A retired police officer/chief and long-time agency employee and a certified tax auditor are going head-to-head for Lee County Tax Collector on Nov. 6.
James Chandler, who is unaffiliated, is challenging Republican Larry Hart, who was appointed in June to replace Catherine Curtis, who died in April.
* James Chandler
Residence: Cape Coral
Occupation: Tax auditor
James Chandler asks voters to consider his credentials and his belief the tax collector's office isn't running the way it should.
"I have accounting, finance and auditing experience. I know how to handle money," Chandler said. "I'm the most dedicated and honest candidate. I'm not conceited, just convinced. I wouldn't have spent $10,000 on my own campaign if I didn't think so."
Chandler said he has 30 years of auditing experience, including 20 years as a military auditor while in the Marine Corps, and part of the job includes customer service.
"The system is not conducive to the needs of the people. Someone needs to be there who knows the job, is honest and have his office help, not hinder, people by causing bottlenecks with calls to a number that doesn't transfer," Chandler said.
Chandler said another problem is that Lee is the only county in Florida where "bed" taxes - taxes paid by visitors on such things as hotel rooms - aren't collected by the tax collector, and that needs to change.
Chandler believes his background makes him better suited for the job.
"Larry Hart's experience is in the police field. He wants to manage, not be in accounting or finance," Chandler said. "The tax collector's function is to collect taxes. The office needs someone who is a leader and can lead by example."
* Larry Hart (I)
Residence: Fort Myers
Occupation: Lee County Tax Collector
Before Larry Hart was named Lee County Tax Collector in June, he spent 11 years as assistant tax collector. Before that, he spent 22 years with the Fort Myers Police Department, including six as its police chief.
He says regardless of his occupation, he has always worked to make revenue collection more efficient and less confrontational for the people of Lee County.
"I've been there 11 years as a day-to-day representative of the office, directing numerous changes that have improved efficiency and reduced the budget," Hart said. "We have done community education and outreach and want to be good stewards of the taxpayers' money."
Hart has made customer service and education the cornerstone of his candidacy.
"We have increased the level of customer service and continue to do so. We have 200 employees that come to work and do the best they can," Hart said. "We are entrusted to collect $1.2 billion and we have to educate the community and tell them what they need to do."
Hart says he's different from his opponent in that he's a true tax collector and he's a proven leader despite his brief time in the top office there.
"There's a difference between auditing and collecting. We collect money and our audits are performed by the state," Hart said. "I'm a proven leader. I understand and managed people and organizations. I know how to work with people and within a budget."