Scene & Heard: O.J. to Naples?
I didn’t expect OJ Simpson’s best friend to pick up the phone. But he did. Just hours after learning his buddy would soon get out of prison, Tom Scotto took my call before boarding a flight back to Florida. As of press time, there are strong odds “The Juice” will end up living in Naples. When OJ Simpson went before the Nevada Board of Parole in July, his good friend from Naples, Tom, was in the hearing room, along with Simpson’s attorney, Malcolm LaVergne; daughter Arnelle Simpson; and sister, Shirley Baker. Simpson told the parole commissioners that he’d like to reunite with his loved ones. OJ was the best man in Scotto’s wedding. They could soon be roommates at Scotto’s East Naples condo at The Enclave of Naples. Simpson has taken refuge in Florida before. In 2000, he moved his two children from California to the Miami suburb of Kendall, where state law forbids the seizure of a person’s house to pay a civil penalty. Remember, a judge ordered Simpson to pay $33 million to the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. Scotto may feel he owes OJ something. After all, the disastrous memorabilia caper that sent OJ to prison for nine years occurred when the friends were in Las Vegas for Scotto’s wedding. Stay tuned to the OJ saga, which could have global media converging on Naples. (Editor's Note: The Naples Daily News reported Oct. 1 that O.J. is on his way.)
Abrupt job exits are often messy, especially in the TV news biz. The pain cuts deeper when good people don’t have warning. “You never know when it’s going to happen,” former WINK News morning anchor Jen Stacey (left) told me. “Not to this level of being blindsided.” She thought this market is where she would end her career one day. After all, deep roots aren’t easily moved. Her extended family lives here. Her husband owns A1 Pool Pro in Cape Coral. They have two young children, ages 5 and 7. Then came March 15. With her contract set to expire in April, Jen initiated a meeting with the station’s relatively new news director. Tom Doerr took over management of the WINK newsroom in late spring of 2016 after stepping down from the FOX-owned station in Chicago. Jen vividly remembers walking into Tom’s office, “and I hadn’t sat down for one second, and [he] said, ‘I’m sorry to inform you but we will not be renewing your contract.”’ Just like that, 10 years of service to the company ended. She said Tom asked if she wanted to finish out the last few weeks of her contract but she declined. “[The] first call was to my husband, the second call was to Rob Spicker,” her co-anchor since 2009. That “different direction on the entire morning show,” which Jen said her boss gave as reasoning, would most likely affect Rob. Sure enough, the summer brought more sweat to the WINK newsroom. On July 7, at the end of his morning shift, Tom told Rob that would be his last day on the air. Rob had just stepped out of the studio after covering breaking news of a plane crash in Cape Coral. I understand contracts and why Rob couldn’t talk about his abrupt departure. He was on his way to Indiana for a family birthday party. (Tom Doerr declined to comment on these personnel issues.) Here’s hoping Rob bounces back with a fantastic new job. Jen wasted no time getting back on her feet. She landed a job as head of public relations and the newly created media team for Phelan Family Brands, the company behind Pinchers, Deep Lagoon Seafood and Texas Tony’s. She says the peace of mind of a new job and kind words from former viewers have eased the transition to a new career. “I am absolutely overwhelmed by the incredible support from our community,” Jen told me. “It just reiterated to me and my husband why Southwest Florida is our home.”
U.S Rep. Francis Rooney decided to ditch the shirt and tie in favor of waterproof boots. In July, the congressman announced plans to wrangle pythons in the Everglades. He agreed to take part in the South Florida Water Management District’s Python Elimination program in Collier County’s Big Cypress Swamp. I’d say Washington has more of a snake problem than we do.
The number 7 proved crazy coincidental for Paula and Steve Sizemore. The Fort Myers couple welcomed their third child, Van Sizemore, on July 17, 2017, 17 minutes after 7 p.m. “I was having contractions 5 minutes apart and thought, ‘Get ready, you’re about to have this baby,’” Paula remembers. “[I] looked at the clock and it was 7:05.” Steve says he “took a picture at basically the time he came out.” The time stamp on his phone read 7:17. They shouldn’t have a problem remembering that birthday.
Clearly, southwest florida is ready to party because, believe it or not, in August I’m already getting save the dates for Christmas parties and New Year’s Eve soirees. While I love everything festive, it might even be too early, and still far too hot, for me to start thinking about Christmas sweaters or party hats emblazoned with 2018 on them. But, there are some fun to-dos on the immediate horizon that we’re all happy to sparkle for. For instance, the folks at AMIkids (a Lee County nonprofit that educates and helps kids who are at-risk) are putting together a super fun event at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre on Nov. 6 that highlights celebrities showing off their talents. I get to emcee “StarShine in the 239” along with popular community leader Marc Collins. Tax Collector Larry Hart and politico Michelle Graham will co-chair, and so far the lineup includes Undersheriff Carmine Marceno, among plenty of others showing off their talents for the cause (to make sure you get a good seat, go to donate.amikids.org).
Sometimes though, raising money is best left to the professionals, and auctioneer Sara Rose Byntar is an awesome example. Recently, Sara, who has made her home in Southwest Florida since 2009, won the title of Best Auctioneer in the female category of the National Auctioneers Association. There were nearly 100 competitors at the 30th Auctioneer Championship in Columbus, Ohio—and this was Sara’s first win. Last year, she came in second only to her mother, acclaimed auction pro Beth Rose.
Encouraging local celebs to step up on stage and into the spotlight (literally) has proved to be a lucrative way for Southwest Florida charities to raise both funds and awareness. A recent event for SalusCare, Laughter Is the Best Medicine, was a huge hit at the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center and grossed a whopping $65,000. Charles Runnels, the entertainment writer for the News-Press, amused a happy crowd with tales about his several cats, while Lee County Commissioner Frank Mann brought his folksy Southern charm as he channeled Will Rogers. Stealing the show was the comedic team of well-known business consultant Cole Peacock and Broadway Palm owner Will Prather with their hilarious homage to SNL’s Weekend Update, where they skewered everyone from City of Fort Myers leaders to Donald Trump—and the crowd went wild. The big winner though was Chris Hansen, Lee Health board member, who used his time on stage not only to make the audience laugh, but also to reinforce the mission of SalusCare, which is to provide mental health and addiction services. SalusCare President/CEO Stacey Cook-Hawk said, “Way to go, Chris Hansen! Everyone involved in this event was so incredibly passionate, devoted, committed and caring! Laughter really is the best medicine.”