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Commentary, sarcasm and snide remarks from a Florida resident of over thirty years. Being a glutton for punishment is a requirement for residency here. Who am I? I've been called a moonbat by Michelle Malkin, a Right Wing Nut by Daily Kos, and middle of the road by Florida blog State of Sunshine. Tell me what you think.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Florida the rules are different here Chapter XLV

Some news from the Fort Myers News-Press.

A political rival is accusing the Naples Daily News of bribing or influencing incumbent Collier County Commissioner Frank Halas by endorsing his bid for re-election.

Michael R. Lissack, 48, of 15508 Montorosso Lane, made the allegation in a complaint filed Monday afternoon with sheriff's deputies.

Lissack is a no party affiliation candidate running for election in Commission District 2, where Halas is the incumbent.

Halas faces fellow Republican Joseph G. Foster in the Sept. 5 primary and the winner will face Lissack in the November general election.

Lissack told deputies who came to his home that the newspaper endorsed Halas on Saturday and has a hearing before the commission, including Halas, the week after the Sept. 5 primary.

The issue involves the proposed rezoning of land where the Naples Daily News wants to construct a new headquarters. The plan is to relocate the main building from Naples to North Naples.

"Michael believes the timing of the endorsement is an intentional attempt to bribe/influence commissioner Halas' vote," sheriff's reports state.

Lissack went on to say that Halas should recuse himself from voting on the issue, reports state.

Sheriff's detectives will consult with officials at the state attorney's office to determine if the complaint warrants a criminal investigation or whether it will be kept for information purposes only, sheriff's spokeswoman Brigid O'Malley said.

The reports had not been received by the state attorney's office as of Wednesday afternoon, spokeswoman Chere Avery said.

Halas said the endorsement will not influence his vote. He wouldn't say how he will vote on the rezoning issue Sept. 12.

Naples Daily News Editor Phil Lewis said he had no comment beyond what he wrote in his column in the paper this past Sunday.

In that column, Lewis addressed a letter to the paper written by a John Clough of Boca Raton.

Clough said that the newspaper has a potential conflict of interest and should not endorse any candidates for the county commission because of the rezoning issue.

I agree with Clough, the Daily News does have a conflict of interest.

Before making further comment, this is what Phil Lewis wrote.

The Daily News published editorials this past week endorsing candidates in races that will appear on the Sept. 5 primary ballot in both Lee and Collier counties. Early voting starts Monday.

Saturday we made an endorsement in the Collier County Commission, District 2, race, despite a letter saying we should not.

Why should we skip that race?

Because, the writer claims, the Daily News has a “potential conflict of interest.”

We disagree, but in the interest of full disclosure we want to share the writer’s concern with our readers.

Here’s the full text of the letter:

“The Naples Daily News is in the planning stages of moving its headquarters from the City of Naples to North Naples. To move its headquarters, the Naples Daily News has to appear before the Board of County Commissioners and request zoning variances — needing four out of the five commissioners to vote in favor of their project to move forward with their new building.

“The Naples Daily News chooses endorsements for candidates and currently has a choice between the incumbent County Commissioner, who can vote on their zoning requests at the scheduled meeting on September 12, 2006, one week after the Republican Primary election, and a political newcomer who cannot vote on their zoning requests. Because of this potential conflict of interest, the Naples Daily News should not endorse any candidates for County Commission in this election cycle.”

It’s signed by a John Clough of Boca Raton.

Mr. Clough knows the facts.

The Collier County Publishing Co. — which publishes the Naples Daily News, the Bonita Daily News, an assortment of weekly, semiweekly and biweekly newspapers as well as the Marco Eagle, Florida’s newest daily newspaper — plans to move its headquarters from Central Avenue in Naples to a larger tract in North Naples to accommodate a new press and expanded offices in 2008 or 2009.

A rezoning is needed and the County Commission is scheduled to consider the issue Sept. 12 following the approval June 15 by the county planning board. (County commissioners had been scheduled to hear the rezoning request July 25, but the meeting was rescheduled for September to give our publishing company more time to address concerns raised by the planning board at its June meeting.)

The planned move to a new location is news and our reporters have been covering it for nearly a year. Readers interested in all the details should check stories published Sept. 10, Dec. 30 and June 16 on our and websites.

The incumbent referred to in the letter is Frank Halas. The political newcomer is Joe Foster. The winner of the Halas-Foster race in the Sept. 5 Republican primary will face Michael Lissack, an independent, in November. The winner will start a four-year term as commissioner in January. No matter what happens Sept. 5, Halas will be a voting commissioner until the end of the year.

Three veteran members of the Daily News Editorial Board — myself, Editorial Page Editor Jeff Lytle and Columnist Brent Batten — interviewed Halas on Aug. 4 and Foster on Aug. 7. None of us, nor anyone else in our newsroom, is involved in the planning for a new printing plant.

We discussed a wide range of big-picture issues with the two candidates — taxes, affordable housing, impact fees, fire consolidation, concurrency, the environment.

We didn’t bring up the relocation and neither did they.

We chose to endorse Halas (yesterday’s editorial explains why) for a second term, knowing that at least one person believes an endorsement could be perceived as some type of quid pro quo.

We don’t see it that way and believe endorsing candidates for local office is a daily newspaper’s duty to the community.

We also are confident of the following:

Our company’s plans to relocate will stand on their own merit.

All five commissioners will base their decision on the law and what they feel is best for the citizens of Collier County, not whether they like us or not.

We do thank Mr. Clough for explaining his concern and giving us a chance to address it.

As for the value of our endorsement?

That’s for our readers to decide.

Lewis is correct in his conclusion. The paper's editorial page readers will be the ones to judge the value of the paper's endorsement. As someone who reads editorials all the time, I take any newspaper endorsement with a grain of salt. In the case of the Palm Beach Post, that grain usually weighs five or more pounds.

I also think Michael Lissack calling this a bribe is ludicrous. Newspapers have been endorsing candidates for as long as they have existed. The Daily News is free to make any endorsements they wish.

Saying that, I think the paper would have wiser to stay silent on these elections. An endorsement doesn't need to be done, here the News has a clear conflict because they have business the commission. What would Mr. Lewis say of a politician endorsing another who the first one had some possible stake in a future vote done by the second? We all know what the answer would be. Mr. Lewis tap dancing around the paper's
very real conflict of interest sounds disingenuous at best and hypocritical at worst.

Freedom of the Press gives the MSM the right to publish almost anything they wish. At the same time, they should have see there are times when silence is a wiser course of action.

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