Commissioner Tom Henning has been campaigning about bringing a sense of decorum back to the Collier County commission.
It’s something he said he wants to remedy if he is re-elected Tuesday and is appointed
“My plan is to initiate and require that we conduct civil debates during all meetings, or we will take several breaks until we have decorum,” he wrote in an email.
Henning is directing his criticism at current chairman Fred Coyle, who is not up for re-election. But anyone who has been paying attention to the commissioners knows personalities do sometimes clash.
And those running for the three commission seats up for grabs this election each have their own opinions on how to resolve the conflicts.
Henning’s opponent, Republican challenger Bill McDaniel, said the key to civility is “leadership by example.”
“We all come from different places, have different backgrounds,” he said. “But we need to set those differences aside and do what is best for the county.”
McDaniel said if the community condemns the dysfunction on the dais, it will stop, either by the commissioners or by the voters selecting new commissioners.
Steve Cosgrove, the Republican challenger in the District 1 commission race, has a simple solution to bring civility back to the commission: Elect new representatives.
Cosgrove said he believes three commissioners — his opponent, Donna Fiala, current Commission Chairman Fred Coyle, and District 5 Commissioner Jim Coletta — are to blame for a lack of civility. He said that lack comes from the job getting more difficult as the economy has gotten worse.
“It’s easy to have a strong majority when you have a strong economy. It’s very easy to be cordial,” he said. “But the job has changed, and that is where the frustration comes from — because of the new realities Collier County is facing.”
Fiala said commissioners don’t win anything by being insulting or using sarcasm. She said some have said it is a point of weakness that she doesn’t engage in the infighting. She disagrees.
“It takes more strength to keep your mouth shut,” she said.
District 5 commission candidate Tim Nance said he believes many of the conflicts are because some of the issues have provoked questions that make commissioners feel attacked. Nance said he believes commissioners need to have civil, factual discussions that inform taxpayers.
“I believe we need to show the good, the bad and the ugly. The taxpayers have a right to know what the facts are,” he said. “It is essential, to me, to treat everyone with respect. Even if you don’t agree, you can still disagree and be civilized.”
His opponent, District 5 Commissioner Jim Coletta, said he also believes the primary election has added to some of the problems on the commission, although he finds fault with fellow Commissioner Georgia Hiller and her support of Nance. He said he believes some of that friction will abate when commissioners come back after the primary for their first meeting in September.
“I think once the primary is over, some of that will disappear,” he said.
But Coletta said while he would give the commissioners an A-minus grade for civility two years ago, that grade has fallen to a
“It wasn’t like this until Commissioner Hiller was elected,” he said.
Hiller, who could not be reached for comment this week, said last year Coletta is among the commissioners politicizing the dais while blaming others.
“I refuse to get involved in the politics and will continue to do all I can to best represent my constituents,” she said then.