Sunday, November 5, 2017

October 2017 Month in Review - Local News

October's county, city, and school district news was again dominated by recovery efforts after Hurricane Irma. But there was also coverage of our elected officials' efforts to address ongoing challenges of the environment, health and human services, economic development, and school board and district operations.

Top stories - Hurricane Irma recovery


Top stories - environmental challenges


Top stories - Health and human services


Top stories - City of Naples


Top stories - Collier Schools


Top stories - other news


Did you know?

I've been writing Sparker's Soapbox with the goal of helping inform Collier voters since May 2014! The current Month in Review series began in May 2017. You can read and search past issues in the Blog Archive on my website, www.sparkers-soapbox.com. There you will also find a page on how to find your elected officials (here) as well as a page with links to the websites of the elected bodies that represent Collier voters (here).

Finally, in case you missed them, here are links to my three most recent posts:
Thank you for your interest in being an informed Collier County voter.

___________________________

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.

Monday, October 30, 2017

October 2017 Month in Review - State News


This month, with little fanfare or publicity, online voter registration became available in Florida. County elections supervisors lobbied for it for years, and the Florida legislature approved it two years ago, wrote the Tampa Bay Times.

To me, that’s the most important state news of the month, as it should make it easier for people to register to vote and keep their registration current. New registrations and changes to name, address and party affiliation can be made on the state site here, or through the Collier Supervisor of Elections at colliervotes.com.

Getting to work in Tallahassee

In October, committees began meeting and legislators began filing bills for the 2018 legislative session that begins in January.

Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, who represents Collier County, chairs the powerful Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Pre-K - 12 Education. She is also Vice Chair of the Senate Health Policy Committee.

In the House, Rep. Bob Rommel, who represents western Collier, is Vice Chair of the Oversight, Transparency & Administration SubcommitteeRep. Byron Donalds, who represents central Collier and Hendry County, is Vice Chair of the PreK–12 Appropriations Subcommittee. And Rep. Carlos Trujillo, who represents eastern Collier and parts of Broward and Miami-Dade counties, chairs the powerful Appropriations Committee and is Alternating Chair of the Joint Legislative Budget Commission 

To date, over 600 bills have been submitted in the House and Senate; the filing deadline is January 9. More than 3,000 bills were submitted last year.

Here are some stories about bills that interest me.


Getting to work in the 2017–18 Florida Constitution Revision Commission

Click here
Every 20 years in Florida, a Constitution Revision Commission is appointed. It meets for approximately one year, traveling across the state, identifying issues, performing research and possibly recommending changes to the Florida Constitution. It holds public hearings to learn about issues that matter to Floridians and considers proposed constitutional amendments submitted by the public and by commissioners.

Over 2,000 public proposals were submitted to the 2017–18 CRC by the deadline of October 6; list here.

Out of the 2,000-plus ideas, the commission agreed to “sponsor” (i.e. consider further) only six (list here) — an acceptance rate of .3 percent. The League of Women Voters of Florida and 10 other organizations protested this result in a letter to the CRC Chairman and Commission members:

(You) issued a stunning rejection of the thousands of Floridians who invested considerable time and effort to share their ideas and draft proposals for improving their constitution…. (T)his commission’s actions are brazenly dismissive of the concerns and suggestions of Floridians.  


October 31 is the deadline for commissioners to submit their own proposals. Over 40 were submitted through October 28; list here. Of note:


Also of note: CRC Commissioner Erika Donalds, a Collier County School Board member who is married to Rep. Byron Donalds, submitted five proposed amendments. They are:


Call to action: If there is a proposed amendment that you do not want to see moved forward to the 2018 ballot, let your voice be heard! The CRC will consider public input on proposals prior to their final vote. You can email Commissioners directly here.

Other top stories


An important exposé

Click here

In my next post, I’ll report on October’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.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Ill-prepared for Hurricane Irma?

Florida was ill-prepared for a major hurricane, audit warned,” is the title of a recent article in the Tampa Bay Times. It began:

Long before Florida entered the deadliest hurricane season in a decade, auditors at the state’s Division of Emergency Management sent out a warning: the state was ill-prepared for a major disaster.

A 23-page annual audit  completed in December 2016 by the agency’s inspector general detailed a lengthy list of deficiencies needed to prepare and respond to a hurricane. Among them:


  • Food and water supplies at the distribution center in Orlando were inadequate.
  • Contracts with companies that would supply cots to shelters had expired.
  • The agreements many trucking companies had signed with the state’s emergency management agency to distribute supplies had lapsed.
  • The agency was using “a spreadsheet created in the 1980s to help predict the amount of supplies and equipment that may be needed after a storm makes landfall,” as the state’s giant storage facility remained half empty.

What’s worse, auditors warned, the state’s emergency managers didn’t know what they didn’t know.

"Action is needed to determine the requirements of the state for supplies and equipment in the event of a disaster in order to ensure that adequate types and quantities of disaster supplies and equipment are available, inspectors said.

The report concluded: “The division’s ability to respond to disasters may be impaired.”

In doing research for this post, I discovered that the same day the article was published, the state Department of Emergency Management (DEM) issued a press release titled “Times/Herald Mischaracterizes Readers On State Hurricane Preparedness.” It said the audit was one of several “internal reviews” commissioned by the Department that year “to assess and improve our organization’s abilities,” and that in the months since, “the Division has made tremendous strides in advancing its capabilities with regards to leadership, personnel and processes, and will continue to improve our service to Floridians.”

Further, according to the release:

“At no point before, during or after Hurricane Irma’s impact were any unmet needs expressed by county emergency managers or county leaders in all of Florida’s 67 counties. In fact, resource needs were met in such a robust fashion that many counties were able to return large quantities of these items to both FEMA and the State of Florida – a testament to the effective response coordinated by the State Emergency Response Team.”

So -- was the state ill-prepared for Hurricane Irma as the article suggested, or did the Times/Herald mischaracterize the situation, as the DEM claimed?

The truth is undoubtedly somewhere in between. “No one can say if the shortages of supplies and the expired contracts hampered the ability of emergency managers to prepare Florida for Hurricane Irma or delayed its recovery,” said the article. “However, in the days leading up to the storm, there were anecdotal accounts of supply shortages and transportation lapses.”

The December 2016 audit report made four specific recommendations to DEM:

  1. Conduct an analysis to ascertain the requirements of the state for supplies and equipment of all kinds needed during a disaster;
  2. Develop standards for the types and quantities of supplies and equipment the Division will have available in the event of a disaster;
  3. Identify and implement the most efficient and effective method for ensuring the availability of supplies and equipment needed during a disaster; and
  4. Renew, replace, or modify contracts to ensure that the Division’s current logistics plan can be executed in the event of a disaster. These contracts should be reevaluated after the Division conducts an analysis to ascertain the requirements of the state for supplies and equipment of all kinds needed during a disaster.

DEM said it concurred with the report and outlined how it planned to address each of the findings. It said it estimated completion of the analysis called for by December 31, 2017, and that it would address the other findings by March 31, 2018.

If it does, Florida should be much better prepared for the next hurricanes that challenge our state.

Take a few minutes to email Gov.Scott and let him know you’ll be watching.

___________________________

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.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Know your representatives

Recently I learned how to access in one place information I used to struggle through multiple web searches to find: the names, district numbers and contact information of my elected officials across all levels of government.

It's available through the Collier Supervisor of Elections website, but it's not very easy to find. Here's how:

Go to www.colliervotes.com/sample-ballots and enter your last name, your birth date and your house number:

www.colliervotes.com/sample-ballots

After you click “Submit,” a web page like the one below will open. The light-blue box at the top contains your voter registration and sample ballot information. While you're there, make sure everything is correct, or click where indicated to make changes.

In the middle of the box, click “Office Holders.”

your voter registration and sample ballot information

A web page like the one below will open. It will list the elected officials whose districts contain your street address:

the office holders that represent you

If you click an office holder's name, you will be taken to her/his website.

Take a few minutes and check this out! It's a great way to find out or confirm who represents you.

Every person listed is your representative. Know who they are so you can hold them accountable. Let your voice be heard.

___________________________

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.


Monday, October 2, 2017

September 2017 Month in Review - Local News

As at the state level, Hurricane Irma dominated September’s news related to our county and municipal governments and school district, and there is much to report. But I'd like to begin with this quote from Friday’s Naples Daily News editorial:
There will be a time to constructively dissect the Irma preparation and post-storm response. Now is too soon. Monday morning quarterbacks will best serve our community if they wait on the sidelines for more fact-finding.

In this post, I share the news as reported, and without comment. As you read this post, please consider each story from the perspective of the elected officials responsible. If you were they, would you have done anything differently? What facts would you be seeking in order to decide what to do next?

If ever there was an opportunity to see and evaluate your government in action, it was during Hurricane Irma. If you have comments, questions or suggestions about any of last month’s events, I encourage you to share them with your elected officials.

As a reminder, these are the local governing bodies that were/are responsible for providing services to our community:

Collier County Emergency Services Center
8075 Lely Cultural Parkway, Naples 
The Board of County Commissioners — Their appointed County Manager and his organization (CMO) are responsible for the day-to-day operations of county government. As relates to Hurricane Irma, the Bureau of Emergency Services Division and the Public Utilities Department are part of the CMO. (Organization chart )

The Collier County Sheriff - The Sheriff and his staff are responsible, on a day-to-day basis, for “preserving and protecting the lives, property and constitutional guarantees of all persons.”

The  City of Naples City Council, City of Marco Island City Council and City of Everglades City City Council and their respective City managers and staffs are responsible for providing services and protecting their municipalities. (Ironically, Everglades City’s mayor of 22 years resigned over problems with the City’s sewer plant just days before Hurricane Irma wreaked its havoc.)

The Collier County Public School Board — The School Board’s appointed superintendent and her staff provided hurricane-protected shelters for community members who evacuated their homes due to the predicted storm surge.

The stories, editorials, and commentaries noted below link to the Naples Daily News unless otherwise noted.

Top stories: Hurricane Irma


 Top editorials and commentaries - Hurricane Irma


Top stories: Collier County


Top stories and commentaries: City of Naples


Top stories: Collier County Public Schools


Looking ahead: ways to help

As mentioned above, there is still great human need in areas within our own community, and there are many ways to help. I close this post with just a few:

  • Volunteer your time to help victims of Hurricane Irma in Collier County via VollunteerCollier.com/irma.
  • Purchase needed items from the United Way of Collier County’s Amazon Wish List for Hurricane Irma Victims. The items you order will be shipped to the United Way, which will get them delivered to areas that need them the most.
  • Make a tax-deductible donation to the Collier Comes Together Disaster Relief Fund, established to provide assistance to Hurricane Irma victims and their families. You can designate a geographic area (e.g. Marco Island, Immokalee, Golden Gate), purpose (e.g. food, housing) or nonprofit to benefit.

Thank you for wanting to be an informed voter and for making a difference in our community.

___________________________

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.

Friday, September 29, 2017

September 2017 Month in Review - State News

By far, the top story in state government this month was Hurricane Irma, which made landfall in the Florida Keys on Sunday, September 10, as a Category 4 storm with 130 mph winds. By all accounts (here’s one), its wind speed and evacuations were orders of magnitude worse than some of the biggest hurricanes in recent decades.

As one who experienced it first-hand, I think Gov. Rick Scott deserves praise for his decisive leadership and the state’s overall response before, during and after the event.

I’ll begin this post with a review of the Governor’s actions related to the hurricane. Then I’ll share some top stories, editorials, and commentaries.

Gov. Scott’s leadership during Hurricane Irma

On Monday, September 4, Gov. Scott declared a state of emergency for all 67 Florida counties.

The next day, he asked President Trump to declare a “pre-landfall emergency” for the state to “provide important resources and assistance from the federal government” and “free up funding sources for emergency protective measures such as shoring up beach dunes, building emergency berms and planning for potential evacuations.”

He also activated the National Guard to assist with Irma preparedness, directed the suspension of tolls across the state to speed up evacuation, and ordered state offices to be closed Friday, encouraging state employees to volunteer to support the state’s emergency shelter mobilization efforts. He also began issuing daily Irma updates. In a news conference in North Naples, he urged Floridians to “prepare for the worst.”

On Thursday, September 7, he ordered all public schools, state colleges and universities, and state offices to close from  Friday through Monday, “to ensure we have every space available for sheltering and staging.” He also announced actions being taken to get more fuel to gas stations, and activated the state’s Disaster Fund to support individuals impacted by the Hurricane.

With the storm track making it clear that Florida’s west coast was in the line of the storm, on Friday, September 8, he urged those in evacuation zones along coastal counties from Manatee to Collier to be prepared to locate to the closest available shelter within their counties if they did not evacuate by noon the next day. I remember it well. The evacuation zone was extended as far east as Airport-Pulling Road in some areas!

On September 10, as Irma made landfall in the Lower Keys, Scott asked President Trump for and received, a Major Disaster Declaration for every county in Florida. This authorized federal funding to flow directly to Floridians impacted by Hurricane Irma, including families in Collier County. It also authorized federal reimbursement to local communities and the state government for emergency protective measures and debris removal.

Scott also publicly shared the “incredible outpouring of support” that had been deployed to Florida from twenty-eight states and Washington D.C. to aid in the response and recovery.

The Governor’s leadership continued as recovery began. On September 18, he directed every county impacted by Irma to “aggressively prioritize debris clean-up, and on the 19th, he directed VISIT FLORIDA to “launch an aggressive new marketing campaign to highlight Florida following Hurricane Irma.”

On September 20, Scott announced that the state was awarded “federal Dislocated Worker Grants to provide temporary employment to Floridians affected” by the hurricane. On the 25th, he activated 400 National Guard members to help with residential debris removal in Monroe County and directed the Florida Dept of Emergency Management to expedite delivery of tarps for patching roofs.

Read more on the Governor’s website at flgov.com.

While the Governor’s leadership was commendable, the hurricane made apparent several issues that our state government must address in the months ahead. And there was some non-Irma related state news this month, as well. Here are some articles of note:

Top stories - Irma

  • Widespread shelter problems during Irma raise questions about Florida’s readiness. A 2016 Division of Emergency Management report said Florida has safe emergency shelter capacity for about 960,000 evacuees. At least 5.6 million Floridians were ordered to evacuate during Irma, though only 5 percent to 10 percent of evacuees typically go to public shelters. Tampa Bay Times
  • Florida’s bridges vulnerable to damage from hurricanes. Although Florida has one of the best inspection records in the country, thousands of bridges, some of them crucial arteries, are still considered vulnerable to a strong hurricane’s storm surge and winds. Naples Daily News
  • Eight Dead From Sweltering Nursing Home as Florida Struggles After Irma. Florida requires nursing homes to ensure emergency power in a disaster as well as food, water, staffing and 72 hours of supplies. NYTimes

    • Related: Nursing Home Deaths Prompt New Rules by Florida Governor. NYTimes
    • Related: 11th resident of South Florida nursing home dies; another lawsuit filed. Naples Daily News
    • Related:  Florida governor’s office deleted critical messages related to post-hurricane nursing home deaths. Washington Post
    • Related:  Governor responds to controversy over deleted nursing home voicemails. WPBF News
  • Gwen Graham accurately says Florida’s coastal and stormwater infrastructure not prepared for climate change. The Democratic candidate for governor is citing a report card given out by the oldest engineering society in the country. Politifact Florida
  • Rick Scott’s hurricane response boosts potential Senate run. His preparedness has impressed Republicans and some Democrats, all of whom have long expected Scott to challenge incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson next year. The Hill

Top stories - other news

  • Repeal of Florida’s tax on services reverberates, 30 years later. Florida won’t collect enough tax revenue over the next three years to pay its mounting bills – especially for Medicaid, which now consumes nearly one-third of the state’s budget. The future could mean cuts to schools, hospitals and treatment programs, fewer state workers, and higher fees for services. Tampa Bay Times
  • Education leaders seek $21.4 billion for schools next year. The Florida Board of Education approved a 2018–19 budget request that includes a $200 per-student boost in the K–12 system, increased funding for the 28 state colleges and construction money for public schools, colleges, and universities.  Orlando Sentinel 
  • Deadline for public to submit amendments to state Constitution extended to Oct. 6. The deadline was extended because commissioners wanted to give more time after Hurricane Irma blew through the state. Miami Herald 

  • Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection seeks $50 million to revive Florida Forever conservation program. Its 2018–19 budget proposals also include $50 million for programs to improve water quality and drinking water quantity, and $50 million to support state parks. Gov. Scott will propose his 2018–19 budget later this year, with the 60-day regular session beginning in January. Orlando Sentinel
  • Gov. Scott calls for $50 million and new legislation to fight opioid abuse. The proposal, which includes a three-day limit on initial prescriptions for opioids, will be one of his top priorities in the upcoming legislative session. Sun Sentinel
  • Army Corps of Engineers will commit to, expedite Lake Okeechobee southern reservoir, after twice asking for more time to commit. Before it can break ground on the reservoir, it has to complete a study, which was originally planned to launch in 2020. TCPalm
  • Lee County approves deal to buy Edison Farms conservation land, whose water retention capacity benefits the entire region in times of flooding. The nearly 4,000 acres will be preserved, after decades in which scenarios for its future included an interstate interchange, being drained for development of 3,000 or more housing units, a spring training baseball park, or the route for a  new north-south thoroughfare through Lee County. News-Press
  • Nonprofit group files records request for info about Florida online voter registration. With this month’s implementation deadline, the group wants to make sure the online voter registration system will handle the flurry of registration that can happen before an election deadline. Tampa Bay Times
  • Bonuses based on teacher test scores violate civil rights, lawsuit alleges. Seven teachers from South Florida are joining the Florida Education Association in suing the state over its Best and Brightest teacher bonus program, which ties bonuses to teachers’ college entrance exam scores. Tampa Bay Times

Top editorials and commentaries

  • Editorial: State lawmakers must act to protect vulnerable residents from natural disasters. As we’ve learned in the aftermath of Irma, there are serious shortcomings in what the state requires of nursing homes and senior-living facilities. Treasure Coast Newspapers via Naples Daily News
  • Commentary: Post-Irma, conservation agenda more vital than ever. Collier County commissioners [should] revive the Conservation Collier program and move forward with a Conservation Collier-specific referendum for the public to approve in fall 2018. In addition, our local elected state representatives should take a leadership role in implementing Amendment 1. By Rob Moher, President and CEO - Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Naples Daily News
  • Commentary: Stop exploitation of insurance system where it starts. When a major storm hits our state, many distressed homeowners will turn over their insurance policy benefits to a lawyer, roofer or contractor who offers the hope of a better settlement. Sens. Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples) and Dorothy Hukill (R-Port Orange) have co-sponsored a bill that … limits the ability of attorneys and contractors to squeeze the most dollars out of a claim solely for their benefit. By Jason Wolf, partner - Koch Parafinczuk Wolf Susen, Fort Lauderdale, Sun Sentinel

Stay tuned for my next post, where I’ll report on September’s local Irma-related efforts and other top local government and school district news.

___________________________

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.