Brent Batten: Commission members didn’t plan on this

BRENT BATTEN

You wouldn’t know it by the time allotted, but there’s been a change in county government.

In the space of just over a minute last week, the Collier County Planning Commission lost almost 20 years of institutional knowledge.

Planning commissioners Mark Strain and Brad Schiffer were not reappointed to the panel even though both had applied.

Their departure, and the decision by Commissioner Georgia Hiller not to nominate anyone to take Schiffer’s place, leaves the Planning Commission one member short heading into a vote Thursday on whether or not to recommend acceptance of a settlement agreement in a multimillion dollar property rights lawsuit facing the county.

The Planning Commission is among the most influential of the many volunteer advisory boards offering guidance to Collier County commissioners. Its recommendations are merely that, but a favorable review from CCPC can pave the way for a project to sail through the do-or-die decision making process.

A contentious one, in which members raise concerns, can portend months of extra wrangling, if not outright doom, for a development.

The Planning Commission is made up of nine voting members drawn from each of the county’s five commission districts. Under county rules, a planning commission applicant must be nominated by the county commissioner representing the district the applicant lives in.

That in essence gives each county commissioner veto power over the applicants from his or her district.

The term of Schiffer, who has represented District 2 on the Planning Commission since 2003, expired Oct. 1. He applied for renomination. One other person applied as well. Asked for her nomination at last week’s county commission meeting, District 2 Commissioner Hiller said “I’m not prepared to make a nomination.”

With that, County Commission Chairman Fred Coyle moved on to District 5, where Strain also had completed a term on the CCPC. Three others applied.

District 5 Commissioner Jim Coletta nominated local attorney Doug Rankin, who was approved on a 4 to 1 vote with Hiller dissenting.

In the space of a minute and 15 seconds, Both Schiffer and Strain found themselves off the planning board.

Schiffer, an architect by trade, says he doesn’t know why Hiller found him unsuitable for reappointment. “I’ve tried to call her and, nothing,” he said. “I can’t do anything but take a hint. She’s not going to reappoint me.”

He said he’ll reapply, nonetheless.

Strain, on the other hand, has a very definite theory as to why he wasn’t reappointed. “It was payback to the community for not re-electing Coletta,” Strain said.

Strain, a retired builder first appointed to the Planning Commission on Sept. 11, 2001, supported Coletta challenger and eventual nominee Tim Nance in the Republican primary race for the District 5 seat. He said he felt Coletta was being influenced by interests outside of District 5 in his last term, citing the Jackson Labs proposal as one instance. He said he sees Nance as the better candidate.

Rankin, who is active in Republican politics in the county, supported Coletta.

Hiller and Coletta are political foes usually found on opposite sides of issues. Neither Schiffer nor Strain believes their ousters are part of a coordinated effort between the two.

Schiffer praised Strain’s leadership of the CCPC. “We were lucky to have him,” he said. Likewise, Strain praised Schiffer. “Brad’s a very good commissioner.”

Ironically, Strain said he’s the one who suggested to Coletta that commissioners should have veto power over the CCPC members from their districts. “Guess who was the first one to get burned by it — me,” Strain said.

“I was a little surprised he took his vengeance out on me. I still don’t see how it’s better for the community,” Strain added.

Neither Hiller nor Coletta responded to a request for comment.

Schiffer says being rejected is part of the process. “It’s a political appointment. It’s as simple as that.”

Connect with Brent Batten at naplesnews.com/staff/brent_batten

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