Moran files paperwork to try to succeed Ford-Coates as county tax collector

Ford-Coates plans to seek another term

Commissioner Michael Moran is shown in a still from his campaign YouTube video. News Leader image

With his tenure on the Sarasota County Commission coming to an end in November 2024, as a result of term limits, Republican Commissioner Michael Moran has decided to challenge the county’s long-time tax collector, Barbara Ford-Coates, a Democrat.

Moran filed his paperwork on Aug. 10 with the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.

He also has begun the effort to raise funds for his next campaign, as noted in an email blast distributed last week.

Near its top, that email says of Ford-Coates, “She has been in office for 49 YEARS …!!”

However, during an Aug. 22 telephone interview, Ford-Coates pointed out to the News Leader that she has been tax collector for only 39 years. She is planning to run again, she said. Although she normally files for another term in January of the election year, Ford-Coates continued, she probably will turn in her campaign paperwork in September. “I want to go ahead and get started.”

She has picked up the candidate package provided by the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office, she added.

In a campaign video, to which his email blast links, Moran says, “Sarasota County is one of the most amazing communities in the country; some would say the world.”

He adds, “I’ve done everything in my power to maintain the quality of life in Sarasota County … Help me continue protecting our quality of life here in Sarasota County.”

On his campaign website, Moran says, “I am a husband, father, resident and proud taxpayer of Sarasota County. I want my county to thrive. The key to Sarasota County’s continuing prosperity is an adequate supply of good-paying careers, economic diversity and the aggressive protection of our way of life here. Both of my children graduated from the University of Florida. My daughter, Laina, continues to reside in Sarasota County, and my son Mikey lives in Austin Texas working for an Elon Musk company using his degree as a mechanical engineer. My amazing wife, Lori (married 30 years), and I are committed to Sarasota County and will do whatever it takes to protect our quality of life. We want to watch our grandchildren enjoy one of the best places on earth … Sarasota, Florida!”

This is part of the email blast that Commissioner Mike Moran sent out last week, which incorrectly claims Ford-Coates has been in office for 49 years, rather than 39 years. Image from the email

Below that statement and his name, the next two lines note that Moran is the county commissioner for District 1 and that he is a candidate for Sarasota County tax collector.

In an article that appeared last week in the Sun newspapers in South County, Moran told reporter Barbara Richardson, “ ‘On repeated occasions, over several years, [Ford-Coates] continues to reject our offering to update the technology in her office.’

“ ‘With my finance, accounting, and technology experience,’ ” he continued, “ ‘I am well suited for this job. Residents want efficient and reliable online services as an option … Most importantly, not keeping up with the advancements of technology can create serious cyber security vulnerability.’ ”

Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates addresses the commissioners during her budget presentation on June 20. News Leader image

Ford-Coates told the News Leader what she has told the County Commission many times during budget presentations over the years: She greatly appreciates compliments about her staff, but she also welcomes criticism. She sees every negative comment as an opportunity for improvement, she pointed out.

“I read every comment card that comes into the office,” Ford-Coates said, indicating that customers routinely mail cards to her staff.

In fact, she continued, one of her favorite cards was written by a man who explained, “ ‘I was in such a miserable mood [when he came to the office, seeking assistance] … I was so happy when I left.’ ”

“That’s what life is about,” she added.

Commissioners’ laudits for Ford-Coates and her staff

The late Commissioner Nancy Detert routinely raved about Ford-Coates and the Tax Collector’s Office staff when Ford-Coates appeared before the commissioners to present her annual, proposed budgets.

In June 2018, Detert told Ford-Coates, “I would just like to thank you for running a great office. … I don’t think I’ve ever heard a complaint. …

I’ve just heard the nicest things.”

In fact, Detert said, she even has heard that staff in the Tax Collector’s Office has been known to chip in a dollar when a customer is short on a payment.

“That has been known to happen,” Ford-Coates replied.

During Ford-Coates’ June 2022 presentation, even Commissioner Christian Ziegler, who was vice chair of the Republican Party of Florida — he became chair this year — commended Ford-Coates and her staff for their service.

“Your office and your employees are fantastic,” he said, adding, “DMVs [divisions of motor vehicles] aren’t the sexiest of topics.” He was referring to the fact that the Tax Collector’s Office also issues driver’s licenses.

When people ask him what they could expect if they moved to Sarasota County, Ziegler continued, one of his top responses is to talk about the services of the Tax Collector’s Office.

Having grown up in Georgia, he said, he had to wait six hours “to get [his] original driver’s license.”

In Sarasota, Ziegler added, “By the time I sit down” in the Tax Collector’s Office, a staff member calls him over for assistance.

“I never hear complaints about you guys,” Ziegler told Ford-Coates, “which is unbelievable, considering how many people you guys touch on an annual basis.”

On June 20, following her budget remarks, Commissioner Joe Neunder, who was just elected to the District 4 seat in November 2022, said, “I just want to take the opportunity to thank you for serving our community.”

He noted that he had known Ford-Coates most of his life.

That day — as usual — Ford-Coates talked of the fact that her office’s operations are covered by the fees her staff collects. This year, she expects to turn over $14.5 million to the county — money that would be considered “profit” in the business world, she said. Last year, she added, the amount was $12.8 million.

Moreover, she told the commissioners that she was proud to report that her office this year has been recognized as the most cost-efficient in the entire state — among all 67 counties. That recognition was based on the number of staff she has per capita in the county, she explained.

For years, Ford-Coates remarked on the fact that her office had the distinction of being No. 2 in the state in that respect.

Past elections

This is the top of the homepage on the Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office website.

Moran won his first election to the commission’s District 1 seat in November 2016. Although he narrowly prevailed in the Republican Primary in August 2020 as he sought to keep the seat — while facing an East County challenger, Mike Hutchinson, who is an advocate for slowing residential development in the county — Moran won with more ease in the General Election that year.

In the 2020 Primary, Moran captured 51.76% of the votes — 5,354 to Hutchinson’s 4,989, the records of the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office show.

In the General Election, he beat Democrat Mark E. Pienkos by taking 55.89% of the 52,900 votes cast in the race.

Prior to seeking the District 1 seat, Moran served as a county planning commissioner and as a member of the board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, having been appointed to the latter seat by then-Gov. Rick Scott.

The last time Ford-Coates had a challenger was in 2016, when she faced Republican Jim Bender. She ended up with 61.38% of the 221,886 votes cast in that race, the Supervisor of Elections Office records note.

In 2008, Ford-Coates took 67.22% of the 194,373 votes cast when she faced Republican Donna Clarke, a former Florida House member. In advance of that contest, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported that Clarke was Ford-Coates’ first challenger in 16 years.

Ford-Coates’ biography, on the Tax Collector’s website, notes that she joined the office in 1975 and first was elected tax collector in 1984.

The biography also points out, “She has been unopposed four times and received the highest vote count of any candidate (local, state or federal) on the Sarasota County ballot in three elections. She has the longest service in the history of Sarasota County elected officials and is the longest serving Florida Tax Collector currently in office.”

On the county website, Moran’s biography notes that he “is a self-made businessman who understands the struggles of meeting a payroll, paying taxes and dealing with governmental red tape. After selling his payroll and insurance firm in Michigan, Moran moved to Sarasota in 2002,” with his wife children.

The bio also says, “His goal is to make government accountable to taxpayers and fully represent all constituents. He is committed to keeping Sarasota a world-class community to raise a family, start a business or have a fulfilling retirement, all with as little governmental intrusion as possible.”

An accompanying list of appointments and memberships points out that Moran is a licensed insurance agent and a licensed real estate agent in Florida and that he is a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association.

As a commissioner, he has been especially critical over the years of the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County, calling for its leaders to prove through documentation that they have used county funding efficiently in trying to recruit and retain businesses.

In the past, Moran also has criticized the county’s tourism agency, Visit Sarasota County, calling for its staff and board to demonstrate their effective use of county financial support, as well.

The initiative that the late Commissioner Detert cited on a number of occasions as Moran’s legacy, however, is the establishment of a Mental Health Care Special District, in an effort to ensure that people — especially children and youth — who need help are able to obtain the appropriate services.

Qualifying for the tax collector’s race will come in June. In the meantime, only quarterly reporting of any funds Moran or Ford-Coates receives will be required until after the 2024 election year begins. (See the related article in this issue.)
In his email blast, Moran pointed out that $1,000 is the maximum contribution any individual or entity can make, as provided for in the Florida Statutes.

Moran also has set up a campaign Facebook page. The first post, which appeared on Aug. 10, following his filing at the Supervisor of Elections Office, had 34 likes as of late morning on Aug. 23, when the News Leader reviewed it.

1 thought on “Moran files paperwork to try to succeed Ford-Coates as county tax collector”

  1. When Mr. Moran ran for Commissioner of District 1, I don’t recall his asking residents to contribute to his campaign. He had large contributions from every major developer, and his launch party was paid for by James Gabbert, whose proposal for an open air recycling facility next to the birding and bird-nesting area of the Celery Fields was blocked – Moran and Maio voting for it.

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