Collier County Coastal Advisory Committee

Ritz Carlton Naples BeachResignation of beach advocate raises questions about makeup, future of coastal panel.

By Cathy Zollo of Naples Daily News Saturday, February 12, 2005.

The resignation of an outspoken member of the Collier County Coastal Advisory Committee has raised questions with county commissioners about the makeup of the board and its future responsibilities.

Commissioner Jim Coletta, whose district has no beaches, said he will bring up the matter at the next commission meeting, and Commissioner Tom Henning, who represents a landlocked district, said as well that the matter bears discussion.

Both were disappointed at the resignation of Naples businessman Graham Ginsberg from the CAC.

“I’m disappointed about two things,” Coletta said, “that the CAC drove Mr. Ginsberg to resign, and I’m sorry to hear about the fact that he did resign. It’s regrettable. We had an advocate for beach access that surpassed anything we had in the past.”

Coletta said he wants to talk about including beach access in the board’s duties as well as changing the makeup of the committee to better reflect the county’s population which tends to live in the interior rather than the coast of Collier.

Commissioner Donna Fiala, whose district includes Marco Island, said last month she also wanted to discuss the matter and planned to bring it up to the commission but never did.

Graham, who joined the committee about a year ago, said he quit because other members were working to silence him about beach issues — particularly beach access issues and renourishment of beaches that don’t have easy public access.

That’s despite the fact that the committee allowed protests at the Jan. 13 meeting by environmentalists opposed to a boardwalk giving access to people visiting Tigertail Beach on Marco to its bird sanctuary and the Gulf.

At the same meeting, other members of the committee sought guidance from the County Attorney’s Office about censuring unnamed members for being vocal in public and in the media.

It was Ginsberg’s last meeting.

Though no names came up, Ginsberg knew he was the target, and CAC Chairman Ron Pennington acknowledged as much but said the committee didn’t unfairly silence Ginsberg.

“The dissent should be appropriate dissent when we have it,” Pennington said. “It should be about beach matters. I don’t expect a unanimous vote on everything that goes on there.”

After the January meeting, Pennington asked the County Attorney’s Office about adding a code of conduct to the ordinance governing advisory committees.

County Attorney David Weigel said there is no such guide in the ordinance but that members of advisory boards serve at the pleasure of commissioners.

Ginsberg said the silencing of dissent rubbed him too far the wrong way.

“This issue is much bigger than me,” Ginsberg said. “It’s got to do with how the boards around the county are managed. We should encourage diversity, respect diversity, none of which has happened with this board. There was absolutely no point in me being there.”

Ginsberg said Henning asked him to join the committee because of his work on the beach access issue, and he accepted.

“I’m never one to turn down my public duty,” he said. “People ask me to do something and I generally feel obligated.”

That obligation turned to deep interest as Ginsberg fought for issues he thought important and not addressed by the committee. Those included his commitment to protecting and promoting beach access in Collier County and opposing the use of public money to protect beaches that are de facto private.

Pennington said the makeup of the committee shouldn’t change since the two cities have jurisdiction over their beaches and coastal residents are more interested in beach issues.

“They live inland, and they want a voice in everything,” Pennington said. “I would point out also that people that live in the city or in close proximity to the beach pay a lot of money to do that. The coastal residents are the ones who are primarily concerned with what happens to their beach. Why should someone from Immokalee be judging what happens to their beach?”

Ginsberg said that’s the attitude he was fighting.

“I’ve been partially successful,” he said of victories on changing some committee rules and procedures, shedding light on public money going to beaches that have little or no access and showing that diverse opinions haven’t been accepted by the CAC.

His point in resigning was to underline those.

“I don’t feel the board is a true representative of what a public board should be,” he said. “I would reconsider my resignation if diverse opinions were an accepted part of the committee.”