EAST NAPLES — The “99 percent,” a name coined by Occupy Wall Street to represent most Americans, stepped to the microphone to address State Rep. Kathleen Passidomo during a Town Meeting at the South Regional Library in East Naples on Monday.
Passidomo is a freshman legislator representing the Naples and Marco Island areas in Florida’s House of Representatives.
County District 1 Town Meeting was sponsored by Collier County Commissioner Donna Fiala with invitees Sheriff Kevin Rambosk, Jennifer Edwards, supervisor of elections, and Passidomo. All four are running for re-election in 2012.
“I feel it’s important to reach out into the community and let people know what we’re doing and be able to ask questions,” Fiala said before the meeting.
After each official spoke briefly about recent initiatives, audience members were invited to address the panel.
During the question period, John Jenkins expressed his worry that Tallahassee’s focus on a balanced budget and spending cuts left abused children without services.
“Florida is third in the nation for child abuse fatalities, yet Florida has taken $48 million from children’s programs and slashed jobs from DCF (Florida’s Department of Children and Families),” said John Jenkins.
When Passidomo defended the cuts admitting it was a tough decision but one that would focus more efforts on prevention, Jenkins scoffed.
“You say your top priorities are education and safety, but your actions do not match your words.”
Jenkins also asked what those on the panel were doing to create jobs in East Naples.
“The word is out that Collier County is not a business friendly community,” said Fiala. “At the county level we have reduced impact fees, streamlined the permitting process and have a group dedicated to studying how to encourage business.”
Sam Saad III, a Naples attorney and member of Naples’ City Council, continued the question on jobs. Passidomo responded.
“Southwest Florida needs to reinvent itself to attract new business and retain what’s here,” she said, believing the area is pigeonholed as a tourist destination and unattractive to economic development from other sectors.
Chuck Mohlke challenged Passidomo on another budget cut.
“I want to address the serious underfunding for transportation of the disadvantaged,” Mohlke said. He was angered by the inability of Florida’s legislators to agree on funding public transportation for those who were unable to drive.
Mohlke praised Passidomo for her work passing a June 24 continuance to fund transportation for the disadvantaged through Sept. 30, but expressed disappointment that the House and Senate could not reconcile their difference and help those with no private transportation.
“Hopefully, we won’t let this fall through the cracks,” Passidomo said.
Drew Scott addressed Edwards with his concern about the upcoming presidential preference primary. Edwards previously explained that Florida is a closed primary state that does not allow voting in primary elections without establishing party preference.
District 1 had 32,300 registered voters at the end of September, she said. Voters were registered by party with 52 percent republican, 24 percent democratic, 18 percent independent and 6 percent other state parties.
Scott felt the exclusion of non-party affiliated voters from primary elections was unjust and did not allow those who wished to maintain their independence a fair voice in the election process.
Attendees remained cordial throughout the event, often applauding the panel for positive statistics including Rambosk’s public safety presentation citing vehicle crashes down 62 percent and seatbelt usage at 93.7 percent for the county.
Fiala announced that a second town hall meeting will be held from 5 to 7 p.m., Nov. 9, in the Rose History Auditorium at the Marco Island Historical Museum on Heathwood Drive.