Being in the new minority on the Collier County Commission for just about two months, former Chairman Fred Coyle hasn’t been getting kicked around for very long.
But after 2014, you won’t have Fred Coyle to kick around any more.
Coyle says he will not seek re-election to the District 4 seat he’s held since 2001.
Coyle’s frustration with the direction taken by the commission majority led by Georgia Hiller has been apparent since Hiller became chairwoman in December.
The commission’s stances on issues such as red light cameras at intersections, the pavilion at Vanderbilt Beach, the evaluation and treatment of top county employees, beach renourishment and pass dredging, ongoing litigation against owners of substandard housing and the Immokalee Area Master Plan have shifted since Tim Nance defeated Jim Coletta in the Republican primary last year, clearing the way for him to join the board in December.
The one-vote swing makes all the difference to Coyle. “I just don’t want to be associated with the legacy these people are going to leave,” he said.
Late last year, former Republican State Committeewoman Lavigne Ann Kirkpatrick filed papers to run for the District 4 seat. She challenged Coyle in 2010, losing 54 percent to 46 percent.
That campaign was a contentious one and Kirkpatrick, in a statement to supporters last week, promised to bring back some of the same criticisms she had for Coyle then, particularly that the county spent too much money and took on too much debt during Coyle’s tenure.
She won’t be able to target Coyle again. “I’ve had enough. She’ll have to run against somebody else,” he said.
Who that somebody else might be is an open question. Coyle declined to name his favored candidate but it’s certain it won’t be Kirkpatrick.
District 4 encompasses the City of Naples and part of East Naples.
Naples Mayor John Sorey is happy where he’s at. “I’m delighted being mayor and I have no interest in being on the county commission,” he said.
Politically ambitious Councilman Sam Saad said he is interested in the commission seat, but he won’t be a candidate in 2014. “It’s not my time. I’ve got a business to run. I really like being on City Council,” said Saad, who added he does plan to seek re-election.
Saad’s colleague Gary Price is similarly disinterested. “I’ve thought about it but I can’t sacrifice my family and my work to that extent. It doesn’t interest me,” Price said.
The person most mentioned as a possible candidate is former City Councilwoman Penny Taylor. She didn’t know about Coyle’s plans to bow out until Wednesday. “I always told Fred I’d never run against him,” Taylor said. “He’s been an outstanding leader. We’ve benefited greatly from his leadership.”
With Coyle leaving, Taylor said she’ll consider several factors, not the least of which will be the possibility that the race will be a negative one. “It’s a blood sport,” she said. “You never know until you know,” she said of the decision to run.
Kirkpatrick said Coyle’s decision won’t affect how she runs. “We really don’t know who’s going to run until the qualifying period. I don’t focus on who I’m running against, I focus on the issues,” she said.
The lament of Kirkpatrick, often repeated by Hiller, that Coyle and his fellow commissioners borrowed too much and overspent rings hollow with Coyle, who also served two years on Naples City Council before being appointed to the county commission to fill the unfinished term of Pam Mac’Kie.
Borrowed money was used for capital improvements like roads, water plants and jail expansion. Waiting until there was enough cash on hand to build those facilities would have meant county residents suffering for years through the crises brought on by rapid growth in the 1990s and 2000s.
The county’s total debt of about $700 million is less than the county’s annual revenue.
Comparatively, if a person with an income of $50,000 a year had less than $50,000 in mortgages, car loans and credit card balances that person would be in good financial shape, Coyle reasons.
But Coyle is clearly discouraged by his new status as a minority voice on the commission.
“I don’t think anyone cares,” he said.