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Questions raised about commissioner appointment

By Staff | Aug 6, 2019

The appointment of Lee County’s newest commissioner wasn’t without controversy.

Raymond Sandelli, a Bonita Springs business executive, was sworn in Tuesday morning in county commission chambers, but outside of them, at least one applicant for the position for which Sandelli, did not apply, has questioned the process.

Christin Collins, who works with Lee Health overseeing their health and wellness initiative, thought she was to be appointed to the vacant District 3 County Commission seat when she received a call from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Chief of Staff on July 11 telling her that she was to be tapped.

“He stated that he is now working on the press release, and would be sending it out within two hours. Before he hit send, there were three calls he would make,” said Collins.

Those calls would be to the acting chair of the Board of the County Commission, Brian Hamman, as well as two big local Republican donors, Collins said.

Hamman confirmed Tuesday that he got a “courtesy call” to inform him that DeSantis had narrowed it down to two candidates, with Collins being one of them.

“I knew both candidates and shared that both were qualified and I could work with either,” Hamman said via email.

The other candidate was Matt Roepstorff, an attorney in Fort Myers.

“Both Ms. Collins and Mr. Roepstorff had significant community support. I can’t speculate as to what happened after my conversation with the Governor’s Chief of Staff,” Hamman said.

Collins said in a statement sent to supporters and then submitted as a guest column at the request of The Breeze, that the governor’s chief of staff said he would be calling back within two hours, and that the press release of her appointment was ready to go.

Upon receiving a call back, Collins said she was asked three questions.

“He immediately asked if I had hosted fundraisers for Democratic candidates,” said Collins. “I replied that I had not hosted any fundraisers for Democratic candidates. I did share that in 2018, I attended a local gathering to meet Nikki Fried who was running for Commissioner of Agriculture. This invitation was extended by a wonderful Republican friend who felt Ms. Fried would make an excellent Commissioner. Ms. Fried is a Democrat. After hearing her message celebrating pro-business, pro-growth, pro-agriculture and pro-hemp, my husband and I gladly donated to her campaign.”

The second question asked was if she was affiliated with the Republican Executive Committee. She was not.

The third and last question Collins was asked was about her stance on women’s reproductive rights.

“I calmly began to explain that the County Commission does not make decisions regarding this issue,” said Collins. “But regardless, I expressed that I do not sit in judgement of pro-life / pro-choice. Many decades ago I was robbed of the opportunity to have children, and I choose not to judge others.”

In June of 1990, just one month after graduating college and having no health insurance or job, she sought birth control from a free health clinic in New Haven, CT, upon meeting a gentleman who she realized she “might get involved” with.

“After being examined at this clinic, I was not given birth control, but was asked to come back the following week to be seen by a physician from Yale … within 24 hours I found myself on an operating table at Yale-New Haven hospital having ‘exploratory’ surgery. I woke up 11 hours later to learn that I had ovarian cancer, and that both of my ovaries were removed.

“At 21 years old, with zero symptoms and zero health insurance…. this accidental discovery literally saved my life. So yes, I have shared many times that Planned Parenthood saved my life.”

As their conversation drew to an end, Collins said she was told to sit tight and that she would be contacted.

She never was.

The process, but not the selection announced on Friday, has drawn comment in the community.

“I’m disappointed that a highly qualified woman who could bring a community together on important issues was passed over apparently because she went to Planned Parenthood for lifesaving treatment in 1990, or attended one political event for a candidate of the wrong political party,” said District 7 Cape Coral Councilmember, Jessica Cosden. “This polarization and insistence on partisan purity reflects everything wrong with the current political landscape, both locally and nationally. It sends the wrong message to anybody considering running for office or seeking appointment.”

Collins said that for the last 21 days, she has sat with this experience and chose to remain quiet during the process so that it could work itself out without her interference.

She said she chose to reach out about the issue now because of support from the community.

“I am at peace knowing that this experience has made me a stronger, more whole person,” said Collins. “I proudly stand by my morals, values, honesty and integrity. I embrace my collaborative mind, not following the tribe just because I am a part of it, but taking each and every person & issue individually and making the best decision I can.”

Cosden hopes that this does not deter any future female leaders from stepping up in the political realm, notably in Lee County.

“There is a lack of representation of women overall in Lee County, and I hope this does not discourage other women from considering public office,” said Cosden. “There are so many talented and qualified women in this community; we must support their political aspirations so that there is some diversity on the County Commission. Elected officials should reflect the make up of the community so that all sides of the issues and perspectives are considered. That’s why I ran for office.”

Collins’ true message? That polarization, hate and fear need to stop.

“I am a Republican woman who can see the good in the other side. Who supports access to health care and family planning. Who has spent two decades in this community working toward a healthier, happier more connected community,” Collins said. “My story is not one about membership into a particular political party. It is also not about Planned Parenthood. And shame on those who made it about that.

“This polarization needs to stop. This hate and fear needs to stop. This judgement needs to stop. We are hurting ourselves, and one another. We are destroying our planet. We are toxifying our water supply, our air, our minds. I am forever thankful for this experience, and the 21 day reflection. I know deep in my soul that the answers are available, if we choose to sit quietly long enough to hear them.”

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj