Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Who’s Running for School Board in the August Primaries?

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August 28, 2018
Primary Elections in Florida
Four years ago, just 18 percent of eligible voters voted in the August School Board elections. Two Board members were elected with the votes of half of them. One beat her nearest opponent in a three-way race by just over 5100 votes; the other beat his only opponent by just over 4100 votes. In all elections, but especially our School Board primaries, voter turnout determines the outcome.

Whether or not you have children or grandchildren in Collier schools, your vote in the School Board elections is important. Among other things, the Board is responsible for hiring, evaluating and firing the Superintendent, who is the CEO of an almost $1 billion enterprise responsible for the education of 49,000 students.

As has received much recent attention, the School Board is also responsible for approving the District’s selection of instructional materials to be used in the classrooms. See, for example, Evolution, climate change skeptics lose battle over Collier science textbooks (Naples Daily News, 6/19/18). The Board adopted the District’s recommended science textbooks by a vote of 3-2.

Community members as well as Board members disagree on these and other matters, so it’s important to know where candidates stand and to cast informed votes.

Collier’s School Board is elected in at-large (county-wide) elections. Voters elect all five Board members regardless of where in the county they live. While the elections are at-large, each board member must live in the district s/he represents. Elections are nonpartisan, meaning candidates don’t declare their party affiliation, and there are no closed party primaries.

Jory Westberry
Board members serve staggered four-year terms, and there are no term limits. The position pays $39,815, set annually by state law taking into consideration the county’s population.

In 2018, the District 1, 3 and 5 seats are up for election, but in District 1 only one person — Jory Westberry ( — is running. She will automatically take the seat that will be vacated in November by Kelly Lichter, who chose not to run for a second term.

The District 3 and 5 seats will be on every Collier voter’s ballot.

District 3 - Jen Mitchell vs. Kathy Ryan

Jen Mitchell
Jen Mitchell ( is a 20-year Collier County resident, realtor, and mother of four all of whom attend or have attended Collier County Public Schools (CCPS). She has a BA from Purdue University in Elementary Education, and taught at Naples Park Elementary for a year. As a self-described “stay-at-home mom,” she spent 14 years as an active school volunteer. She served on the Superintendent’s District Advisory Council and in Champions for Learning’s Connect Now Project, a series of workshops that led to what became the CCPS Strategic Plan. In 2014, she became a realtor with Domain Realty Group of Southwest Florida.

Mitchell says, “My role as a local businesswoman, combined with my years as a parent and CCPS volunteer, ((have)) heightened my understanding of the importance of great public schools.” Her reasons for running include a desire “to correct what I believe is a false narrative being written by a small but vocal minority. The sky is NOT falling, our schools are NOT failing…. CCPS is … by no means perfect … but we have excellent educators and administrators … working hard to meet and overcome the District’s challenges to give our students the best possible education.”

Kathy Ryan
Kathy Ryan (Facebook Page) is a retired professional educator. She has a BA in Social Science and an MA in Counseling from Michigan State University. She moved to Southwest Florida 48 years ago, taking a job as a counselor at Immokalee Middle School and completing a Doctorate in Educational Administration. She ultimately spent 30 years with CCPS, as a teacher, counselor, and administrator. In retirement, she volunteers with students through the High School and Middle School Scholar Bowl Programs, High School Mock Trial, Know Your County Government, and Middle School and High School Debate. She also serves on the Naples Council on World Affairs Outreach Committee, interviewing high school juniors for scholarships for summer travel abroad, and served on several textbook selection committees last year. Her Facebook page includes a more complete list of her work history and awards.

Because she studied Florida school law and finance in her doctoral program, Ryan says she will be a productive Board Member “from day one.” She says, “I deeply care about our public schools, and my job is not done. Working as a teacher, counselor, and administrator, it is clear to me that the role of public education is to prepare future generations to fulfill their potential and prepare them for satisfying and productive lives as adults. Currently, public education is under attack, and I hope to stem that tide.”

Contributions to District 3 candidates to-date (via Collier Supervisor of Elections):

The winner will be decided in August since there are only two people running.

District 5 - Darlene Alvarez vs. Mary Ellen Cash vs. Roy Terry

Darlene Alvarez
Darlene Alvarez ( is a sales consultant at payroll company Paychex, an adjunct marketing professor at Keiser University in Fort Myers and a mother of four, all of whom attend or have attended CCPS. She has a BA in Criminal Justice from Old Dominion University, a Masters in Management and Human Resources from the University of Maryland and a certificate in Human Resource Management (the latter two having been earned while her children were in school), and is currently working on a Doctorate in Business Management and Marketing at Capella University. She has lived in Naples for 18 years.

Alvarez says her decision to run for school board grew out of an awareness that “there are not enough candidates to fill the gap of employees that need to be hired,” and that she wants to create a stronger connection between Collier graduates and local businesses. She supports “a career minded curriculum, workforce ready electives, strong business outreach programs with internship programs, collaboration with teachers and community educators, advanced placement of college courses, vocational and career-technical courses.” Her “goal as school board member is to promote collaboration with teachers, parents, administrators, and Collier businesses.”

Mary Ellen Cash
Mary Ellen Cash ( is a 15-year Collier resident and retired professional educator. She has a BS in Business from the University of Maryland, an MA in Counseling from the University of Central Florida, and professional certifications in English as a Second Language, Spanish and Counseling. During her 23-year career, she taught in Department of Defense schools in Europe, Muscogee County Public Schools in Columbus, GA, and the inner city schools of Orleans Parish, LA. She is fluent in Spanish and speaks French. 

According to her website, Cash serves as a Teacher on Special Assignment (TSA) for the Federal & State Grants Department, and engaged in the Migrant Education Program, Take Stock in Children, College Reach Out Program, Scholar’s Club and the Collier County Education Foundation’s Partners in Education. 

As mentioned above, approval of instructional materials is one of the responsibilities of Florida School Boards. (See also here.) In a February 2017 affidavit posted on the Florida Citizens Alliance website, Cash expressed several concerns about CCPS operations. Regarding the instructional materials used in the District, she wrote, “I have witnessed students being taught evolution as a fact of creation rather than a theory …. I have witnessed children being taught that Global Warming is a reality…. There is a liberal agenda being taught in our schools…..”

Cash says her priorities as a School Board member would be school safety, competency-based curriculum, teacher and administrative retention, and training and fiscal responsibility.

Roy Terry
Roy Terry ( is the current CCPS School Board Chairman. He has a BS from Western Maryland College (McDaniel College) and a Masters in Education from Colorado State University.

For the past 39 years (32 in Collier County), he has been a teacher, coach, athletic director, assistant principal, principal and School Board member. He retired from CCPS in 2009, was elected to the School Board in 2010, and was reelected in 2014. Now running for a third term, he said in a recent candidate forum that is running in part to ensure continuity on an otherwise relatively-new School Board, and says this would be his last term on the Board.

He has served on the boards of YMCA of Collier County, Collier County Education Foundation, South Florida Center for Educational Leadership and as the District 6 Representative to the Florida School Boards Association. He has also contributed as Chairman for the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, Past President for Naples Babe Ruth Baseball, Founder and President for Collier County Coaches Association and Past President for the Rotary of Immokalee, where he is currently an active member.

He was recently credited by the Naples Daily News for gaining unanimous School Board support for his proposal to allocate to Marco Island Academy Charter School $1.26 million of the expected proceeds from the District’s sale of its 11.5-acre Tract K. If reelected, Terry wants to formulate a plan to provide affordable housing for the county’s teachers and police force.

Contributions to District 5 candidates to-date (via Collier Supervisor of Elections):

A review of contributions to the 2018 School Board candidates noted one by a sitting by sitting Board member: $250 on 6/27/18 to District 5 candidate Cash by outgoing District 3 member Erika Donalds.  Full disclosure: I have personally contributed to the campaigns of Jen Mitchell and Roy Terry.

Unless one candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote in August, the top two vote-getters will face off in November.

Meet the candidates

There are two upcoming opportunities to meet and hear from School Board candidates before the elections:

  • Monday, July 30, 5:30 - 8:00 PM - Candidate Town Hall - NABOR Conference Center, 1455 Pine Ridge Road, Naples, FL (Sponsored by Naples Area Board of Realtors (NABOR))
  • Tuesday, July 31, 4:30 PM - Politics in the Park Old-Fashioned Political Rally and Straw Vote - Naples Conference Center, 1455 Pine Ridge Road, Naples, FL (Sponsored by Naples Daily News, NABOR, CBIA, The Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, Florida Weekly, 2.10 Home Buyers Warranty)

For more on the August primaries, stay tuned for my next "Get Ready to Vote" post, and catch up on what you missed:


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, July 4, 2018

State News in Review - June 2018

With the Legislature out of session and the August primaries fast approaching, June’s news included several concerning reports about failures of government, some good news (for a change) and some interesting revelations about both elected officials and candidates for office.

Top stories

  • Audit: Florida failed to complete gun background checks on more than 100,000 applicants. The matter was identified in 2017, and full background checks were completed, resulting in 291 gun permits revoked. Naples Daily News, 6/8/18
  • 'Millions of dollars of wasteful spending.' The governor’s post-Irma emergency contracts cost taxpayers an additional $28 million to $30 million, according to an analysis by CBS4 News. Miami-Herald, 6/30/18
  • Judge sides with environmental groups in dispute over use of Amendment 1 funds. Striking a blow to the Legislature, he said state lawmakers failed to comply with a voter-approved constitutional amendment to buy and preserve environmentally sensitive lands. News Service of Florida via Tallahassee Democrat, 6/15/18
  • Billionaire Democrat Jeff Greene joins mostly millionaires in Florida governor’s race. Like term-limited Gov. Rick Scott, who spent $86 million of his own money in twice winning the governor’s office, Greene plans to spend plenty of his own $3.3 billion fortune. Herald Tribune, 6/20/18

Good news (for a change)

  • Florida gets high marks for handling of state finances. Moody’s Investors Service upgraded the state’s bond rating to AAA, which means Florida will pay lower interest payments when it borrows money. It’s the first time all three major rating agencies have assigned the state their highest ratings. Associated Press, 6/23/18
  • Federal government OKs Florida’s request for $19.2 million in election security money. The request was quickly approved after Gov. Scott overruled Sec. of State Ken Detzner’s initial decision not to apply. Sun Sentinel, 6/4/18
  • U.S. Supreme Court sides with Florida in decades-long dispute. The case pits Georgia's growing thirst for water to fuel metro Atlanta's growth and the state’s multibillion-dollar agriculture industry against Florida's need for fresh water to preserve the fragile ecology of the Apalachicola Bay. USA Today, 6/27/18

Public education in Florida

  • Florida rates poorly in per-student funding in new Education Week report. The well-regarded national rating of state education systems found that only 0.1 percent of Florida students are in districts where spending reaches or exceeds the national benchmark. Tampa Bay Times and Education Week, 6/6/18
  • Florida is one of 30 states whose average teacher salary is below the living wage. Since the 2008 recession, per-pupil funding and real teacher salaries, both adjusted for inflation, have declined in most states. Education Week, 6/14/18
  • Related: Florida teachers union seeks politicians’ pledge on support for teacher pay hikes. Palm Beach Post, 6/26/18
  • Teachers, unions sue state over new “union busting” law, which requires unions to have half of all eligible participants become paying members or face loss of their collective bargaining role. Lawmakers applied the new rule only to teacher organizations, and not to any other public employee groups. Tampa Bay Times, 7/2/18
  • Commentary: Florida’s schools engaged in double standard of epic proportions. It is pushing private and charter schools as being more innovative and parent-friendly, while at the same time handcuffing traditional public schools with more and more onerous regulations. By John Romano, Columnist, Tampa Bay Times, 6/5/18

Lake Okeechobee and the health of the Everglades

  • Everglades reservoir that would help Caloosahatchee discharges may be in jeopardy. Army Corps says Lake O reservoir might not meet cleanup goals. News-Press and TCPalm, 6/6/18
  • Gov. Scott issues emergency order for Lake O releases. Water from the lake and rainfall within the Caloosahatchee watershed are causing water quality issues in the river's estuary. News-Press, 6/20/18
  • U.S. Rep Francis Rooney, Republican candidate, Florida House District 19: Update on Lake Okeechobee and Herbert Hoover Dike. Via Naples Daily News, 6/1/18
  • David Holden, Democratic candidate, Florida House District 19: Facing the future of the Everglades, together. Via Naples Daily News, 6/21/18
  • Todd James Truax, Democratic candidate, Florida House District 19: 10 steps forward on Everglades restoration. Via Naples Daily News, 6/22/18

The primary election race for governor

  • Who is writing the checks? Here are the Top 5 donors to each candidate for governor. From national advocacy groups to hedge fund managers to local real estate tycoons, lots of big donors have placed their bets in the race for Florida governor. Miami-Herald, 6/21/18

Republican candidates (Ron DeSantis, Adam Putnam)

  • Florida's GOP gubernatorial hopefuls loyal to their pro-NRA records of expanding rights. Both want to address gun violence in schools by bolstering school security and mental health services. Naples Daily News, 6/9/18
  • Trump tweets full endorsement of Ron DeSantis. Miami-Herald, 6/22/18
  • Sean Hannity endorses Ron DeSantis at Lee County event. WINK News, 7/2/18
  • DeSantis picks up key endorsement from incoming Florida House Speaker Jose Oliva. Tampa Bay Times, 6/27/18
  • The Florida Retail Federation, a lobbying group funded almost entirely by Publix, gave $100K to Adam Putnam just six days after Publix said they would suspend political donations. Orlando Weekly, 6/8/18
  • Sugar industry aims to influence Florida governor's race with donations to Adam Putnam. Treasure Coast Newspapers, 6/6/18

Democratic candidates (Andrew Gillam, Gwen Graham, Jeff Greene, Chris King, Philip Levine)

  • Democrats see gun control as a tipping point in 2018 election. All four Democrat candidates for governor (pre-Greene’s entry) agree on at least seven ideas backed by groups seeking to change gun laws. Tallahassee Democrat, 6/9/18; for Greene on gun control, see 6/25/18 interview here
  • Decriminalize or legalize? Gwen Graham breaks with other candidates on pot. She is the lone Democrat candidate who supports decriminalization — civil citations for personal pot use. Tallahassee Democrat, 6/1/18
  • Jeff Greene preparing to launch Governor’s race ad blitz, with education on his mind. He calls for mandatory preschool education and suggests taxing the “super rich” to fund arts, humanities, technical education and free community college., 6/17/18
  • Chris King proposes bullet tax for school violence prevention program. His criminal justice reform plan would fund gun violence prevention and intervention programs, school safety measures, and other related measures., 6/1/18
  • With a credible poll showing Philip Levine leading the field by 16 points, who has the resources to topple him? Tampa Bay Times, 6/8/18 (Note: apparently written before Greene entered the race.)

Other election news

  • A look at Florida’s registered voters ahead of the August primary. Both parties have more competitive primaries than usual, yet an increasingly larger share of the electorate is choosing not to register with either one of them. By Dr. Susan MacManus, USF Distinguished University Professor Emerita, via Sayfie Review, 6/11/18
  • Ag Commissioner candidate Matt Caldwell has NRA's A+ rating and first 2018 endorsement. Miami-Herald, 6/26/18
  • State Rep. Jay Fant ends bid for Florida Attorney General., 6/19/18
  • Florida Retail Federation backs Kathleen Passidomo for re-election. Florida Politics, 6/19/18

Other state news

  • Collier Reps. Donalds, Rommel and Trujillo score A+, Sen. Passidomo scores B on Americans for Prosperity Legislative Scorecard. The conservative group examined >6,000 individual votes on 66 issues. AFP-FL and Florida Politics, 6/6/18
  • State budget glitch may doom homeless money. Already reeling from a drop in affordable housing money, activists now fear losing key funding — apparently because of a misstep by the Legislature. The Ledger, 6/16/18
  • Citizens Insurance board delays vote to raise rates. The proposed average increases of 7.9 percent on residential policies and 8.9 percent on commercial lines are due in part to the Legislature’s failure to act. Florida Politics, 6/20/18
  • Florida judges are gaming system for choosing their successors, Supreme Court petition says. The lawsuit, which seeks to stop Gov. Scott from replacing a judge who resigned, argues that judges across Florida are subverting state law. Herald-Tribune, 6/26/18
  • In the latest of a flurry of court actions, smoking medical marijuana is prohibited again, until the Appeal’s Court issues a final ruling. News Service of Florida via Miami-Herald, 6/18/18

That does it for June. In July:
  • Be on the lookout for your Vote By Mail ballot (expected mailing around 7/24) Check the status of your ballot request at
  • July 31 is the last pre-primary day to register or make changes to your registration or party affiliation. Info at
  • Take advantage of candidate forums and other opportunities to meet or hear from the candidates. Info at under Dates & Events.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for my next "Get Ready for the 2018 Elections" posts. And catch up on what you missed:

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, July 1, 2018

Local News in Review - June 2018

Here’s this month’s review of news about our elected local officials and governing bodies, and an update on the local August 28 elections.

Top Stories

  • Dwight Brock, longtime Collier clerk of courts, dies at 64. The pugnacious watchdog for Collier County taxpayers took on developers, businessmen and politicians over his 26-year career. Naples Daily News, 6/12/18
    • Related: Gov. Rick Scott appoints deputy clerk Crystal Kinzel to be interim clerk. Naples Daily News, 6/20/18
  • Evolution, climate change skeptics lose battle over Collier science textbooks in 2-3 vote. School Board member Erika Donalds said, “The theory of intelligent design and the theory of evolution can be taught alongside each other without violating the Constitution.” Naples Daily News, 6/19/18
    • Related: Florida Citizens Alliance is taking legal action to force school boards to “follow the law.” Florida Citizens Alliance, 6/19/18
  • Collier remains an A-rated district; tied for third-highest in the state, despite over two weeks of cancelled classes due to Hurricane Irma. Naples Daily News, 6/27/18
  • County commissioners conditionally approve Marco Island ambulance application. Marco voters must approve additional taxes to pay for it, and the City must agree to not seek reimbursement of ad valorem taxes it currently pays to the county for services. Naples Daily News, 6/26/18
    • Related: Commentary: Support proposed ambulance service. By Dr. Jerry Swiacki, Chairman, Our City Our Ambulances, via Naples Daily News, 6/11/18
    • Related: LTE: Vote against ambulance referendum. By Marvin L. Easton, Naples, via Naples Daily News, 6/7/18
  • Judge won't look at Naples ethics panel question in time for ballot spot. City Council voted to let a judge decide whether the referendum would appear before voters. Naples Daily News, 6/15/18
    • Related: Naples officials: PAC declined way to resolve dispute over ethics panel. “We've been bending over backwards to try to expedite the process,” Assistant City Manager Roger Reinke said. Naples Daily News, 6/21/18

Growth and development

  • First public meeting held on Rural Lands West, a new town being built in eastern Collier County. The project will go before the county's Planning Commission for approval this fall, then to County commissioners for a final decision. Naples Daily News, 6/4/18
    • Related: Commentary: Rural Lands West – The Conservancy’s perspective. By Nicole Johnson, environmental policy director, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, via Naples Daily News, 6/2/18
    • Related: Editorial: Collier’s interior road needs a long-lingering question. Naples Daily News, 6/5/18
  • Collier sports complex design contract OK'd, with shift to more multipurpose fields. The planned $70 million sports complex northeast of Collier Boulevard and I-75 will have 16 multipurpose fields, up from the originally-proposed eight. Naples Daily News, 6/12/18

Fees and taxes

  • Collier sales tax hike debated at public forum. Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce CEO Michael Dalby spoke FOR the tax; Collier County Republican Executive Committee chairman Ron Kezeske spoke AGAINST. Naples Daily News, 6/11/18
    • Related: Editorial: Mental health center a beneficial part of sales tax proposal. Naples Daily News, 6/9/18
    • Related: LTE: Candidate opposes 1 percent sales tax increase. By Stephen Jaron, Naples, Candidate, Collier County Commission District 4, via Naples Daily News, 6/9/18
  • North Collier Fire District board OKs new fee for August ballot. If approved by voters, the district still would have the option not to assess it, and could revisit whether to levy it every year as it considers its budget needs. Naples Daily News, 6/21/18
    • Related: North Collier Fire proposal would raise fees for many businesses. Naples Daily News, 6/7/18
    • Related: Commentary: Don’t give North Collier Fire District a blank check. The assessment fee calculation methodology is seriously flawed. By Janet Vasey, local government adviser, via Naples Daily News, 6/10/18
  • Collier commissioners postpone vote on proposed tax for repairs to private rural roads. An ordinance championed by Commissioner Bill McDaniel would create a municipal services taxing unit to fund repairs of private rural roads that have become inaccessible to emergency responders. Naples Daily News, 6/26/18

Other County news

  • Mental health, drug addiction care needs discussed at Collier workshop. A $26 million centralized receiving facility was the first of seven priorities detailed at a workshop organized by Commissioner Andy Solis. Naples Daily News, 6/5/18
  • Medical pot dispensaries: After Collier's unusual way to ban them, questions remain. Collier officials said their ban took effect when commissioners couldn't muster a supermajority in a vote to add dispensaries as an allowed use in the county's land development code. Naples Daily News, 6/2/18
  • Public use of Vanderbilt Beach protected under new ordinance. But Commissioner Andy Solis, the sole dissenting vote, said it might create problems where there hadn’t been any before. Naples Daily News, 6/26/18
    • Related: Why Collier County is protecting its public beaches from new state law. NBC-2, 6/21/18
  • Brent Batten: Collier officials revive idea of acquiring Golden Gate golf course. Naples Daily News, 6/14/18
  • Commissioner Bill McDaniel asks for proposal on bear-resistant trash cans. The state budgeted $500,000 for BearWise funding for 2018-2019., 6/13/18
  • Youth football event contract ok’d. But members of the county’s Tourist Development Council question the county’s return on the $512K investment and if the event is the right fit for Naples. Naples Daily News, 6/13/18

City of Naples

  • Judge sides with City on parking credits dispute. The challengers had argued the decision would allow the redevelopment of the Olde Naples Building off Third Street in a way that would put the burden of its parking on nearby property owners. Naples Daily News, 6/26/18
  • Public access to beaches behind homes supported by new City ordinance. The defense would be used if a property owner thinks the City is illegally using his or her beach and sues. Naples Daily News, 6/6/18
  • Mural proposed for Gordon River underpass in Naples to tell SWFL history. The design, by local artist Juan Diaz, will be considered by the City’s Public Art Advisory Committee in August. Naples Daily News, 6/26/18

City of Marco Island

  • Commentary: Marco Island might lower communications tax. Unincorporated Lee and Collier Counties, the City of Bonita Springs, Estero and Everglades City have lower rates than the City of Marco Island. By Jared Grifoni, Chairman, Marco Island City Council, via Naples Daily News, 5/29/18

Collier County Public Schools

  • CCPS beats Florida average on standardized tests. The district improved its scores in every science category. Naples Daily News, 6/15/18
  • Commentary: Putting a cap on another year of Collier district’s success! Students received a record $41 million in scholarships, and Golden Gate High School had its first-ever acceptance and full scholarship offer to Harvard, among other highlights. By Kamela Patton, Superintendent, via Naples Daily News, 6/8/18
  • School Board allocates $1.26 million to Marco Island Academy charter school. The funds, to be used for capital construction and additional safety features, represent a portion of the expected proceeds from the sale of an 11.6-acre parcel known as Tract K to the Marco Island Eagle Sanctuary. Naples Daily News, 6/14/18
  • Editorial kudos: School Board made right call in reconsidering “risk assessment” decision. It reversed course in a 4-1 vote that gives an auditing firm and district staff two years to look at management of district contracts. Naples Daily News, 6/22/18
  • Editorial: Collier leaders set right tone on school resource officers. As we advocated, County Commissioners, Marco Island City Councilors and the Sheriff’s Office are getting trusted staff members together to work out a cost-sharing agreement to include in their next budgets. Naples Daily News, 6/27/18

Local elections

The last qualifying period for candidates wishing to run in 2018 elections ended on June 22. See the complete slate of candidates running for county and local elections on the Supervisor of Elections website here and those running for state and federal elections on the Florida Division of Elections website here.

Candidate news of note:
  • Donald Berry files papers to run against interim Collier clerk Crystal Kinzel. Since both are Republicans and there are no other challengers, the August primary will be open to all Collier voters and will determine the outcome. Naples Daily News, 6/21/18
  • Collier teacher Victor Dotres exits School Board race, endorses Jennifer Mitchell. Mitchell, a former Naples Park Elementary teacher, and repeat School Board candidate Kathy Ryan are in the running for the District 2 seat now held by Erika Donalds. Naples Daily News, 6/22/18
  • Jory Westberry, candidate for School Board District 4, was unopposed. She will assume the seat held by Kelly Lichter in November.
Several other offices up for election in 2018 were uncontested, including two of three County Judge seats, one of three Mosquito Control District seats, all three Soil & Water Conservation District seats, one of three Greater Naples Fire District seats, all three Immokalee Fire District seats and most community development district seats.

That's it for local news in June. Next up: the month's state news in review. Stay tuned!

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.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Who’s Running for County Commissioner in the August Primaries?

Collier’s five-member Board of County Commissioners (BCC) is elected by voters in their districts (find yours here) in partisan elections. Commissioners serve staggered four-year terms with no term limits. The post’s salary for 2017-18 is $83,345, set by state law taking into consideration the county’s population.

In 2018, the District 2 and 4 seats are on the ballot, and both incumbents are being challenged for reelection. But even if you don’t live in one of those districts, read on. The decisions of the Board as a whole affect us all!

District 2 - Republicans Brad Schiffer vs. incumbent Andy Solis; open primary
Since there is no Democrat challenger, the winner will be decided by the August primary, which will be open to all District 2 voters.

Brad Schiffer
Brad Schiffer ( is an architect and planner who has practiced in Florida since 1976. He has served since 2012 on the Florida Building Commission, a technical body responsible for the development, maintenance and interpretation of the state Building Code. Previously, he served on the County’s Planning Commission, Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, Development Services Advisory Committee and Building Board of Adjustments and Appeals; he resigned from the latter two to run for this office.

Schiffer says “citizens deserve a Commissioner who can help manage [the County’s] growth so that people living in the District can continue to enjoy their special lifestyle and thrive…. [and] right now we do not have that representation.” He says he “wants to help control the out-of-scale developments that are taking away our green space, over taxing our utilities and infrastructure and crowding our roads.”

He is a single-issue candidate; his website mentions no other.

Andy Solis
Incumbent Andy Solis ( is Commissioner for District 2 and this year’s Board Chairman. He was elected in 2016 to complete the term of Georgia Hiller, who had resigned to run for Clerk. Among his most recognized contributions as Commissioner is his leadership of and advocacy for development of a county-wide strategic plan to address mental health and addiction. More here and here.

Solis is a Director with the Cohen & Grigsby law firm and has practiced law in Collier County for 25 years. According to his firm’s website, he concentrates his practice in land use, site planning, permitting and related representation of clients before municipal and county boards and agencies. More here.

Prior to being elected, Solis served on the County Planning Commission and as President of the Council of Hispanic Business Professionals. He also participated in a number of economic development efforts and currently serves on the Opportunity Naples Committee charged with implementing the Strategic Plan. More here.

Solis is running on a platform of responsible county growth; addressing mental health and addiction; a diversified and sustainable economy; and protecting our natural resources.

Stephen Jaron
District 4 - Republicans Stephen Jaron vs. incumbent Penny Taylor; closed primary

Unlike in District 2, there is a Democrat running in District 4, so only registered Republicans can vote in the primary. The winner will face challenger Gary Petit-Dor in November.

Stephen Jaron ( is a state certified general contractor and 2001 founder/owner of Renovate and Restore, LLC, specializing in residential and commercial renovations and alterations. He held corporate positions in marketing, sales and operations before making a full-time commitment to real estate acquisitions, real estate investing and general contracting.

Jaron is Chairman of the Bayshore Beautification MSTU Advisory Committee, which assists in the implementation of the redevelopment plan for the Bayshore/Gateway Triangle area. He also serves on the Board of the Southwest Florida Land Preservation Trust/Gordon River Greenway and is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council - Florida Gulf Coast Chapter, an nonprofit volunteer organization “striving for sustainable communities and green buildings.”

Jaron’s website lists as platform issues “environment; economy; housing; and development.”

Penny Taylor
Incumbent Penny Taylor ( is Commissioner for District 4. She was first elected in 2014 and served as Chairman in 2017. Prior to her election to County Commission, Taylor served for ten years on the Naples City Council including two years as Vice-Mayor.

During her years as an elected official, Taylor has chaired the Collier Metropolitan Planning Organization, a federally-mandated and -funded transportation policy-making organization, and the Tourist Development Council. In addition, she co-chaired the county’s first City of Naples/Collier County Sea Level Rise panel discussion in 2017.

According to her Candidate Statement, programs she initiated as a commissioner include:
  • Re-establishment of the 1996 Ethics Ordinance;
  • A post-Hurricane Irma program that resulted in a concert raising $82,000 for housing in Everglades City;
  • A process establishing formal input from and ongoing communications with Native American tribal interests through the MPO;
  • An annual solidarity walk during Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Day parades in which community leaders of all faiths and ethnicities walk together;
  • The annual Mock Commission Meetings event for middle school civics class students; and
  • Re-establishment of the Summer Intern Program for high school students, requested by the NAACP.

Medical marijuana in Collier County — an issue at stake

In 2016, Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana, but local government’s ability to limit where dispensaries can be located is severely limited by state law. The current Board has been unable to gain the necessary supermajority (four out of five members) support of the change to the Land Development Code (LDC) needed to allow them in the County. Most recently last month, Commissioners McDaniel, Saunders and Solis voted for the proposed changes; Fiala and Taylor voted no.

This year’s elections could change the result. Here’s (verbatim) how the candidates responded to my email asking for their position on the issue:

District 2 - Brad Schiffer - “Since the citizens voted to approve medical marijuana I don’t believe I should second guess them, thus I would support the few dispensaries in buildings that are in zoning that would allow pharmacies. Maybe the State should have required the medical marijuana to be sold by pharmacies.”

District 2 - Andy Solis - “The voters across the State and Collier County voted in favor of the Constitutional Amendment legalizing medical marijuana. I believe it is improper for Collier County or any local government to deny the residents the right of access to medical marijuana. In my opinion, a right guaranteed by the Florida Constitution cannot be arbitrarily denied by a local government, regardless of what the statute says.”

District 4 - Stephen Jaron - “I believe the people of FL (71%) and Collier County (65%) have spoken quite clearly..... I support amending the LDC to allow Medical Marijuana Dispensaries within Collier County. There is a large group of voter's of various ages and backgrounds in favor of Medical Marijuana. Many of these people need MM to survive on a daily basis, their right to MM shall not be denied.”

District 4 - Penny Taylor - “Medical marijuana has been legalized within the State of Florida and I support the right of a patient to use this medicine. What I do not support is the creation of a dispensary in Collier County at this time. Medical marijuana can be obtained from a dispensary in Bonita Springs and through mail order. If and when marijuana is legalized in the State of Florida, these dispensaries could become a place where recreational marijuana is sold. As long as the County has an option to ‘say no’ as currently authorized by State statute and medical marijuana is available to Collier County patients, I support the ban on dispensaries.”

County staff is expected to bring the matter back in November, presumably after the election.


There are significant differences between the candidates running in these primaries. I highlighted the issue of the marijuana dispensaries because it will likely be one of the first to face the newly-elected commissioners, but be alert to opportunities to learn more.

Seek out opportunities to speak with the candidates one-on-one; they are ALL approachable and would welcome your invitation. Pay attention to endorsements — they, too, say a lot.

Finally, be sure to catch at least one of the upcoming candidate forums and debates. The first is on July 9 from 6 - 7:30 p.m. at the Headquarters Library, Sugden Theater, 2385 Orange Blossom Drive. I’ll be posting them on my website’s Events Calendar and if you learn of any, let me know.

For more on the August primaries, stay tuned for my next "Get Ready to Vote" post, and catch up on what you missed:


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, June 24, 2018

Who's Running for State Legislature in the August Primaries?

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August 28, 2018
Primary Elections in Florida
In 2018, 20 of the Florida Senate’s 40 seats and all 120 State House seats are up for election. The salary for the part-time positions is $29,697/year.

Collier voters’ State Senator will be chosen in November because only one candidate per party qualified to run in that race. The same is true for voters who live in State House Districts 80 and 106. But registered Democrats in House District 105 will have a primary because two Democrats filed to run for the seat being vacated by term-limited Rep. Carlos Trujillo.

In this post, I’ll briefly review who’s running to be Collier’s next State Senator and Representatives and how much money each has raised so far, to familiarize you with the candidates’ names and, importantly, the disparities in funding to-date. In the fall, I’ll do a deeper dive into the candidates who will be on the ballot in November.

Florida Senate

All Collier County voters live in Florida Senate District 28. Incumbent Republican Kathleen Passidomo is running for reelection. She is being challenged by Democrat Annisa Karim. They will face off in November.

     Karim                   Passidomo

Florida House
Collier voters live in one of three state House districts: 80, 105 or 106. Find your district here.

District 80 includes Hendry County and about a third of Collier voters. Republican incumbent Byron Donalds is being challenged by Democrat Jennifer Boddicker and NPA Dustin Alexander Lapolla. There will be a three-way face-off in November.

District 106, western Collier County, includes just over half of Collier voters. Republican incumbent Bob Rommel is being challenged by Democrat Sara McFadden. They will face off in November.

McFadden                Rommel

District 105 includes parts of Collier, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Dominated by east coast residents, the gerrymandered district has only 14% of Collier’s voters, generally those living east of Collier Blvd., north of US 41 and south of I-75. As mentioned above, registered Democrats will choose between two candidates in August:

Javier Estevez is a native Miami millennial whose parents are Cuban immigrants. His website provides no other biographical information. He believes “it is time that we had a representative that speaks for us and stands alongside the community.” His issues are education, the economy, public safety, healthcare and the environment.

Ross Hancock works for a manufacturer of “energy-saving, sea-turtle safe” lighting products. He believes Florida needs to add clean manufacturing to its economy, and needs to invest in education to support it. He has a bachelor’s degree from USF and is an accredited Florida Master Naturalist. His campaign priority is “fighting for Florida’s environment.”

The winner will face Republican Ana Maria Rodriguez in November.

Rodriguez ----- Estevez ----- Hancock

Expect lots of campaigning between now and November in the State Legislative races. Watch your mailbox for campaign literature, and pay attention to who’s paid for it; disclosure on the document is required by law. Ask yourself what the photos on the mailers are intended to convey. Notice if they honor or demonize government, and if they use words like Constitution, gun, immigrant, sanctuary city, second amendment, etc., to send “red meat” or “dog-whistle” messages.

Even if your state legislative seats are not on the August ballot, it’s not too soon to start paying attention.


For more on the August primaries, stay tuned for my next "Get Ready to Vote" post, and catch up on what you missed:

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.