Sarasota Republican files to challenge Moran in primary for tax collector’s race

Moran raises nearly $89,000 for race through 2023

Editor’s note: This article was updated in the early afternoon of Feb. 2 to clarify that Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates is running for re-election.

Charles A. Bear. Image from his LinkedIn account for his campaign

A third person has filed for the Sarasota County tax collector’s race this year, submitting paperwork to the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections in mid-December 2023.

Republican Charles A. Bear of Sarasota will face County Commissioner Michael Moran in the August Primary as both seek to win the position that Democrat Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates has held since 1984.

A LinkedIn account that Bear created says, “I’ve been a member of the Florida Tax Collectors community for nearly 25 years. I’ve worked for both Florida Tax Collectors and Florida Tax Collector Software Vendors. I have an understanding of the inner workings of an elected or appointed officials office while also understanding the needs to make a profit by a vendor.”

He added, “I’ve transitioned back to the public sector working for the Charlotte County Tax Collectors [sic] office as their Director of Tax Operations after 8 years back in the private sector. I hope to continue helping Florida Tax Collectors do the job they were tasked to do at a reasonable cost. I’ve decided now is the time to take these experiences and my knowledge and share it with Sarasota County. I am pleased to announce that I am a candidate for Sarasota County Tax Collector.”

(Sarasota County Property Appraiser Office record shows that Bear lives in a condominium complex south of Bee Ridge Road.)

After the 2023 fiscal year ended on Sept. 30, Tax Collector Ford-Coates and her staff announced that her office had turned over record “profits” to the county taxing districts: $17.8 million. The amount that went to the County Commission was $16.3 million.

In a message to the commissioners in which she shared the information about the actual total, a news release said, Ford-Coates explained that the excess fees represented “what the private sector would call ‘profit.’ ” She added, “This is the highest percentage returned of all Florida Tax Collectors.”

Further, Bear pointed out in his LinkedIn campaign account, “Prior to entering this industry, I held positions in the financial services industry which required a Series 7 License and a Life, Health and Variable Annuities License. This financial background gives me a different perspective when dealing with investors inquiring on tax lien investments. I understand Tax Lien investments and the risks involved in them.”

Additionally, Bear noted, “Everyone is challenged with getting the customer out the door as quickly as possible while providing the highest level of customer service. I have an ability to look at both the financial implications but also the customer implications of changes made.”
For years, Sarasota County commissioners — all Republicans — have praised Tax Collector Ford-Coates, a Democrat, and her staff for their high level of customer service. On a couple of occasions during budget workshops, the late Commissioner Nancy Detert offered anecdotes to illustrate the quality of the staff’s actions.

Sarasota County Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates (left) accepts the Thomson Reuters award from Lisa Hargiss, senior director for technical marketing with the company. Contributed photo

In September 2016, Ford-Coates, who is running for re-election as a Democrat, was recognized with the Thomson Reuters Public Sector Champion Award for Excellence in Office Leadership.

Thomson Reuters’ seven-person evaluation committee examined nominees from more than 1,000 of the company’s government customers worldwide in areas of planning, leadership and service, a news release said at the time.

Moreover, in September 2023, Ford-Coates earned a special designation for excellence in the field of financial operations from the Florida Tax Collectors Association. That announcement explained, “Award recipients are selected by a five-person judging panel made up of government financial executives from throughout Florida.” This panel examined the tax collector’s processes as they related to the following four areas of competency, a news release noted:

  • Innovation and automation.
  • Perfect annual audit report.
  • Customer focus.
  • Budgeting.

Moran first was elected to the County Commission in November 2016. After re-election in November 2020, he is term-limited. He filed for the Tax Collector’s Office race in August 2023.

Qualifying for individuals seeking county seats in the 2024 election cycle will begin at noon on Monday, June 10, and end at noon on Friday, June 14, the Florida Division of Elections notes.

Moran receives nearly $89,000 in 2023 campaign contributions

Thanks to a change in state law, only quarterly campaign finance reports had to be filed through the end of last year for candidates in 2024 races.

As of Dec. 31, 2023, The Sarasota News Leader found, incumbent Ford-Coates had yet to raise any money. Bear had given $124.70 to his campaign, his solitary filing showed. Of that amount, $24.70 covered the expense of Bank of America checks, the document said.

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

However, Moran had collected $88,810 through Dec. 31, 2023, his reports showed. He had spent only $3,087.23 of that amount.

In the third quarter of 2023, Moran listed a total of 71 contributions adding up to $64,000. One of those was a $5,000 loan he made to his campaign.

Further, 54 of the 71 contributions were the maximum amount provided for through state law — $1,000.

Several of those were bundles:

  • $10,000 from Benderson Development Co. and several of its affiliated limited liability companies.
  • $5,000 from Hugh Culverhouse, the developer of Palmer Ranch, and entities associated with Culverhouse.
  • $5,000 from Sarasota land-use attorney William Merrill III; his wife, Karen; and other companies associated with attorney Merrill.
  • $5,000 from developer Carlos Beruff and entities associated with him and his company, Medallion Home.
  • $4,000 from developer Gary Kompothecras of Siesta Key and limited liability companies of which he is the principal.
  • $3,000 from Jim Gabbert, a former Sarasota Charter Review Board member; his wife, Lori; and the Gabbert Investment Group.
  • $3,000 from John Cannon Homes, John Cannon himself and Phillipa Cannon, who is in real estate.
  • $2,000 from Genesis Planning and Development of Bradenton through the company principal, Robert “Bo” Medred, who often represents developers before the County Commission; and a limited liability company associated with Medred’s firm.

Other $1,000 contributions came from well-known Tallahassee lobbyist David Ramba; construction company owner and former Sarasota County Planning Commission member Teresa Mast, a Republican who hopes to win Moran’s District 1 seat; the Firefighters and Paramedics for Public Safety Political Action Committee (PAC), whose registered agent is Mervin Kennell in Sarasota; David E. Sessions, chair of the Willis Smith Construction firm in Sarasota; Frank Lacivita, president and CEO of Willis Smith Construction; Icard Merrill attorney Matthew Brockway; Laurence Saslaw, manager of Aston Capital LLC; and Stephen J. Rentz, principal of GenMark Property Group in Sarasota.

Moran took in another 54 contributions in the fourth quarter of 2023, that document shows. Fourteen if those were at the $1,000 level.

Among the bundles in that report were the following:

  • $2,000 from companies associated with Hi Hat Ranch, plus one of the family members who owns the property, attorney Jim Turner.
  • $2,000 from Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, the developer of Lakewood Ranch, and associated companies.
  • $2,000 from developer Eldon Johnson of Sarasota and associated companies.
Robert Waechter offers comments to the County Commission in May 2021. File photo

Other $1,000 contributions in that report went to Moran from the Grimes Galvano law firm in Bradenton, which has represented Schroeder-Manatee Ranch President and CEO Rex Jensen before the County Commission; former County Commissioner Alan Maio; former Congressman Bill Paxon of Sarasota, a past chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee; PGT Custom Windows and Doors, in Venice; and Venice Toyota.

Among those who contributed $500 each to Moran’s campaign were Siesta Key resident Robert Waechter, who long has been active in Republican politics in the county; William Conerly, vice president of the Kimley-Horn consulting firm; Jack Bispham of Myakka City, a former Sarasota County Planning Commission member who is on the Governing Board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District; Planning Commissioner Andrew Stultz; and Bitner and Associates LLC of Wimauma.

As for Moran’s expenditures through 2023: The fourth quarter report showed that he is using PAC Financial Management in Tallahassee for treasurer services. He paid a total of $2,200 to that firm in that quarter.

All of his third-quarter expenditures, and the majority of them in the fourth quarter, went to Anedot of New Orleans for service charges related to the processing of online contributions, the documents showed.

1 thought on “Sarasota Republican files to challenge Moran in primary for tax collector’s race”

  1. You don’t say whether Barbara Coates-Ford is running for reelection; I presume she is. Having watched Mike Moran on the county commission and how he gerrymandered the district to get reelected I would never vote for him. And all those donations from developers and their allies (construction lobbyists, their law firms, and other low-lifes like Alan Maio and Bob Waechter) cannot end well.

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