Sunday, December 31, 2017

December 2017 Month in Review - Local News

December was a busy month for Collier County government. The Board of County Commissioners had what a Naples Daily News editorial called “one of its most notable decision-making days of 2017,” taking a number of important actions. The Sheriff met with a group of community activists about his immigration policy, there were some significant developments in Collier’s three city councils, and there was news about Collier schools and school board members as well.

Top stories - County government


Top stories: the Collier Sheriff’s Office


Top stories: City of Naples


Top stories - City of Marco Island


Top stories - City of Everglades City


Top stories - Collier County Public Schools


Naples Daily News year-end editorial series

Finally, Naples Daily News editorial writer Allen Bartlett gave us a great overview of the year just ending and the challenges ahead in a seven-part editorial series. Bartlett's editorials are an important supplement to the paper's coverage, frequently reporting news not provided by the paper elsewhere. I encourage you to read each piece; the titles and brief recaps don't come close to telling the full stories.


Some final thoughts

Have you noticed the significant reductions in original coverage of state and local government and education stories by the Naples Daily News over the past several years? I believe the most recent reductions are due to a pruning of staff since the paper became part of the USA Today Network in 2016.

As we enter 2018, I fear the loss of the meager local coverage we still have, and what that would mean for our ability to be informed citizen-voters.

Our direct participation in the governing process — attending open meetings and Town Halls or watching them on-demand, participating in local civic associations, attending League of Women Voters meetings and candidate forums — is now more important than ever.

So I end my last post of the year with a request: today and every day, find out what’s happening in our community's civic life. Let the people you’ve elected — to the county commission, city councils, school board, fire/EMS and mosquito control commissions, the tax collector, property appraiser, supervisor of elections, sheriff, Clerk of Courts — hear your concerns. Are they focusing on the right things? Showing a proper sense of urgency? Spending your money wisely?

This is OUR community. We have the responsibility to shape what it is, what it does, how it operates. We must participate and hold our elected representatives accountable. We can no longer count on the sunshine of the free press to do it for us.

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Correction: In my December 2017 Month in Review of state news, I referred to “A shocking discovery by Naples Sen. Kathleen Passidomo” and included a link to an NBC-2 post titled “Resigned state senator kept list ranking female colleagues' looks.” Subsequently, a reader made me aware of a series of tweets by POLITICO Florida reporter Marc Captuo that showed that the NBC-2 story and Passidomo’s part in it were untrue. I have removed reference to that story from the post in the Sparker's Soapbox blog archive, and apologize for having unwittingly shared “fake news.”

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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 or subscribe to posts by email at tinyurl.com/subscribe-to-soapbox.

News happens daily! Stay current with Sparker’s Soapbox on Facebook at fb.me/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.



Wednesday, December 27, 2017

December 2017 Month in Review - State News

Published 12/27/17; updated 12/31/17

Perhaps the most stunning news in December was the resignation of Republican Senator Jack Latvala, a long-time Tampa Bay leader and candidate for governor, amid an ever-growing scandal involving sexual harassment charges by female staff and lobbyists. Unfortunately, I fear these are not the last harassment stories to come from our state capitol:


Meanwhile, our elected officials continued preparing for the 2018 legislative session that begins on January 9. Committees have been meeting since September, hearing background presentations and considering proposed legislation. To-date, more than 2500 bills have been filed in the House and Senate. The filing deadline is the first day of session, and the last-minute flurry of activity is still to come.

Separately, the Florida Constitution Revision Commission continued holding committee meetings leading up to its ultimate decision on which of the 103 commissioner-proposed amendments to place before voters in November.

And some notable decisions were handed down by the courts this month as well.

In this post, I’ll share news stories, editorials and opinion pieces I’ve read about these and other activities. Consider what each bill, proposal or amendment says about its sponsor’s view of the role of government and public policy, or what an article tells you about state government as a whole. Let your representatives know if you do or don't agree with what they’re doing and/or how you want them to vote. Now more than ever, it is important that informed voters let their voices be heard.

Top stories - state legislature

As in prior years, there continue to be efforts in Tallahassee to change how education is provided and paid for in Florida. These are some stories about activities to be aware of. I’ve provided a link when a proposed bill is involved.


I’m also watching legislation that will affect the environment:


How everything will be paid for is a third area I’m following. Like most states, Florida’s constitution requires a balanced budget, and every year its a challenge. For example:


Top stories - the Constitution Revision Commission


Top stories - the courts

Three justices on the Florida supreme court will reach mandatory retirement age in 2018, and Gov. Scott intends to appoint their replacements on his last day in office. See my July 2017 post "Florida League of Women Voters and Common Cause sue Rick Scott." This month:


I am also watching the lawsuits that challenge the massive education bill signed into law last year. The courts ruled on two in December: one which challenged the law’s constitutionality in its entirety, and one which challenged the requirement that districts share property tax revenue with charters:


Both cases are now with the Leon County Circuit Court.

There was also a ruling on an appeal of a lower court ruling that claimed Florida public schools were not adequately funded and did not provide a solid education to all students in violation of the Florida Constitution.


In other state news…


Remember: it’s important to let your representatives know whether you agree or disagree with bills or proposals that will come before them and/or how you want them to vote. Find how to contact each of your representatives on the “Your Elected Officials” page of the Sparker's Soapbox website.

In my next post, I’ll report on December’s top local government and school district news.

Update 12/31/17: 
As originally published, the first paragraph of this post referred to “A shocking discovery by Naples Sen. Kathleen Passidomo” and included a link to an NBC-2 post titled “Resigned state senator kept list ranking female colleagues' looks.” A reader made me aware of a series of tweets by Politico reporter Marc Captuo that revealed the NBC-2 story to be untrue. I have removed reference to that story from this post, and apologize for having unwittingly shared “fake news.”

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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 or subscribe to posts by email at tinyurl.com/subscribe-to-soapbox.

News happens daily! Stay current with Sparker’s Soapbox on Facebook at fb.me/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.



Wednesday, December 6, 2017

November Month in Review - Local News

The naming of Collier Schools Superintendent Kamela Patton as Superintendent of the Year by the Florida Consortium of Education Foundations topped the list of local news for November!

Patton was honored for her dedication to Future Ready Collier, an association of more than 50 organizations that try to help prepare children for kindergarten and high school students for college and careers.

So in this post, I’ll lead with news about our Collier County Public Schools, followed by news of our Collier County and Naples City government. Each of these bodies is overseen by people we elect, so awareness of the issues and decisions being made is important to be informed voters.

CCPS' Dr. Kamela Patton
Superintendent of the Year
Top stories - Collier Collier Public Schools
Top stories - County government

As we’ve been reading about in prior Months-in-Review, the Board of County Commissioners has several decisions to make in the coming months regarding how to manage the county’s growth, redevelopment, and aging infrastructure, as well as how to pay for it all.

A Naples Daily News editorial titled Post-recession and now after Irma, something has to give summarized the challenges this way:

Clogged Immokalee Road makes a parallel Vanderbilt Beach Road extension sensible; that’s $90 million as a start. Nearly a dozen bridges built circa 1960 are crumbling. The taxpayer-supported county jail is the No. 1 mental health holding center. Tens of millions of dollars for promised parks east of Naples don’t have a funding source. Medical device manufacturer Arthrex chose South Carolina for a 1,000-job expansion; it didn’t have an adequate, trained workforce here. Housing is too expensive for young professionals.
All that was true before Irma highlighted inadequacies of our sewage lift stations and drainage.
Here are several November articles about some of the challenges:
These articles discuss some of the competing arguments that make the “how to pay for it all” decision so difficult:
In addition to planning for the future, the more immediate county government business continued:
Our elected officials are also responsible for ensuring that the Hurricane Irma cleanup is completed as quickly as possible, that what should be done differently next time is identified, and that new procedures are put in place. In November’s news:
What a month! The number of challenging issues our elected county officials are dealing with on our behalf is almost overwhelming. November’s news provides good examples of the role of county government in our lives, and the importance of letting our voices be heard on decisions being made.

Meanwhile, in Naples City government …
Click here to participate
Your input is needed on a community needs study!

Whether you are a seasonal or year-round Collier resident, the Community Foundation of Collier County would like your help to determine Collier County's challenges. You are invited to participate by answering questions on a confidential survey being conducted by the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation.

Catch up anytime

Finally, in case you missed them, here are links to my three most recent posts:
You can find all past Sparker's Soapbox posts, dating back to 2010, in the Blog Archive at www.sparkers-soapbox.com.

Thank you for your interest in being an informed Collier County voter.

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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 or subscribe to posts by email at tinyurl.com/subscribe-to-soapbox.

News happens daily! Stay current with Sparker’s Soapbox on Facebook at fb.me/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.



Sunday, December 3, 2017

November 2017 Month in Review - State News

What did Florida's elected officials do last month in preparation for the 2018 legislative session that begins January 9th? What amendments is the Constitution Revision Commission considering for our November ballot? Have our local state representatives been in the paper lately? November's Month in Review shares some of the stories I found that address these questions.

As you read this post, consider what each bill, budget proposal or amendment says about its sponsor’s view of state government vs. local control, social policy or fiscal/tax policy. As informed voters, it is important to be aware of what’s being introduced and to let your representatives know if you do or don't agree and/or how you want them to vote.

Top stories - the Florida Legislature

In my last post about state news, I wrote that state senate and house committees had been meeting and legislators had begun filing bills ahead of the 2018 session and shared some of the early-filed bills that interested me. In this post, I’ll share reports on several more of the almost 2000 bills submitted to date.

This month, several articles were published about the controversial “Hope Scholarship” bill filed by Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples. It would allow public-school students to receive voucher-like scholarships to attend private schools if they have been bullied, harassed or subject to violence. (HB 1)

Supporters say it’s to help students who are victims of bullying. Critics say it’s more about expanding voucher programs, long one of the most-controversial education issues in Florida. News Service of Florida

Top stories - The governor’s budget proposal

Due to term limits, Gov. Scott cannot run for reelection next year. This month, he released his final budget proposal. Scott is widely expected to run for the U.S. Senate, challenging incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson. Treasure Coast Newspapers editorialized that “It's easy to be cynical about Gov. Rick Scott's final budget.”
The budget will likely not be finalized until the final days of the legislative session in March.

Top stories - Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission

Click here
The Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) is a group of 37 people appointed to review and recommend changes to the Florida Constitution. It’s one of five ways Florida can amend its constitution, and it only happens once every 20 years. Proposals it approves will be on our ballots next November. Learn more.

In all, 782 public proposals and 103 commissioner proposals were submitted for the Commission’s consideration. In last month’s post, I reviewed the CRC timetable and some of the then–40+ proposals that had been submitted by commissioners. Here’s my pick of November’s top stories:
Commissioner Erika Donalds’ views about the role of government are evidenced by the amendments she proposed and will become clearer when she votes on each proposal as it moves through the approval process.

Those views are relevant to Collier voters to the extent they shape her goals and actions as a School Board member. School Board members are elected by voters county-wide in non-partisan elections; the next School Board elections are in August 2018. Donalds’ current Board term ends next year; she has not yet filed for reelection.

Five of Donalds’ proposals, including those mentioned above, were included in last month’s post. These are her final three:
  • EDUCATION - P 45 -  specifies that no provision of the State Constitution may be construed to limit the Legislature from making provision for other educational services that are beneficial to the children and families of this state
  • EDUCATION - P 71 - specifies that the Legislature is authorized to enact general laws providing alternative processes to authorize the establishment of charter schools in the state
  • P 77 - a placeholder stating that the CRC intends to revise provisions in the Constitution’s Article VIII - Local Government
Other state news


It’s important to let your representatives know whether you agree or disagree with bills or proposals that will come before them and/or how you want them to vote. Find how to contact each of your representatives on the “Your Elected Officials” page of the Sparker's Soapbox website.

In my next post, I’ll report on November’s top local government and school district news.


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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 or subscribe to posts by email at tinyurl.com/subscribe-to-soapbox.

News happens daily! Stay current with Sparker’s Soapbox on Facebook at fb.me/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.