I was working hard on connecting the dots that I knew were there to turn a string of interesting items into a column.
I got the help I needed from an unexpected source — a news item in the other morning’s paper about misgivings that some readers and others have about the daily press across the country.
They told pollsters they would not miss us if we went away, and we would be easily replaced.
I try to learn something from every one of those surveys. There is always a nugget or two of truth.
At the same time, I’d like to ask: If not for the local press, where else would people have to call with such a wide spectrum of questions and concerns?
Let’s start with Jim White. He called the other weekend and left a voice mail on our “Naples Daily NewsMakers” number, 213-6070, asking whether we knew someone was setting up a farm on Santa Barbara Boulevard. It seems he had spied some cattle and goats on Santa Barbara between Davis Boulevard and Rattlesnake Hammock Road. He feared bugs and maybe disease in that area.
Actually, what our reader observed was our state’s real-estate appraisal laws in action. The property owner has put the animals there to qualify for something called an agricultural exemption, which allows for drastically lower taxable values for land with even a marginal agricultural purpose — even if it is clear that the land’s highest and best ultimate use is something other than grazing.
The Collier County Property Appraisers Office says each of the four lots comprising the acreage in question is valued in the $120,000 range and is taxed as if it were in the $2,500 range. The owner confirms yes, that’s what’s going on while he awaits buyers interested in up to 12 residential units per acre.
Happy to help, Mr. White.
Then there is the reader who felt he had nowhere else to turn after an unpleasant run-in with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office and its tow truck policy.
Jack Dautrich said his wife’s car conked out one afternoon near Collier and Davis boulevards.
He arrived at the scene within minutes to find the car on a flatbed and ready to roll somewhere. He wondered why they could not use AAA. He was told it was too late.
His wife had to name a “preferred” tow or go with the next firm on the rotation.
Now really, who has a “preferred” towing company?
The deputy at the scene handled that before letting her use his phone to call Dautrich, who was told when he got there that it would cost $150 — cash — to have the car removed from the flatbed or $195 — cash again — if the firm towed the car home two miles away, or more money if the company, unpaid, had to keep and store the car.
“This was nonnegotiable and the Sheriff’s Office would enforce it,” says Dautrich, who happens to be a retired law-enforcement officer from Philadelphia, unbeknownst to anyone at the scene. “By now, with the charges mounting, my thinking was this is a system on steroids — not working for me.”
He settled for the $195 and his insurance company and repair shop took over from there.
Meanwhile, the sheriff’s public information office says the situation was handled by the book — which includes voluminous county law and policy — and the driver set everything in motion by saying she trusted the system, by default.
As a helpful tip, the Sheriff’s Office suggests being familiar with your insurance company’s tow plan so the right call is made if a sudden, unexpected, stressful situation comes up.
I wonder: Wouldn’t it be more of a public service for the people who are pros at this to have a bullet-point guide ready to hand ruffled motorists or ask them first, “Would you like to call AAA?”
Hope that helps a little, Mr. Dautrich.
Then there is the reader who called from a beauty shop a week or so ago with questions — actually complaints — about our local crime coverage. She accused us of covering up crime in general and in high-end neighborhoods in particular.
She had an extra measure of credibility, as she was able to offer examples that had happened to her and her clients.
I need to check on the status of the tip to that effect that I passed along to a colleague on our news desk.
Then I have to get back to her.
That is the way to earn your wings with readers such as the people in the poll who think local papers are nothing all that special.
Because if you lose sight of who you work for, those polled people have a point.
P.S. to them: Where else would you find pictures like the one above left?
Lytle is editorial page editor of the Daily News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Call him at 263-4773. Check his blog at naplesnews.com/blogs/jefflytle.