Crystal Kinzel defeats Don Berry to continue as Collier County court clerk
Crystal Kinzel, Collier County's chief deputy clerk, who served as the interim clerk of courts after Dwight Brock 62 Naples
Clarification: The headline on an earlier version of this story should have indicated Crystal Kinzel was elected to fulfill the two years remaining on the term of form Clerk Dwight Brock. We have clarified the headline.
Crystal Kinzel easily defeated challenger Don Berry on Tuesday to retain the clerk of court’s post she was appointed to two months ago.
It was a satisfying win for Kinzel and a reaffirmation of voters’ support of Dwight Brock, the controversial, pugnacious, longtime clerk who died in June, halfway through what he said would be his final term in office.
Brock was grooming Kinzel as his preferred replacement, and her Tuesday tally of 36,911 votes, or 63 percent, to 21,789 votes for Berry, or 37 percent, indicates he made the right choice in the minds of voters.
Kinzel acknowledged the advantage she gained through years of experience working as Brock’s second in-command. “Everyone respected Dwight. There’s got to be some of that" carryover appeal, she said Tuesday at an election watch party at Bokamper’s restaurant in North Naples.
Though Brock often clashed with county commissioners over spending and audits, more often than not it was Kinzel who sat through commission meetings, offering explanations and defenses of the clerk’s policies.
Kinzel, 62, didn’t rely solely on Brock’s coattails to win office.
She talked about new initiatives, like increased training for vendors who regularly do business with the county to help them navigate the bureaucracy, opening more satellite offices for the convenience of residents and further automating the county’s payroll system. Making more public records available online is also a priority, she said. “I’m hoping some of it (appeal) is mine,” she said.
Berry’s decades of experience as a CPA qualified him to perform the clerk’s audit functions, but even he acknowledged a lack of experience with other responsibilities, such as staffing civil and criminal courts. He said he’d rely on top managers in the clerk’s office to handle those matters.
Berry, 77, said he’d offer a new era of cooperation between agencies based on mutual respect. After the vote, he congratulated Kinzel and said he hopes she'll make improvements in areas that became campaign issues, like vendor payment. "I'm glad I ran. A lot of people told me their stories. A lot of them are hurting," he said.
The strategy of exploiting Brock’s penchant for confrontation and costly litigation was muted even before Kinzel was appointed June 20 to temporarily fill the post.
In the past two years, Brock had adopted a more conciliatory tone, aided in part by the return of Burt Saunders, a Brock ally, who served on the County Commission between 1986 and 1994 and was elected to the board again in 2016.
Evidence of improving relations between the clerk’s office and the board could be found in Kinzel’s campaign finance reports. She received donations from both Saunders and Commissioner Donna Fiala, who was frequently at odds with Brock.
Berry criticized Kinzel for taking contributions from commissioners. "We're supposed to be independent of the commission. It doesn't give that appearance," he said after votes were counted.
“Out on the campaign trail, people wanted some change. Everyone recognized the positive changes we’ve made,” Kinzel said Tuesday evening.
According to the latest filings, Kinzel raised about $51,000 for the race, Berry about $33,000.
Before joining Brock’s office in 2005, Kinzel was the finance director for the Collier County Sheriff’s Office for 16 years. Her previous experience includes a stint as the finance director for Key West and a job with the American Association of Retired Persons.
Berry said he'll return full time to his current job as director of accounting for Collier Property Appraiser Abe Skinner.
After Tuesday's outcome became apparent, Kinzel thanked the roughly 100 supporters joining her at Bokamper’s. “It’s overwhelming the support I’ve gotten in this very short time,” she said.