Coletta still has to-do list before commission service ends

William DeShazer/Staff
Commissioner Jim Coletta talks to the Naples Daily News in his office at the Collier County Administrative building in Naples on Thursday Aug. 14, 2012. The 12 year commissioner lost to Tim Nance in the Collier County Commission District 5 Republican primary race.

Photo by WILLIAM DESHAZER // Buy this photo

William DeShazer/Staff Commissioner Jim Coletta talks to the Naples Daily News in his office at the Collier County Administrative building in Naples on Thursday Aug. 14, 2012. The 12 year commissioner lost to Tim Nance in the Collier County Commission District 5 Republican primary race.

— Don't write Commissioner Jim Coletta's political eulogy yet.

Although he lost his Republican primary in August, Coletta quickly points out that he will serve on the commission until November. And he has many things he would like to see accomplished before then.

Among them, Coletta said he hopes to see a favorable resolution to the Immokalee Area Master Plan amendment, which commissioners are set to vote on September 11. He said the approval by the residents on a non-binding ballot referendum should stand for something.

"With every straw ballot we have had, from Conservation Collier to the Naples Zoo to the shopping center in the Estates, the commissioners have honored the will of the people," he said. "I think compromises can happen before we vote on it and I am open to that."

Coletta said he believes the opposition to the amendment comes from the mobile home park owners who would be financially impacted by the master plan's requirement they provide adequate housing.

"They are trying to exert their pound of flesh. They want exceptions to the rules and laws of Collier County," he said. "But the people of Immokalee have spoken."

Coletta said he also hopes the final budget, which will be passed by the commissioners this month, will include funding to lengthen the shoulders on Immokalee Road east of Oil Well Road. He also hopes there will be money to go toward paving the some 80 lime rock roads in Golden Gate Estates.

"Eighty percent are paved, but with the economy the way it's been, we haven't gotten anything from the commissioners for lime rock roads," he said. "I would at least like to do a couple of roads this year."

The final project, Coletta said, he would like to see the $400,000 reserved in the budget for the Corkscrew Regional Park stay in the budget to develop the 132-acre park, which is near the Collier County Fairgrounds.

Coletta decided to run for public office in the mid-1990s, after being involved in several community organizations like Catholic Charities, the Golden Gate Area Chamber of Commerce and the Golden Gate Civic Association..

"I started to realize I could make a bigger difference if I worked from the top down rather than from the bottom up," he said.

Coletta lost the first time he ran for commissioner, coming up 35 votes short in 1996 to current school board member Barbara Berry. He went back to community work, including serving as president of the Rotary, and ran again in 2000.

That time, he won. It was a responsibility that he said he took very seriously.

His first focus on the commission was transportation. He said he remembers looking at a plan to expand Immokalee Road to four lanes, but it was a plan that would not go into effect until 2020.

"We took over for a commission that was keeping the ad valorem taxes at a false low. So, they were keeping taxes low, not building new roads for growth and not taking care of what they had," he said. "We knew we had to do something and do it quick."

It was a time when Coletta said he would get 30 complaints a day on the roads, a problem he admits he doesn't have anymore.

Of the things he has done while commissioner, Coletta said he is proud of his lobbying efforts both in Tallahassee and Washington D.C. He talks about an emergency response center on Interstate 75, which the Florida Department of Transportation has in permitting stages now, as one of the efforts he is proud of.

He has also been tenacious when it comes to working for an interchange at I-75 and Everglades Boulevard, something he said he still hopes happens and something he said he hopes the next District 5 commissioner continues to work on.

When asked how he would like to be remembered, Coletta said he hopes voters don't think ill of him, especially after a hard campaign.

"It's disturbing that there was a concerted attempt to portray many of the good things that have been done in this community as negatives," he said.

He said that includes the improvements on Oil Well Road, which has been called "the Road to Nowhere" by critics who objected to the cost to widen the road that leads to Ave Maria and Immokalee. It is a cost, critics said, that was unnecessary.

It also includes criticism of Coletta's support for Jackson Lab, a Maine-based research facility interested in opening up a satellite operation in Collier.

"Look, if someone wanted to come in and look at the possibility of bringing high paying jobs to Collier County, I am always going to talk to them," he said.

Immokalee resident Fred Thomas called Coletta "a good 'ol boy who had respect for the people of Immokalee."

"He's not an elitist or a control freak," he said. "He responds to the community and wants to make it a better place."

As for his own thoughts on his legacy, Coletta said he just hopes Collier residents know he has enjoyed being their commissioner.

"When I was much younger, I never thought I would be an elected official, that I would interact with people of such importance," he said. "They say when you leave something, you should leave it better than you found it. I think that's true of my time as a commissioner."

In retirement from public life, Coletta said he is looking forward to traveling with his wife and spending more time with his family. He also wants to do some of the things he never has time for, including hunting and fishing.

"When I moved here, I thought I would catch fish three times a week, " he said, gesturing to a bass mounted on his wall that he caught before permanently moving to Collier County. "That didn't happen."

As for whether he will go back to the working world, Coletta — who will be 70 in October — said he is at that point where he might not work for a paycheck. But he is not discounting working with non-profits he has supported over the years.

He also said he doesn't plan on running for public office again, although he did admit that he considered running for state representative in 2016 before the primary election.

"I considered it," he said. "But now that I am done, I'm done."

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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