Linda & Nick Penniman receive Conservancy highest honor

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida has bestowed its highest honor, the Eagle Award, on Nick and Linda Penniman, long-time supporters of the environment and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida at its annual meeting. The award was presented by Van Williams, president of the Conservancy’s board of directors.

“It is our honor and pleasure to support this couple, recognizing how much they’ve contributed to Collier County and the Conservancy over the years,” Mr. Williams said. “It’s their integrity, dedication and unwavering commitment to what we do and what needs to be done here in the county.”

Each year, the Conservancy presents its prestigious Eagle Awards to individuals and organizations that provide outstanding leadership on environmental causes, shepherd philanthropic initiatives and participate in grassroots activism.

“Linda and I do what we do not for the recognition, but because of the work that needs to be done,” said Nick Penniman. “This award was truly special to us because it was given to us jointly, recognizing the work that we do together. There’s no other place in the region where you have as many environmental issues to address. We truly believe the Conservancy is the most effective organization in the country as their work is urgently important to the development of Southwest Florida. It’s a great honor and very satisfying for us to be involved.”

Nick Penniman retired in 1999 as publisher of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Currently on the Conservancy’s board of directors, he served as board chair from 1995-1997, and led the Saving Southwest Florida campaign to build the Conservancy campus for two years. For the Conservancy’s 50th anniversary in 2014, he published “Nature’s Steward: A History of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.” He is a former member of both the Coastal Advisory Community and the Environmental Advisory Committee for Collier County. His second book, “A Toxic Inconvenience: Red Tide and Blue-Green Algae on Florida’s Coast,” was published late last year.

Linda Penniman served on the Naples City Council from 2014 -2019, championing the environment and serving on a special taskforce for The Conservancy, chair of the Collier County Waterkeeper and aiding the city of Naples Planning Advisory Board, Coastal Advisory Committee and other organizations.

To learn more about the Conservancy, visit www.conservancy.org. ¦

How does your Fire Agency compare?

How does your Fire Agency compare? 

Comparing costs of one Fire Agency with another in responding to emergencies is not an exact science.

There are several variables such as geography covered, types and number of residential and commercial buildings, population and its demographics, to name a few.

Fire Agency budgets include Personnel, Benefits, and Operating costs (supplies, fuel, maintenance), plus Capital costs such as refurbishing/building new fire stations, adding/replacing fire trucks, which could add to one year’s budget, but not the next.

The National Fire Incident Reporting System categorizes Fire Agency responses. For calendar year 2017 the 5 local Fire Agencies were dispatched to 54,820 responses.

By percentage these were: Rescue & EMS 63.0%; Good Intention Calls (calls canceled before arrival or controlled burning) 15.2%; False Alarms 8.9%; Service Calls (person in distress or other public service assistance) 8.2%; Hazardous No Fire 2.2%; Actual Fires 1.9%; Overpressure No Fire 0.1%; Severe Weather 0.1%; Special Incident Complaint 0.1%.

Each local agency’s percentage breakdown was similar.

Taking annual Personnel and Operating budget costs (not counting yearly capital related expenses) and dividing this by the responses, you arrive at the average operating cost per response.

Using 2017/2018 fiscal budgets and 2017 calendar year responses, the overall result was $81,929,042/54,820 responses = $1,494.51/response.

Immokalee: $3,868,947/4,349 responses = $889.62

Greater Naples (EastNaples+GoldenGate+IslesCapri+Ochopee+I75): $28,352,756/20,927 responses = $1,354.84

Marco Island: $6,019,938/3,872 responses = $1,554.74

Naples: $9,818,028/6,234 responses = $1,574.92

North Collier (NorthNaples+Corkscrew): $33,869,373/19,438 responses = $1,742.43

To: “Would you support a single combined Fire and Emergency Medical Response Independent Special District in unincorporated Collier County that is governed by an independent elected body, to provide a unified emergency response”?

In March 2016 voter response was 63% “YES”

What is the next step for Fire Agency leadership of the 3 Independent Fire Districts?  

Marvin Easton
Retired IBM Consultant

There are options

There are options

Is it in the best interests of Collier County resident/tax payers to split  the Collier County Sheriff’s Office into five separately organized,  managed, administered, operated and funded Public Safety organizations, with five separate training and operation’s protocols, and five separate personnel compensation and benefit programs?

Is five separate Collier County EMS Medical Response organizations better than one coordinated comprehensive countywide responder?

Currently there are five separate Collier County Fire Agencies (down from ten a few years ago). Marco Island, Naples, and the unincorporated county with Immokalee Fire, North Collier Fire  (comprising North Naples and Big Corkscrew), and Greater Naples Fire (comprising East Naples, Golden Gate, Isles of Capri, County operated station, and Ochopee under a management agreement).

The Fire Commissioners stated to the public for those previous Fire Agency consolidations that they were going to both provide better service and save tax payer money.

Although some are dangerous, fortunately fewer than 2% of responses are coded fires. While 86% are coded medical responses, service calls, and good intention calls. The remainder are coded false alarms, and other non-fire calls.

Thus Fire Agencies are mostly in the medical response business.

All Fire Agencies could implement further cooperation in operating protocols, training, and other support functions that could save money.

Another option is Immokalee, Greater Naples, and North Collier Fire Commissioners could continue to further provide better service and save tax payer money, by consolidating into two, or even one Fire Agency for the entire unincorporated County, as supported by 63.7% of those voting and passed by a majority in 51 of 53 county precincts, to that March 2016 ballot question.

Marvin Easton

Naples

Timely Actions?

Timely Actions?

There are five taxpayer funded agencies primarily providing medical responses in unincorporated Collier County. CC-EMS, CCSO, and three Independent Fire Agencies (Greater Naples, Immokalee, North Collier, their budgets over $80 million), backed up by Marco Island and Naples Fire Departments as needed.

North Collier Fire is a 2014 successful consolidation of North Naples and Big Corkscrew Fires.

Greater Naples Fire, a 2014 successful consolidation of East Naples and Golden Gate Fires, added Isles of Capri Fire in 2015, and added operation of the I-75 County Station and Ochopee Fire under a management agreement in 2016.

Unincorporated County residents in March 2016 supported continued consolidation of these 3 Independent Fire Agencies, by a majority vote in 51 of 53 voter precincts, and a 62.7% favorable total.

However 2 1/2 years later in August 2018, both Immokalee Fire and North Collier Fire indicated they needed more money to operate because personnel/benefit costs were skyrocketing and Fire Agency financial reserves were declining. Thus they proposed an additional “Fire Fee”.

Residents declaring “no tax increases and no more fees”, voted against the North Collier “Fire Fee” by 79.3% and the Immokalee “Fire Fee” by 66.6%.

There are over 100 personnel above the station level, plus Commissioners, currently staffed to operate the 3 separate Agencies. Not all duplicated/triplicated positions may be necessary if these Agencies are consolidated.

The compensation/benefit money saved by reductions in duplication may better be spent on additional fire stations, equipment, and responding personnel nearer to current and future population centers.

Is it now time for the Fire Commissioners to continue the leadership needed for further cost cutting by implementing the necessary cooperation & consolidation actions their residents/tax payers supported by their vote over 3 years ago?

Marvin Easton                                                                                                       Collier Citizen’s Council

Short Term Home Rentals

Short Term Home Rentals

Following the April 9 BCC meeting, the Collier Citizens Council communicated to each Commissioner its opposition to the March 26 resolution for blanket enforcement of a 6 month minimal rental period within unincorporated Collier County.

Short term rentals are a complex issue with many apparent and unforeseen outcomes – economic, financial, social and human. Accordingly, this issue warrants deliberation and external assistance (consultants) to estimate all consequences from a wide range of regulatory options.

The relevant TDC packet, ignored by all except dissenting Commissioner McDaniel, provides prudent advice from county counsel for more information, including stakeholder input throughout a long term investigatory process of a “difficult and complex issue, whose current breadth raises numerous hypothetical legal issues…”

Further, we emphasized these compelling considerations

  1. Creates a regulatory hodgepodge ranging from no time regulations on Marco Island to 30 days in the City of Naples to 180 days in unincorporated Collier, overruling the self-governance of innumerable HOAs and Condo Associations.
  2. Impacts negatively economic projections for our pending Sports Complex, creating another competitive disadvantage when teams consider all available Florida venues.
  3. Affects negatively affordable housing, especially for seniors and the economically disadvantaged when home-sharing for 6 months is too long.
  4. Impacts negatively TDT collections and  impairs TDT budgets.
  5. Six (6) month leases will morph to 6 months + 1 day to avoid any TDT taxation, reducing collections of $9 Million annually from realtors and homeowners.
  6. Imposes inequity and taxpayers /property owners will circumvent enforcement because of perceptions of bias and unequal enforcement within the entire county including municipalities.
  7. Instituting good governance requires reflection when listening to individual emotional appeals or else bad policy is the usual result.

Ian McKeag

Collier Citizens Council

Letter to County Commissioners about Short Term Rentals

Hon. William McDaniel, Jr., Chair
Hon. Andy Solis
Hon. Donna Fiala
Hon. Burt Saunders
Hon. Penny Taylor

Dear Chairman McDaniel and Commissioners:

On behalf of the  Collier Citizens Council, a coalition of civic and community leaders in Collier County, we respectfully urge you to pause and reconsider your short-term rental policy on property in unincorporated Collier County.

Specifically, we ask that you (1) rescind the blanket enforcement of rules that bans owners from renting their homes for less than six months at a time and (2) craft a middle-ground policy that prevents revolving-door misbehavior of daily rentals but infringes less on individual property rights.

But before any new action is taken, we believe a pause is in order. We urge you to take a deliberate approach going forward, with full transparency and input from the community. All stakeholders – homeowners, realtors, hoteliers – should be allowed their say.

We are at an important crossroads, with individual property rights and our important tourist industry and its tax monies at stake.

Respectfully yours,

For the Collier Citizens Council
Ian McKeag
Dave Trecker
Mike Reagen

Wanted: Ethical Behavior in Public Service

By Mike Reagen*

Seeing Christian Bale’s stunning performance in VICE, the Academy Award-Nominated film, tracking the Vatican Summit, waiting for Mueller’s Report and learning about Florida’s Sunshine Law made me recall Thomas Jefferson’s quote: “I consider ethics, as well as religion, as supplements to law in the government of man.”

American Society for Public Administration [ASPA] leaders also thought about Jefferson nearly 80 years ago when they began to promote accountability, professionalism, and the significance of public service across the United States.

ASPA  35 years ago crafted their laser-focused Code of Ethics, the practice of making moral public judgements about political action and political agents, especially the methods and judgements used to make policies, regulations and laws. Today, ASPA’s Code of Ethics gives us eight standards for government workers and criteria for candidates for appointed and elected office to follow, expecting all public servants to:

  • Advance the Public Interest by subordinating personal interests and loyalties to serve all persons with courtesy, respect, and dedication to high standards above service to oneself.
  • Uphold the Constitution and the Law by respecting, supporting and improving government constitutions, laws and policies bypromoting equality, fairness, representativeness, responsiveness and due process in protecting citizens’ rights and promoting the public good.
  • Promote democratic participation by informing, encouraging and assisting the public to engage in active, open, transparent and responsive civitas and governance.
  •  Strengthen social equity by treating all persons with fairness, justice, and equality by respecting individual differences, rights, and freedoms. and promoting initiatives to reduce unfairness, injustice, and inequality in society.
  • Communicate honestly, accurate comprehensive, and timely information and advice to elected and appointed officials, governing board members, and their staff, including those that may be unpopular…always based on a complete and impartial review of circumstances, missions and public needs.
  •  Demonstrate personal integrity by adhering to the highest standards of conduct to inspire public confidence and trust in public service by being truthful, honest, resistant to partisan pressures to not compromise and zealously guard against conflict of interest or its appearance.
  •  Strive for the highest standards of stewardship in all public service groupsby holding allaccountable for their efficient stewardship of public funds and resources through the open expression of dissent, protection of whistleblowing safeguards against reprisal and retribution.

  • Encourage excellence
     professional development by strengthening personal capabilities to keep up-to-date on emerging issues, practices, and potential problems. and acting competently and ethically.

The vast majority of our 21.9 million government employees [US Bureau of Labor Statistics], along with our 1,8 million active and 800,000 reserve military and estimated 500,000 US. Postal staff, are amazing public servants who daily assure America is Great and advance our civil society.

Most are out-of-sight and mind until we need them. For most, their work is not a job. It is a way of life dedicated to advancing our civil society. And every successful person and community knows achievement, as US Speaker Paul Ryan said, depends on people working together.

Surely, former President George H.W. Bush’s would agree. Recall his words: “Whoever says Americas best days are behind it are looking the wrong direction. The United States is the best and fairest and most decent nation on the face of the earth!”

But, the days between now and the 2020 elections will be rancorous. Serious domestic and international issues divide us. And some seeking to govern sadden us because they do so unethically by disparaging our governments and our public servants, attacking others to mask their own unethical behavior, blurring right from wrong, virtuous from unvirtuous to advance their own vested interests.

So, all of us might also recall the olde Chinese proverb “Heaven is high and the Emperor is far away! And acknowledge there is nobody here but us.

Perhaps by contrasting ASPA’s principles with what these folks say and do, we may, as Walter Cronkite urged during a previous troublesome time, reintroduce ethics into public service to restore people’s faith in government to fill a desperate need and assure democracy to continue to flourish.

-mvr: 2/25/19-

2019 Priorities- CCC interview with Collier County Commissioners

COUNTY PRIORITIES FOR 2019

The Collier Citizens Council recently interviewed the Collier County Commissioners to determine their priorities for 2019 and, in turn, to help establish the basis for CCC projects.

Two issues stood out, topping the list of matters to be addressed.

Water Quality was a common concern, mirroring resident complaints about the toxic algae and red tide that plagued the community for much of 2018.

Growth Management was widely mentioned, recognizing the rural lands planning and infrastructure changes that will be needed to support growth in the years ahead.

Further down the list were Economic Development (more diversity sought) and Mental Health/Addiction Issues (more treatment and post-treatment housing needed).

Public Forum to Clarify the Constitutional Amendments

By Dave Trecker

The smoke has finally cleared on the constitutional amendments.

After months of agonizing, the courts have whittled down the original 13. By one! That still leaves twelve amendments to bewilder the voters.

And it gets worse. Five of the remaining 12 are “bundled,” with two or more unrelated topics combined into a single amendment. For example, Amendment 6 couples expanded rights for crime victims with an increase in judges’ retirement age and a prohibition of state courts deferring to an administrative agency. The issues are confusing and you can’t separate them. Vote for one and you get all three.

Another bundled amendment, #10, establishes a Department of Domestic Security & Counterterrorism, changes the legislative session start date and prohibits counties from abolishing certain local offices. Again, it’s all or nothing. A yes vote approves them all.

Bundling is one problem, but simply understanding the ballot language is another. According to Ballotpedia, to read and comprehend an average ballot question requires a graduate-school level of education.

But understand or not, voters are being asked to make the call on things ranging from ex-felons’ voting rights to legislative hurdles for raising taxes to a dramatically new Florida gambling policy. A great deal is at stake. Tens of millions are being spent to influence the outcome.

To cut through the tangled mess and help clarify things, a consortium of civic groups is sponsoring a public forum on October 11, 6:00 – 7:30 p.m. at the North Naples Church. It’s free and no reservations are required.

What will be covered at the forum? Everything. Three amendments will be featured, with experts debating the pros and cons of each. The remaining amendments will be dissected and explained.

Here’s a preview.

Amendment 1 would provide an increase in the homestead exemption, an apparent no-brainer because most Floridians would benefit. But there is a downside. Lost tax revenues could cut services and reduce funding for government programs. A Collier County Tax Appraiser’s Office official will explain the amendment, Dr. Jim Carter, a management consultant and local Republican leader, will speak in favor of it and Amber Hughes, senior legislative advocate for the Florida League of Cities, will oppose it.

Amendment 3 would give voters, not the legislature, the right to approve casino gambling in Florida. That would be a game-changer, with moral and financial implications that could affect tourism and tax revenues. John Sowinski, chairman of “Voters in Charge,” will argue in favor of the amendment, and Isadore Havenick, vice president of Magic City Casino and the Bonita Springs dog track, will speak against it.

Amendment 13 would prohibit wagering on dog races, in effect killing greyhound racing in Florida. As expected, feelings run high both for and against. Animal rights people say greyhounds are exploited and mistreated. Opponents disagree, say the dogs are treated well and offered for adoption after their racing days are over. Kate McFall, state director of the U.S. Humane Society, will speak in favor of the amendment, and Christopher Grieb, a greyhound trainer representing the “Committee to Support Greyhounds,” will oppose it.

Discussions about the remaining amendments will be led by Patrick Neale, a prominent local attorney and state law expert.

So mark the date on your calendar, October 11, bring your questions and plan to join us. You’ll come away better informed about how to vote in November.

Trecker is president of the Collier Citizens Council. Other forum sponsors are the Collier County League of Women Voters, the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, Collier County Presidents Council, Greater Naples Better Government Committee, Naples Press Club and Greater Naples Leadership.