Patton Staffer Admits “District” Meddling in 2016 School Board Election

By Steve Bracci:

This post follows up on my June 7 post about whether Superintendent Kamela Patton’s staff interfered in the 2016 School Board election.

In my June 7 e-mail to the School Board, I had asked who the “we” was in a June 2016 e-mail where Patton’s communications department was requesting corrections to articles to more favorably report coverage toward the campaigns of now-school board members Erick Carter and Stephanie Lucarelli.  It appeared that the “we” was the Collier County School District.  Last night, communications official Leanne Zinser confirmed my belief.

Looking further into the substance of the June 2016 Naples Daily News article in question, it appears that Patton’s staff was attempting to clarify the public reporting about which candidates would be in favor of extending Superintendent Patton’s employment contract.  In other words, it appears that Patton’s staff wanted the public to know who to vote for if you wanted to ensure Patton’s contract extension, and made requests for corrections to the article with a sense of urgency.

Here is a link to the June 20, 2016, Naples Daily News article:  [Click here for article link:]

The following is an e-mail I sent to the School Board today, in follow-up:

Board – last night you all agreed that preferential treatment of school board candidates is inappropriate.  Your suggested solution was to fix it moving forward.  This does not address what happened during the 2016 school board election campaign, the result of which is that we have two then-candidates now sitting on the school board dais.  Last night, Ms. Zinser also admitted that the “we” in her article is the District itself.  Since the school board never made a policy decision to meddle in the 2016 school board election by tracking coverage to ensure accuracy of reporting for candidates, the “District” as described by Ms. Zinser can only mean Superintendent Patton and her staff.  Ms. Lichter correctly stated last night that “the buck stops with the Superintendent.”

The vague answer by Ms. Zinser last night does not sufficiently explain why she meddled in the election coverage.  The rescue interjection by Mr. Turchetta – who then foolishly proceeded to say “I cannot speak to an e-mail I did not write” despite no one ever asking for his opinion – further makes one ponder what the Communications Department of the Patton Administration was up to last summer.

The June 2016 NDN article in question is attached. The article reported on which school board candidates would support an extension of Superintendent Kamela Patton’s contract.  It would thus appear that Patton’s staff tracked election coverage and demanded that the Naples Daily News correct the story so that the voting public would know who to vote for if they wanted to ensure the extension of Superintendent Patton’s contract.  This was so important to the Patton Administration that Ms. Zinser requested three times and with a sense of urgency that the article be changed.  Ms. Zinser made these requests during regular business hours, from her District e-mail address, under color of District authority.

Ms. Lichter – you indicated that Mr. Fishbane put this matter back upon you to look into as a board member- so can you please ask Ms. Zinser and Mr. Turchetta for:  (i) all other requests for corrections to election news coverage made by the Patton Administration during the 2016 school board campaign; (ii) all other communications with the Naples Daily News or other news organizations pertaining to the 2016 school board election; (iii) all documents evidencing staff meetings and communications with Mr. Carter and/or Ms. Lucarelli during the 2016 election; and (iv) all documents evidencing staff meetings and communications with other school board candidates during the 2016 election; (v) all agendas and minutes for the Superintendent’s cabinet meetings for the year 2016; (vi) all agendas for District staff meetings with the Naples Daily News from the start of 2016 through present; and (vii) all information regarding possible coordination between the Patton administration staff and Roy Terry during the 2014 school board candidacy.  As to the last item, if I recall correctly, was there was some discussion about the Patton administration conducting opposition research on behalf of Roy Terry?  Please share these documents with me once you receive them.

Please also ask Ms. Zinser why she has not responded to my public records request below.  I asked for the Outlook invitations and responses to the Erick Carter meeting that occurred in April 2016.

There should be no objection from staff to your request, and you should demand that they deliver the documents promptly.  As you know, Jon Fishbane typically conducts investigations.  But you indicated that he threw this responsibility back on to you, and it would seem that Jon Fishbane is conflicted in this anyway given that he serves at the will of the Superintendent.  You should insist that staff complies, so you can do your job as the people’s elected representative and get to the bottom of this.

This whole campaign issue might also be relevant to other recent concerns about possible orchestration regarding the Mason Classical Academy contract extension and the timing of the attempted NDN/Hammerschlag hit piece that came out, followed closely by the apparent desires of Roy Terry, Erick Carter and Stephanie Lucarelli to re-open discussion on a ministerial item for the signing of a contract extension which the board had already unanimously approved in March. If not for the efforts of Mason’s administration, its legal counsel, and other concerned citizens, this Mason episode might have turned out much worse.

Ms. Zinser – do you intend to acknowledge and respond to the public records request I sent you a  week ago?  Or has Mr. Fishbane instructed you once again to withhold public records from me, similar to the sworn testimony you gave back in December 2015?

Sincerely,

Steve Bracci

Folks, this really stinks.  And I believe it goes beyond the Communications Department.  I suspect it lies at the feet of Superintendent Kamela Patton.