Who speaks for the residents? In policy matters, who’s got the back of the little guy, the folks in the disparate communities throughout Collier County? Businesses have the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, and it does a great job representing their interests. Politicians have political committees to raise money and support their election. Homeowner groups have the Collier County Presidents Council, which deals with association and condo matters. But what about big policy issues that affect the homeowners? Who advocates for the residents?
Two years ago, a handful of community leaders sensed there was a need for such an organization. After several fateful breakfast meetings, Murray Hendel, Bob Raymond, Lydia Galton and the writer founded the Collier Community Alliance, later to become the Collier Citizens Council (CCC).
“We saw an unmet need,” said CCC President Murray Hendel. “We wanted a group that could deal with big-ticket items.”
Several ground rules became immediately apparent. The group must be diverse – both geographically and in outlook. It must be strictly non-partisan. Politics must be checked at the door. It must be active – not just another group that meets to hear speakers. It must engage critical issues. It’s positions must be backed by strong consensus. Recruiting brought in community leaders from around the county, a deep and talented group. The current roster includes members from Village Walk, the Vineyards, Marco Island, Park Shore, Wyndemere, Grey Oaks, Pelican Marsh, Golden Gate, Moorings, Pelican Bay and other communities. The geographical reach is widespread.
“We think the diversity serves us well,” said founding member Lydia Galton.
What specifically does the CCC do?
It has taken on a host of projects.
Fire District Consolidation – In 2012, the group proposed combining all fire districts and EMS under the sheriff to create a single public safety authority. In 2013, the CCC supported the proposed merger of the Golden Gate and East Naples Fire Districts.
Emergency Medical Services – The CCC lobbied for retaining Dr. Robert Tober as EMS director (Tober was retained) and opposed ceding EMS responsibility to the North Naples Fire District.
School District Funding – The group supported the successful referendum to transfer capital funds to the district’s operating budget.
Tourist Development Tax – The CCC recommended changes in the allocation of tourist tax funds and proposed an increase in the tax from 4% to 5% to provide more money for beach renourishment.
Constitutional Amendments – In 2012, the CCC joined with other civic groups to present a forum at which experts argued the pros and cons of the proposed state constitutional amendments. Some 800 people attended.
Groundwater Quality – In 2013, the group organized a workshop to discuss pollution of lakes, canals and bays in southwest Florida and approaches to deal with the problem.
Economic Development – The CCC is currently engaged in analyzing plans for local and regional economic development.
Beach Renourishment – In the wake of the controversy about trucking sand to local beaches, the CCC is looking for better ways to do it in the future. The group has enlisted experts to outline various approaches for slowing beach erosion and replenishing lost sand. Those options, as well as related costs and permitting, will be presented at a forum cosponsored with other civic groups on January 9, 2014 at 3:00 p.m. at the North Naples United Methodist Church.
So stay tuned.
The CCC is taking on tough issues, studying solutions and educating through forums and workshops.
If it succeeds, the winners will be the residents of Collier County.