Two GOP candidates square off to replace Dwight Brock as Collier clerk, comptroller
For the first time in a quarter-century, Collier County will have a new clerk of courts and comptroller, in charge of overseeing legal records, audits and the county government's checkbook.
Dwight Brock — a polarizing fixture of local politics, known for the prosecutorial fervor with which he led the office for 26 years and his fierce challenges to the way the county spent money — died in June. He was 64.
Now two Republican candidates are vying to succeed him and serve the rest of his term, which will end in 2020.
Crystal Kinzel, the appointed interim clerk and chief deputy to Brock, and Donald Berry, director of accounting for the county’s property appraiser, will face each other in the Aug. 28 primary.
Kinzel, a longtime finance director for the Collier Sheriff's Office and later at the clerk's office, is running on her decades of experience in local government and finance.
Berry, a certified public accountant who spent the bulk of his career in the private sector before joining the property appraiser's office six years ago, said he wants to put an end to the office's contentious past and change its public perception.
Both have pledged to be watchdogs of taxpayers' money, a role embraced and cherished by Brock. Both vow to avoid legal fights in disputes between the clerk’s office and others. And both say they want to foster a good working relationship with county officials.
That hasn’t always been the case in the past.
As head of the clerk’s office, Brock didn’t shy away from legal battles with the county, fighting commissioners in court over his auditing power, control of a county fund, authority over investment income and the county’s purchasing policy. Some of his challenges were successful, others were not. His critics argued the often protracted legal clashes wasted taxpayer money.
Kinzel, who was hired by Brock in 2005, worked in the clerk’s office during many of the spats between Brock and other county officials.
Some of the fights her former boss took up went to the core of the clerk’s role in local government and had the potential to cause ripple effects beyond county lines.
A six-year legal battle between Brock and the county over the clerk’s auditing power resulted in a victory for Brock in 2010 and solidified the clerk’s oversight role. The case, which originated after Brock discovered what he said was a secret fire department bank account, was watched by clerks of court statewide because the ruling boosted their ability to remain a watchdog over public money.
“That’s a constitutional right of the clerk of courts,” Kinzel said. “That’s the check and balance on government. That’s (a) very important role. Dwight fought for that role. And he won.”
But while her late boss, a former prosecutor, was no stranger to legal skirmishes, Kinzel said she would try to avoid litigation “at all cost” as head of the office, in part, because it can be costly.
“Obviously I do not enjoy litigation,” she said. “I think we should be able to resolve things short of litigation.”
The relationship between the clerk’s office and county staff and commissioners has improved over the past couple of years, Kinzel said.
“I just think it’s working out much better,” she said. “I would not expect that kind of friction that you’ve seen in the past, perhaps.”
Kinzel said she regularly meets with commissioners, and the clerk’s office tries to work with vendors to come up with a resolution if issues arise.
“Now with that having been said, we’ve also had some vendors that have falsified their documents and tried to propagate fraud against the taxpayer,” she said. “They won’t like us.”
Kinzel, 62, grew up in Wellsville, Ohio, a small town near the Pennsylvania border. Her father worked in the steel industry, her mother for Sears.
After marrying young, she and her first husband moved to Washington, D.C., where Kinzel attended George Washington University and took accounting electives.
“And that changed the trajectory of my career,” she said.
She graduated with a bachelor's degree in business administration with an accounting major in 1978 and worked as a bookkeeper and accountant in Washington, D.C., for a handful of years, before her then-husband’s job in the hotel industry took the couple to Key West.
There Kinzel made her first foray into local government, working first as a grants accountant and then as a finance director for the city of Key West. Her ex-husband’s job then took the couple to Panama City where Kinzel worked for a hospital, eventually rising to acting finance director, before moving to Collier in 1988.
Kinzel was the finance director for the Sheriff’s Office for 16 years before Brock recruited her to the clerk of court’s office. There, she has been the chief deputy clerk since 2016 and was appointed as the interim clerk by Gov. Rick Scott after Brock’s death.
Bradley Brock leads attendees in his dad’s favorite song, the FSU war chant, at the conclusion of the memorial service. A memorial service for Collier clerk Dwight Brock was held June 18, 2018, in the atrium of the Collier County Courthouse. Wochit
Kinzel has been married to her current husband, Mike, for 26 years.
The days of contention and strife between the clerk’s office and other parts of county government are in the past, Kinzel said, and the vast majority of vendors have a good relationship with her office. The thawing trend, she said, started under Brock years ago, following his last election victory.
A recently implemented process where an outside moderator, like a retired judge, helps resolve issues with vendors has been a successful tool in keeping cases out of court, Kinzel said.
And as clerk, she would try to expand voluntary training opportunities for vendors, allowing them to sit with county and clerk staff to go over contracts.
“If you want to do business with the county: Here’s procurement. Here’s the clerk. We’re going to work with you so that you’re successful in doing business with the county,” she said.
Brock named Kinzel chief deputy clerk in 2016, thrusting her more into the spotlight as his second-in-command and elevating her as a leader within the office, which has six departments.
Some of the department heads, according to written comments within the personnel file of the agency's human resource director Dena Rader, appear to have had concerns about Kinzel's new role.
In a self-appraisal report from March 2017 submitted to Brock, Rader noted that there "is a feeling of micro-managing, not only from myself, but this has been expressed by most of the other directors."
Rader also wrote that there is "a belief that the experience and knowledge of each director is not valued or respected."
"This inhibits a cohesive team environment and as a result effects productivity," she wrote.
Kinzel attributed the comments to "growing pains" during a period of transition when she went from being a finance director to suddenly rising to become Brock's deputy.
"That put me over all of them," she said. "Prior to that I know what they did and had interactions, but as the chief deputy you may sometimes need more information or more interaction. And it was difficult."
What may have been perceived as micro-managing "was questioning to find out exactly what was being done in certain areas," Kinzel said.
"There were some things that needed to be changed," she said. "And that interaction I think might have caused a little heartburn."
But to Berry, Kinzel’s opponent, the clerk’s office is in need of a fresh pair of eyes. His.
“It’s time for a change,” he said.
Berry said he thinks the office’s contentious past — lawsuits between branches of county government and disputes over slow or non-payments to vendors — will carry forward into the future without a shakeup at the top.
“That office has lost some respect in this community,” he said. “We’re supposed to do our job and theoretically stay under the radar. I mean you don’t hear about the tax collector or even the property appraiser being in the news. They’re doing their job and that’s the way I want to go back to.”
Instead of battling out issues in a courtroom and using taxpayer money to do so, Berry said he would like to resolve problems face-to-face before they ever reach the legal realm.
“I want to stop these lawsuits,” he said. “I think most of those can be resolved around a table or if somebody’s not complying and they don’t know how to file the correct papers, help them.”
His goal, Berry said, would be to run the office in a friendly, but firm manner. Employing an open-door policy, Berry said he would listen to suggestions for improvement and discuss solutions to problems with anyone from clerk employees to vendors to county staff and commissioners.
“Whatever it takes — within the law, because I, too, believe that I’m a guardian of the taxpayer’s dollars — to resolve it,” he said. “And that doesn’t mean you can’t use some common sense.”
Berry, 77, grew up in Waverly, Iowa, a town of about 10,000, situated some 125 miles northeast of Des Moines. His father worked for Goodyear as a tire salesman. His mother was a homemaker, raising Berry and his three younger sisters.
While in Waverly, Berry met his wife, Barbara, a schoolteacher who came to the town for work. The couple married and first moved to Naples in 1963 when Barbara Berry found a job at Naples High School, teaching biology and girls’ physical education.
Berry studied at Edison Community College, now Florida SouthWestern State College, and received his associate’s degree there in 1965. The couple then moved to the state’s east coast where Barbara Berry got a job and her husband continued his studies at Florida Atlantic University, graduating with a bachelor of science degree in accounting in 1967.
Berry became a certified public accountant and worked for a national CPA firm in Fort Lauderdale. After working as a corporate controller at two other businesses, Berry helped found an accounting firm in Collier, serving as managing partner for 16 years.
He retired at 65, but after doing some seasonal accounting work, Berry accepted a job with the Collier property appraiser in 2012 as director of accounting.
“If you ask my wife, who is the schoolteacher, she would tell you that I flunked retirement,” he said.
While most of Berry’s career has taken him through the private sector, his wife, Barbara, is a former elected official, serving on Collier’s board of county commissioners and the school board.
Berry, too, ran for County Commission in 2011, but withdrew from the race for District 3 after less than a month. After talking to some key members in the community, Berry said, he realized he didn’t have the support he needed to be victorious.
“I said, ‘Well, if I can’t garner those two or three key people, I’m not going ahead,’” he recalled. “I don’t get into something normally unless I can win.”
Collier County supervisor of elections Jennifer Edwards talks about how to make sure your ballot is tabulated in the next election. (Video by June Fletcher)
Family: Wife, Barbara Berry; son, Patrick; daughter, Dawn; 6 grandchildren
Hometown: Waverly, Iowa
Collier County resident since: 8/1963 - 6/1965; 6/1973 - 5/2006; 5/2007 - present
Work background: Haskins Sells, national accounting firm now known as Deloitte International Accounting firm, Fort Lauderdale; King Motor Center, corporate controller, Fort Lauderdale; Krehling Industries, corporate controller, Naples; Wentzel, Berry, Wentzel & Phillips CPA firm, Naples (managing partner); Collier County Property Appraiser, director of accounting
County service: Past president of Collier "100" Club, Naples Area Chamber of Commerce, Pelican Bay Rotary, United Way of Collier (board of directors), SW Chapter Florida Institute of Certified Public Accountants
Q: What should the role of the clerk of courts be in Collier County?
A: "The role of Clerk is defined by the Florida constitution of 1838 and Florida statutes to ensure a critical system of "checks and balances" to protect and serve the citizens and taxpayers of Collier County. The Clerk's office also is the keeper of "Official Records" and makes them as accessible to the public as possible while performing over 1,200 functions."
Q: How would you describe your leadership style?
A: "My leadership combines approaches that respond to the needs of the situation: functioning as authoritarian in maintaining the integrity of the office within the role prescribed by law and combining the attributes of a democratic and transformational leadership, empowering employees to recommend and implement appropriate strategies to fulfill their responsibilities — and with respect — encouraging them to reach their full potential."
Family: Married 26 years to husband, Mike; 3 sons and one daughter; and 8 grandchildren
Hometown: Wellsville, Ohio
Collier County resident since: 1988
Work background: American Association of Retired Persons, accountant, Washington, D.C.; National Association of Securities Dealers, accountant; City of Key West, grants accountant/finance director; Bay Medical Center, acting controller/assistant controller, Panama City; Collier County Sheriff's Office, finance director; Collier County Clerk of Courts, director of finance, accounting and internal audit/chief deputy clerk
County service: Finance director, Collier County Sheriff's Office, 1989-2005; Clerk of Courts director of finance and internal audit, 2005-2016; Clerk of Courts chief deputy clerk, 2016-2018; Clerk of the Circuit Court and comptroller - appointed by Gov. Scott, 2018 - Present; participation in numerous community organizations
Q: What should the role of the clerk of courts be in Collier County?
A: "The Clerk is the accountant, auditor, keeper of court and public records and "watchdog" of all public funds. My role is to ensure a critical system of "checks and balances" to protect and serve the citizens and taxpayers of Collier County by making sure that all taxpayer dollars are spent lawfully."
Q: How would you describe your leadership style?
A: "Participative and transformational. I value the input of taxpayers, courts, Board of Commissioners, vendors, community groups and staff. Communication and collaboration are critical to resolving issues and moving forward the mission of the Clerk's Office. Hands-on experiences have provided me the background necessary to lead the Clerk's Office. I look forward to continued successes."