Thursday, February 1, 2018

Local News in Review - January 2018

Again in January, the Board of County Commissioners remained focused on how to plan for and manage the county’s exploding growth, pay for years of backlogged infrastructure repairs, and maintain our quality of life.

Its 4–1 vote to approve a tentative sales-tax plan was the most significant local news this month, so in this post, I’ll begin my review of local news with that.

Then, I’ll share news from the Naples and Marco Island City Councils and the Collier County schools and School Board.

But first, I’ll review some of the local government offices that will be on our ballot this year and the candidates running to-date.

As always, my hope is that by reading these monthly posts, you’ll be a more informed voter come Election Day.

The 2018 elections

Two seats on the Board of Collier County Commissioners will be on the ballot this year: District 2, currently held by Andy Solis, and District 4, currently held by Penny Taylor. Find your Commission District here. At this time, neither candidate has a challenger.

Three seats on the Collier County School Board will be on the ballot on August 28: District 1, currently held by Kelly Lichter; District 3, currently held by Erika Donalds, and District 5, currently held by Roy Terry. School Board elections are non-partisan and at-large, meaning all Collier voters vote for all Board seats, regardless of their party affiliation or where they live.

Of the School Board incumbents, only Roy Terry has filed to run for re-election. He is being challenged by Mary Ellen Cash. Cash is aligned with the Florida Citizens’ Alliance, last year objecting to “objectionable materials in curriculum,” claiming to have “witnessed students being taught evolution as a fact of creation rather than a theory.”

One School Board candidate has filed to run in District 1. As reported this month:

As reported previously, two candidates have filed to run in District 3: Jen Mitchell and Kathy Ryan.

Naples City Council elections are February 6. See my endorsements here. In the news this month:
The proposed one-cent county sales tax

It is now likely that a sales tax referendum will be on our November ballot. What projects will be funded with the revenue stream and what provisions will exist to convince the necessary 60 percent of Collier voters to vote for it must be finalized by June.
If you have views on the tax itself or how the funds should be prioritized, be sure to let your Commissioner know!

Other county news

Collier Schools and the School Board

Naples City Council
Marco Island City Council
That does it for January. Thanks for your interest in being an informed voter. See you next month!

Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can read Sparker’s Soapbox online at or subscribe to posts by email at

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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

State News in Review - January 2018

The Florida Legislature convened its 2018 session on January 9th, and much of this month’s state news concerned proposed bills and budget priorities. Since most proposals won’t make it to the finish line and the budget won’t be finalized until March, this month’s post focuses on non-legislative news Collier voters should be aware of.

But first, an update on the state of play regarding the candidates running for the offices that will be on our ballots this year! Primary elections will be on August 28; the General Election will be on November 6.

As a reminder, Florida is a closed primary state where only registered members of a party may vote in that party’s primary. I have been writing since 2011 about my “unorthodox suggestion” when it comes to party affiliation. See my posts herehere and, most recently, here. I continue to feel as I did then, and I hope you will consider it. Check and/or change your party affiliation with the Supervisor of Elections here.

U.S. Senate

Democrat Bill Nelson is seeking re-election to his fourth term as one of our U.S. senators. Gov. Rick Scott is widely expected to challenge him and if he does, the race is expected to be close. But “the increasingly grim outlook facing Republicans in the midterms has raised new questions about his political future,” as Scott faces GOP headwinds ahead of a potential Senate bid. The Hill


Collier County voters live in Congressional District 19 or 25. Find your District here.

In District 19, which includes western Collier County, Republican Francis Rooney is seeking a second term, and he is currently unchallenged. There won’t be a Republican primary unless another Republican files to run in the coming months. Democrats David Holden and Todd James Truax will face off in August.

In District 25, Republican Mario Diaz-Balart is seeking a ninth term. To-date, he has just one challenger, Democrat Alina Valdes. Unless that changes, there will be no primaries and the two will face off in a general election in November.


Rick Scott is term-limited so the governor’s race is wide-open.

The leading Republican candidate is Florida’s current, term-limited Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, but Congressman Ron DeSantis is rising in the polls since receiving endorsements from Donald Trump and Sean Hannity. Fifty percent of likely voters are undecided, according to a recent Florida Chamber poll.
Democratic frontrunners are former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, former Miami Beach Mayor Phil Levine, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. Sixty-four percent are undecided. Florida Chamber
August primary elections will decide the Republican and Democrat who will face off in November.

State Cabinet

Unlike the federal government, where the President appoints his Cabinet, Florida’s three Cabinet members — Attorney General, Commissioner of Agriculture and Chief Financial Officer — are independently elected. In recent news:

State Senate

Incumbent Republican Sen. Kathleen Passidomo is so far without a challenger to represent District 28, which includes all of Collier County. In 2016, Passidomo beat Matt Hudson in a Republican primary that was closed by the “write-in loophole.” There were no Democrat challengers.

State House

Collier County voters live in Florida House District 80, 106 or 105. Find your District here.

In District 80, Republican Byron Donalds is running for a second term. To-date, he has one challenger running with no party affiliation (NPA).

In District 106, Republican Bob Rommel is also running for a second term. To-date, he is challenged by Democrat Sara McFadden and an NPA.

In District 105, Carlos Trujillo is term-limited, so that seat is wide-open. To-date, Democrat Javier Estevez and Republicans David Rivera (who is being sued by the FEC) and Ana Maria Rodriguez have filed to run for the seat.

And now, some state news of note:

The 2017-18 Constitution Revision Commission

This month, CRC committees have been meeting to determine which proposed constitutional amendments to the Florida Constitution to put forward to the full Commission for a vote. The CRC’s work must be completed by May 10, after which I’ll share which amendments they have placed on our November ballot. My November and December 2017 posts explained the role of this important and powerful group that only meets every twenty years.

Collier School Board and CRC member Erika Donalds was mentioned several times in a Politico Florida article this month titled Secret talks among CRC members ‘just part of the process,' says Commissioner. The article described the CRC Education Committee’s failure to follow open meetings requirements that almost every commission in the state must meet. According to Donalds, “It’s just like the Legislature; we’re operating in a very similar manner.” But “It’s stunning they’re doing it … without even answering questions or providing any basis in law for (it),” said the First Amendment Foundation’s Barbara Petersen.


The environment

In the courts

Other state news

In my next post, I’ll report on January’s top stories in local government.


Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can read Sparker’s Soapbox online at or subscribe to posts by email at

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

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Get ready to vote for Naples City Council

February 6, 2018
Terry Hutchison, Mitchell Norgart, Linda Penniman and Gary Price are vying for three seats in the February 6, 2018, Naples City Council election. The nonpartisan, at-large election is open to registered voters who live in the City. For election logistics, click here. For City boundaries, click here.

In this post, I’ll share what I learned about the candidates through online research, and close with how I would vote if I were a City resident.

Terry Hutchison

Mr. Hutchison’s campaign slogan is “Principled and practical leadership. Common sense for our City, respect for our residents.” His priorities are “sound financial stewardship, management of growth for the benefit of our residents, protection of our City's environment, and improvements in our City's ethics policy." His website is at

A self-described self-made, successful businessman from humble beginnings, Hutchison was born to a single mother in Indiana who was forced to give him up for adoption when he was five years old. He was adopted by “a loving and devout family who instilled in him the values of integrity, loyalty, and perseverance.”

He attended Seminole State College in Oklahoma and initially worked in the petroleum industry before an industry shift in the 1980s led him eventually to being recruited into a management and marketing role with 7-Eleven.

In 2008, 7-Eleven sent Hutchison to southwest Florida to turn around what was an underperforming district.  In two years, he writes, he “revitalized the market in a first-ever transition from corporate-owned stores to franchise-owned stores.” And “the initiative resulted in 7-Eleven rising to the No. 3 spot in Entrepreneur Magazine's 31st Annual Franchise 500 and honoring Terry with its highest honor: Market Manager of the Year.”

In 2012, Hutchison, his wife Sherri and their two children moved to Naples and purchased a home in the Lake Park community. Now a 7-Eleven franchisee himself, he owns two stores in Naples, including the one at US Hwy 41 and Central Avenue. In 2015, he and other business owners opposed the two-laning of Central Avenue. He joined the Board of the Lake Park Neighborhood Association in 2017 and serves as its President.

Hutchison ran unsuccessfully for Naples City Council in 2016, coming in fifth out of six candidates for the three seats on the ballot. In a 2016 Naples Daily News Editorial Board interview, he said he did not support a proposed parking garage for Fifth Avenue, and that the City Dock should be a “self-funding asset.” In a 2017 Naples Daily News article about his current run for City Council, he said he “would have sided with the people of River Park” in opposing the 7-Eleven project near that low-income neighborhood. And he said that in the wake of Hurricane Irma, Council must consider reining in its capital spending on large projects such as the $20 million Baker Park. “I’m not convinced we’re where we need to be financially to handle that,” he said.

A search of Collier County court records revealed a recent suit against Hutchison by Physicians Regional Medical Center for a past-due amount of $5100. According to court documents, Hutchison promptly responded that he had tried and will try again to set up a “reasonable payment schedule.”

A search of Florida Division of Corporation records revealed Hutchison’s connection to two 7-Elevens and the Lake Park Neighborhood Association, for which he is the registered agent.

Hutchison has endorsements from City Council member Doug Finlay and community leaders Dolph von Arx, John Lehmann, Wynn Phillips, Linda Black, Bill Lutz, and the Board of Directors of the Old Naples Association.

Mitchell Norgart

Mr. Norgart’s campaign platform revolves around the health, safety, and welfare of city residents. He says he will focus on four key issues: sustainability, wise municipal planning, parking and traffic management, and continued cooperation between the City and County.

Norgart has a B.S. Psychology from the University of South Florida and has been a Naples resident for 40 years. He was appointed to the City’s design review board in June 2016 and says he wants to “help maintain its small town feel.” His campaign website is at and his Facebook page is here.

Norgart has been a licensed real estate broker in Florida since 1997, although the status of his license is “current/inactive” and his campaign website makes no reference to his being a realtor. According to a Gulf Coast Properties webpage, Norgart’s “career has spanned from executive positions with the Ritz-Carlton Hotels to managing new home sales at Collier's Reserve Country Club. He also managed his own, in-town boutique real estate brokerage firm specializing in 'west of 41' luxury residential construction, sales and listings.”

A County court records search revealed several lawsuits alleging Norgart’s failure to meet financial obligations. They include a mortgage foreclosure, tens of thousands of dollars in past-due credit card debt, a defaulted boat loan, and default on a lease at the location of the Naples on the Run retail store. For more on these matters, read Naples City Council candidate Mitch Norgart says bad economy led to his money problems published January 21, 2018, in the Naples Daily News.

Linda Penniman

Ms. Penniman was first elected to the Naples City Council in 2014 and currently serves as Vice Mayor. She is running for a second term.

Recently, Penniman voted against raising council and mayor salaries to $40,000 (+70 percent) and $50,000 (+ 67 percent), respectively, having first urged that the matter be put to voters as a ballot initiative. Last year, she filed a complaint with the state ethics panel against fellow council member Sam Saad; the complaint was recently dismissed.

Penniman’s campaign slogan is “Your Voice Matters.” Among her nine campaign initiatives are a focus on affordable workforce housing, continued opposition to the “4th and 4th” garage while seeking more downtown parking for residents, and improved financial management practices. Her campaign website is at, her City webpage is here and her Facebook page is here.

Penniman grew up in Springfield, IL and lived in St. Louis before moving to Naples in 1976. During her career, she was a fifth-grade teacher, a realtor, and in media industry sales. In Naples, she helped oversee area non-profits focused on philanthropy, education, good-governance, voter outreach and economic development. She participated in Greater Naples Leadership and has served on its Board, the City of Naples Planning Advisory Board, the Collier County Coastal Advisory Committee, and the Moorings Property Owners' Association Board. She currently serves on the Collier Citizens' Council, and recently chaired a forum on beach renourishment. She and her husband Nick have two children and five grandchildren.

According to County court records, Penniman is one of 17 defendants including other current and former Council members in a libel or slander suit filed in October 2017 by a former City of Naples fire chief.

Penniman has endorsements from fellow City Council member Doug Finlay and community leaders David and Jeanne Feight and John Lehmann, President - Old Naples Association.

Gary Price

Gary Price’s campaign slogan is “Proven. Principled. Proud to serve.” His platform for Naples includes proven and trusted leadership, financial stewardship, community engagement, preserving the character and culture of Naples, and community safety and security. In his “First 90 Days,” he says he will focus on community engagement, the proposed narrowing of U.S. 41, redevelopment projects, the pension deficit, and public safety.

His campaign website is, his Facebook page is here, and he’s @naplesbeach on Twitter.

Price is a 25-year veteran of the financial services industry. A partner with Fifth Avenue Advisors, he manages wealth and real estate assets for a small number of local families, and handles business mergers and acquisitions.

Price has a B.S.B.A. in Finance and Real Estate from Ohio State University and is a Certified Trust Financial Advisor.

He and his wife Kim moved to Naples in 1999 and have two children. He has served as Chair of the City of Naples Planning Advisory Board, the Naples Community Redevelopment Agency and the Collier County Metropolitan Planning Organization.

In addition, he served on the Naples City Council from 2005 - 2014, including two years as Vice Mayor. During that time, he helped oversee plans for the City’s Baker Park, which he said “broke down after the council mismanaged its fundraising effort and a round of public charrettes.”

He says that while he was Chair of the Naples Pension Board (2008-2016), the performance of the Naples pension was among the best in the state. He led Naples’ pension reform efforts, saving the City and taxpayers more than $160,000,000 over 30 years. He recently said that as a council member, he would urge setting aside money each year to pay off the City’s $48 million unfunded pension liability.

He currently serves as Chair of the State of Florida’s Participant Local Government Advisory Council, which helps oversee the management of $8+ billion in public funds, and on the Naples Planning Advisory Board, to which he was reappointed in 2016.

As a candidate for state Senate in 2015, Price said he was “a true conservative” who wanted to focus on “fiscal discipline, local control of education, and children services and elder care reform.” He also said that “money set aside for Amendment 1 has not been allocated according to the wishes of the Florida people,” and in the same article, “noted with pride that he was the only City Council member to vote against a pay increase.” He ended his candidacy for the Senate, citing his son’s health issues.

Campaign Finance

Campaign finance reports as of the date of this post show:

How I would vote

Hutchison, Penniman and Price would have my vote. All three have demonstrated a commitment to community service and conservative financial management. I like the positions each has expressed on issues facing the City, and their desire for more community input before decision-making. With this research behind me, I could very comfortably cast my ballot.


Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can read Sparker’s Soapbox online at or subscribe to posts by email at

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

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.


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.”


Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can read Sparker’s Soapbox online at or subscribe to posts by email at

News happens daily! Stay current with Sparker’s Soapbox on Facebook at 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.”


Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can read Sparker’s Soapbox online at or subscribe to posts by email at

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