NAPLES — Is it better for an elected official to own property or businesses in his or her district or far away?
That’s one of the debates that has evolved from a spate of e-mails circulating around Naples, and it could become a campaign issue for the 2010 District 4 Collier County Commission race.
Incumbent Commissioner Fred Coyle has business interests in Oregon. Knowledge of those relationships has become fodder for some who would like to see someone else win that race, Coyle has said.
So far, Lavigne (pronounced La-VEEN) Ann Kirkpatrick is his only announced opponent.
Coyle openly admits that he obtained a real estate license and bought some property in Oregon.
“I was helping a friend who is establishing a new real estate office of Sotheby’s,” Coyle said, speaking of Cushman and Tebbs Sotheby’s International Realty in Bend, Oregon’s Old Mill District.
Coyle’s contact telephone number is registered in Gold Beach, Ore.
Coyle believes it is better to have out-of-county holdings than locally, which could precipitate a possible conflict of interest.
“I have never conducted business in Collier because I want to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest,” Coyle said. “I don’t join clubs or organizations because they’re likely to come before the County Commission occasionally. I keep my private life private from my life as a county commissioner.”
The circulating e-mails are a campaign tool used “as an attempt to smear my record and state that I am not a full-time commissioner,” Coyle said, defending his attendance record. “My challenger doesn’t understand the job of county commissioner. She thinks all commissioners do is attend a few meetings a month.”
Kirkpatrick said she doesn’t necessarily have a problem with Coyle owning property in another state, although she suggested that in the year since he obtained his real estate license he missed a number of commission meetings.
“It’s disappointing when you’re actually doing (real estate) business in another state when we’re up to about 12,000 foreclosures (a year) in Collier County,” Kirkpatrick said.
She said she’s aware of the e-mail string about Coyle’s holdings, and said she couldn’t say for sure if it is coming from her supporters.
But she understands the implied message contained within the e-mail.
“People (here) are out of work and people are losing their homes and he’s in the same industry (elsewhere) while criticizing land development here,” Kirkpatrick said.
Coyle’s fellow commissioners offer a diverse range of views on the location of investments.
Commission Chairwoman Donna Fiala has been living in her East Naples home for 35 years. But, she owns additional county property as well as a cottage within the Amish community in Ohio, her home state. She doesn’t believe property ownership in Ohio makes her less of a commissioner here.
“It’s where I go to get peaceful,” Fiala said.
In addition to her home in Collier, she owns a house in the Bayshore area that she purchased in the 1990s. She rents it out.
“I can only rent it to lower-income people and the rent doesn’t pay the taxes,” Fiala said.
She also has a share of a Mainsail Drive condominium that she owns with her ex-husband and brother-in-law.
Commissioner Jim Coletta owns his home as well as commercial property in Golden Gate, property in New York, and has an ownership share in property in Louisiana. There also are some properties in his wife’s name.
Coletta believes local property ownership makes him more responsive and sympathetic to constituents’ needs.
“I have to pay the same taxes,” Coletta said.
Commissioner Frank Halas owns his home and doesn’t have a financial interest in property anywhere else.
Halas acknowledges that there are arguments on both sides of the property-ownership debate, but is quick to point out that he doesn’t have any conflicts of interest in Collier County.
Commissioner Tom Henning declined to comment, saying the story isn’t about commission business. It addresses “a campaign issue,” Henning said.
He also declined to disclose whether he owns property, saying anyone can obtain that information with a public records request.
District 4 of Collier County includes Naples, north to Pine Ridge Road, south to Davis Boulevard, east to Livingston Road, southeast to the Lely Outfall Canal. The western boundary is the Gulf of Mexico.
A nurse by training, Kirkpatrick is Avow Hospice’s marketing manager. Her husband, Thad Kirkpatrick, is a real estate attorney with Cohen and Grigsby, a Pittsburgh-based law firm with offices in Naples and Bonita Springs. Kirkpatrick lives in a condo in the Naples Bath and Tennis Club.