drive Rehabilitation program for Marco Island. (NDN 6/23/17)
  • Local post-secondary programs take big hits. Gov. Scott vetoed $15 million for FGCU's School of Integrated Watershed and Coastal Studies, $1 million for its Academic Career and Attainment Program, and $1 million for its Honors College. He also vetoed $1.2 million for the Naples Accelerator innovation center and Immokalee Culinary Technology Campus, and $175,000 for the Hodges University Identity Fraud Institute. See complete list of Scott’s $410 million line item vetoes here. (NDN, 6/3/17)
  • Passidomo Pleased With Result Of Special Session. Regarding the controversial omnibus education HB 7069, the senator thought the bill contained mostly positive measures. (Naples Herald, 06/14/17)
  • Collier legislators score poorly in the Florida Society of News Editors’ Sunshine Scorecard documenting support for open government. Sen. Passidomo received an essentially neutral C-, Rep. Carlos Trujillo earned a D+, and Reps. Byron Donalds and Bob Rommel received two of the only three F grades given (here and here). (First Amendment Foundation)

Now that you know how the 2017 Legislative Session ended, take a few minutes to email your representatives (find them here) and let them know you were watching and are holding them accountable. Thank them for their votes, or express your disapproval:


In other state news:

  • Scott appointee Jimmy Patronis was sworn in as Florida's new chief financial officer to serve through the November 2018 election, succeeding Jeff Atwater, who resigned to take a position at Florida Atlantic University. The CFO is one of three members of the elected Florida Cabinet and is paid about $129,000 a year. He oversees a staff of about 2,000 employees and a $300 million budget. (Tampa Bay Times, 06/30/17)

In the race for Congress:

  • Democrat Dr. Alina Valdes is running for Congressional District 25. As an unknown first-timer challenging popular incumbent Mario Diaz-Balart in 2016, she garnered 38 percent of the vote. (Letter, Alina Valdes, NDN 6/22/17)

In the race for Florida Governor:

  • Potential rivals to current Agricultural Commissioner and Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam gear up. Since the state’s legislative session ended, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate budget chief Jack Latvala, both Republicans, have become increasingly politically active, spurring speculation that it’s only a matter of time before each enters the race. (Politico, 6/27/17)
  • Fresh off big talk-radio endorsement, Congressman Ron DeSantis makes moves to run for governor. First elected in 2012 with strong tea party backing, he was a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus and, during his U.S. Senate bid, received the backing of anti-establishment conservative groups. (Politico, 6/5/17)
  • Democrat John Morgan ramps up 'living wage' campaign as he eyes governor's race. The father of Florida’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment, possible wild-card candidate for governor, outspoken trial lawyer and big Democratic donor wants a $14 hourly “living wage” for voters to decide in 2020." (Politico, 6/26/17)

In the race for Attorney General (Florida Cabinet member):

  • Former Hillsborough Judge Ashley Moody files to replace incumbent Pam Bondi who will have to leave office in 2018 because of term limits. The Attorney General is one of three members of Florida’s elected Cabinet. Moody, a Republican, joins a field that already includes Republican state Rep. Jay Fant of Jacksonville and Democrat Ryan Torrens of Tampa. (Tampa Bay Times, 6/1/17)

In case you missed it: Sparker's Soapbox in June:

  • Month in Review - May 2017 (6/1/17)
  • Recapping Florida's 2017 Legislative Session - Part 3 (6/21/17)

Thanks for your interest. Stay tuned for Sparker's Soapbox June in Review Part 2, soon!

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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.sparkerssoapbox.com, "like" me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.



Thursday, June 29, 2017

CCPS: An “A”-Rated School District

Congratulations to Collier County Public Schools Superintendent Kamela Patton, principals, teachers, school staffs, District administrators and School Board members!

CCPS is again an “A”-rated Florida school district. Of note from the school grades released this week, Collier County Public Schools:
  • Ranked 5th highest of 67 districts in the state, an increase from 14th in 2016 and 33rd in 2011;
  • Was among only 11 “A”-rated districts in the state (see districts in green in map below); 
  • Had the second highest year-over-year improvement measured by points earned in 11 areas of student success that include achievement, learning gains, middle school accreditation, graduation rate, and college and career acceleration;  
  • Had 46% of its schools earning an “A”; 74% earning an “A” or a “B”;
  • Had 17 schools improve one or more letter grades;
  • Had four schools increase two letter grades: Estates, Palmetto and Shadowlawn Elementary Schools from “C”s to As; Immokalee Community School from D to B;
  • Had no schools with a decrease in grades; and 
  • Had no “F” schools.
 Message from SuperintendentPatton
Click image to hear Dr. Patton’s message



The District attributed the results to “the hard work and commitment of students, teachers, administrators, District staff, and strong community support. A focus on progress monitoring and ongoing adjustments to instruction are integral to overall student achievement.”
Read the District’s full Assessment Brief, with individual school grades and comparisons to last year here, and the Naples Daily News article here. For more CCPS test results, click here
Florida’s 67 Districts
2017 School Grades
Florida’s school grading system focuses on measures of student success according to Florida law and rules adopted by the State Board of Education. Read more on the Department of Education School Grades web page here.

Florida’s 11 “A”-rated school districts are: Brevard, Collier, Gilchrist, Martin, Nassau, Okaloosa, St. Johns, Santa Rosa, Sarasota, Seminole and Wakulla.

The success or failure of a school district lies with the skill and leadership of its Superintendent. As a Collier voter, it is important that you remember that in Collier County, the Superintendent is hired by our five elected School Board members

If you are happy with this year’s District report card, take a minute and let them and Dr. Patton know!
Erick Carter - cartee1@collierschools.com  
Erika Donalds - donale@collierschools.com
Stephanie Lucarelli - lucars@collierschools.com
Superintendent Kamela Patton - patton@collierschools.com
Congratulations to our school principals, teachers and staff, as well as Superintendent Patton and her team, for the continued improvement of Collier County Public Schools!
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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.sparkerssoapbox.com, "like" me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Recapping Florida's 2017 Legislative Session - Part 3

In Part 1 of this series of recap posts, I took a high-level look at the roughly $82 billion FY 2018 state budget passed by the Legislature on May 8th. It included K–12 funding of $20 billion, up just 1.2% over the current year, which equated to per-student funding of $7,220.72, up just 0.3%.

I also described the sweeping $419 million education policy overhaul bill (HB 7069) that was cobbled together over a long weekend behind closed doors in the session's final days. That bill was championed by House Speaker Corcoran, a strong proponent of “school choice.”

While that bill passed easily in the House, it was a tough sell in the Senate. In addition to strong objections to portions of the bill, the way the bill was cobbled together in secret attracted national attention.

As quoted by the Washington Post in “It’s hard to overstate how much critics hate Florida’s ‘scam’ education bill” from a piece in the Orlando Sentinel:

Instead of carefully considering education proposals one at a time, Republican leaders went behind closed doors to cram 35 different proposals — rules on everything from sunscreen use to charter-schools incentives — into a single, 278-page, take-it-or-leave-it bill unveiled at the last minute. For me to simply reprint the bill, it would take 75 columns this size … and you still wouldn’t get to the part where legislators want to siphon money away from traditional schools until column No. 46.

House Speaker
Richard Corcoran
To get his bill passed, Corcoran agreed to deliver the House’s votes on Negron’s number two priority, SB 374, a higher education bill meant to “help certain state universities attain ‘elite’ status, while putting community colleges back in their place.” (Negron had already gotten his top priority, a controversial new reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee, in another closed-door deal. More here.) It was a classic quid pro quo arrangement.

Ultimately HB 7069 passed the Senate by just one vote., with three Republicans, including the chair of the Senate Education Budget Committee, voting against it.

When the Legislature adjourned on May 8, Corcoran and Negron were happy, but the Governor was not. His priorities had been soundly ignored. He wanted $7,421 per student for K-12 public school funding; he got just under $7,221. He wanted $76 million for his VISIT Florida tourism marketing agency; he got $25 million. And he wanted $85 million for his Enterprise Florida economic development organization; he got $16 million.

When Part 1 of this Session recap was published last month, it was clear that another deal was needed, and that with his veto pen, Scott had the upper hand. In Part 2 on May 22, I summarized the major education policies that, along with the budget, awaited the Governor’s signature and urged readers to weigh in.

Senate President
Joe Negron
On June 2, after “several days of backstage negotiations mostly involving Corcoran, Scott and their top staff members,” at a hastily convened press conference with Corcoran and Negron at his side, Scott announced that agreement had been reached. After signing the 2017-18 budget and vetoing the entire public education budget and $410 million in local projects, he called a special session of the Legislature for June 7 to 9 “to fight for students and jobs.”

Going in to that session, Scott wanted another $100 per student for K-12 education, a total of $76 million for VISIT Florida, and $85 million for a new Florida Job Growth Grant Fund. Corcoran wanted Scott to sign his charter-friendly HB 7069. And Negron wanted him to sign his sweeping higher education SB 374.

When it was over, Scott got what he wanted, Corcoran got what he wanted, and Negron was left out in the cold.

Scott vetoed Negron’s higher education bill, saying it would “impede” progress at state colleges by boosting Florida’s universities at the expense of community-based schools. More here.

This stunning outcome was beautifully described in a Sun Sentinel editorial, “Joe Negron got played — Florida public schools pay price:”

Florida Senate President Joe Negron so badly wanted his top priority this year that he failed to do what citizens expect of the Legislature's upper chamber: stop bad things from happening.

Until now, the Senate has been the more-measured chamber, the adult in the room that kept an important check on the upstart House, whose members too often walk in lockstep on extreme proposals.

And sometimes, doing the right thing means being willing to sacrifice your pet project.

But after securing his first priority of the session — a new reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee — Negron fiercely sought his second: a sweeping higher education bill meant to help certain state universities attain "elite" status, while putting community colleges back in their place.

To secure Senate Bill 374, Negron made a bad gamble on the session's last day. He agreed to push his chamber to pass House Speaker Richard Corcoran's pet project: House Bill 7069, a bill to further privatize public education, tied with a bow of elementary school recess and teacher bonuses.

In the end, “Negron got outplayed,” wrote the Sun Sentinel. “His leadership mantle is shaken.

"And all this matters because our public schools are about to pay the price.”

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