Commissioner Raymond Sandelli
Periodically, The Island Sand Paper asks a community leader 6 Questions. This edition features Lee County District 3 Commissioner Raymond Sandelli. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis appointed Commissioner Sandelli in August 2019, to complete the term of the late Larry Kiker, who passed away earlier in 2019. Commissioner Sandelli is running for election to a Lee County Commissioner term in his own right and will be on the August Primary ballot.
Q1: You came into office with the reFRESH Estero Boulevard Projects already well underway. What is your impression of the recent progress and what can you say to Fort Myers Beach residents weary of five years of construction?
Based on the enormous challenges of the Estero Boulevard Projects, especially having to work in such a confined area, requiring so much underground infrastructure, the work is proceeding as quickly as anyone can reasonably expect, as this is a difficult process and project, but now the end is in sight, with work underway at the south end of Fort Myers Beach. I share your frustrations, as I travel down Estero Boulevard as well, but roadway projects of this magnitude require two things – time and money – and Estero Boulevard is a great example of that! Everyone who lives and visits Lee County realizes that Fort Myers Beach is a treasure and while we know this is a great inconvenience to island residents and visitors, once it is complete, this will be a great community enhancement and improvement, so we thank you for all you endured so far and we ask you to be just a little more patient!
Q2: Lee County, the Town of Fort Myers Beach, and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) are working on traffic enhancements for the base of the Matanzas Pass Bridge. Can you tell us where we are in that process, when we may have an approved plan, and when that work might begin?
This is a tremendously interesting project, as that area at the base of the Matanzas Pass Bridge is essential for a number of reasons, so it is important the Town and Lee County come together on a unified plan for traffic, pedestrian and bicycle safety. As such, the Town and Lee County are working together closely to examine different options to incorporate all of those uses in the best possible way, to reach a consensus to present to FDOT. These scenarios range from a roundabout to where pedestrian crossings should and should not be to a variety of coordinated traffic signals, and our Lee County staff is taking these concepts and incorporating them into models to see which work out the best. The goal is to present this collective design that has the blessing of Lee County and the Town to FDOT to reach a final agreement and begin the engineering process. In reality, however, I would estimate that we are still at least 18 months away before the start of any actual work itself.
Q3: Lee County will begin work to replace the Big Carlos Pass Bridge in the foreseeable future, and all indications are that the County favors a High Fixed Span Bridge, even though Town Council, at the urging of south end residents, passed a Resolution in favor of a lower span. Is the High Fixed Span option final or will residents still have an opportunity to campaign for a different concept?
This decision to go with a High Fixed Span Bridge was basically made long before I became a County Commissioner, back in December of 2018, and I know that people took seriously the opinions of the residents at the south end of Fort Myers Beach. The High Span won out for several reasons, however, including hurricane evacuation, prompt access for First Responders, and to guarantee freedom of movement for boaters without having to worry about a drawbridge, so I don’t know how plausible it is to consider reversing that decision. There will, however, be a public forum for Fort Myers Beach residents to attend, weigh in, and provide comments and input on Thursday, March 19, at the Bay Oaks Recreational Center at 6 p.m.
Q4: The Town is examining plans to replace the outdated Bay Oaks Recreational Center with a potentially high-cost new option. Would Lee County be interested in partnering with the Town on a new Bay Oaks?
I have yet to see any plans to renovate Bay Oaks, but we have a very good relationship with the Town so I look forward to seeing them, as I like any excuse to come to Fort Myers Beach, as I love it there! I am happy to consider a potential partnership, but the final recommendation and decision will be based on the concept, need, and of course, the financial consideration, but I am open to the discussion.
Q5: You spent your career in the military, then private enterprise, meaning this is your first experience in elective office. What do you find Surprising Good so far, and is there anything to date that you find Surprising Bad?
I can seriously say that being on the County Commission has actually exceeded any and all of my expectations! First, however, I need to clarify that Governor DeSantis appointed me to this position, so I have yet to be elected in my own right, though I am running in the Primary in August and hopefully in the General Election this November, so I came into the process in a different manner than most people. I consider myself lucky that at this stage of my life and career, I can now help to address the needs and find the solutions to the challenges of our community and our citizens, no matter if they are at the Town or County level, so I am very fortunate that I can serve our community.
I have always been a team player, and I have been privileged to be a member of some very good teams, so I have the ability to work well within that team concept, and the team we have here at Lee County is topnotch! This allows me to reach out beyond my previous scope to help to solve issues that are relevant to so many…I can truly say I have yet to discover any negatives and that in and of itself is another pleasant surprise!
Q6: What is the best part about being the District 3 Lee County Commissioner?
I am in almost the perfect place at the perfect time in my life to use all of my experience and knowledge to tackle the issues that face our community, and in that regard I feel very fortunate. I love to engage in the collaboration that comes with being a part of a great team and I get to do that here at Lee County every day. When you are on a great team, that does not mean everyone will agree all the time, but by working together, we can accomplish tremendous things.
When Governor DeSantis first contacted me to become the District 3 Commissioner, I reached out to our son, Chris, who reminded me that I always told him and his two sisters that we all need a purpose every day and he said, ‘Dad, this is your purpose!’ I try to never lose sight of the fact that what I do every day as your County Commissioner is to improve our community and benefit my fellow citizens and that falls right in line with fulfilling that sense of purpose. I don’t come from a family of privilege, as my father was a bricklayer and my grandfather was a bricklayer, and they were both so hardworking and often had nothing but their character and sense of purpose, with my Dad reminding me it is all about ‘People First’ and that is why he remains my hero!
I cannot say enough about the people I work with at Lee County as well as the people of Lee County, and that goes back to what my Dad said about ‘People First.’ I now have the ability and the opportunity to place people first, to address their challenges, and seek solutions. One of the true pleasures of this job is I interact with and meet so many more people than ever before. This reminds me of the movie, ‘Road House,” with Patrick Swayze, where one of his bouncers was in a tough spot and he asked Swayze what to do, and Swayze replied, ‘just be nice!’ If we can all be nice to one-another and look for common ground to help each other out, with a sense of purpose and compassion, by placing people first, there is nothing we can’t accomplish!