We Deserve Better

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Any effort these days to call for civility and mutual respect in the public square is met with accusations of censorship and lack of patriotism. Today it’s all about “Tell it like it is!” and “Say what you mean!”

No sugar coating. No tact. No sensitivity. It’s all about saying exactly how you feel no matter what. Anything else is interpreted as weakness. The only truth that matters is your own.

When did this become the framework of our public discourse?

This week we saw an invited guest appear before our Town Council to give a presentation on water quality. Invited. Guest.

Sanibel’s Mayor Kevin Ruane and Natural Resources Director James Evans attempted to give a comprehensive overview of the work they’ve done and suggestions for future collaboration aimed at dealing with our water quality crisis.

If you missed all that, it’s because they were interrupted numerous times, asked the same question repeatedly, had most every one of their responses challenged and generally treated poorly.

They had the class and persistence to finish their presentation. And got the same question several more times. And gave the same answer.

In case you missed it – the White Paper created a couple months ago to clarify the goals of the group of Lee County mayors, DOES advocate the addition of water treatment to the C-43 storage area. They DO think that sending Lake O water SOUTH is an important component of any solution, but even if purchased tomorrow, the land south of the lake could not be used for 20 YEARS. Any solution will need to be a multi-faceted effort.

After the presentation, Cape Coral Mayor Marni Sawicki, a member of the Lee Mayor’s group, took Council member Tracey Gore to task for the manner in which she had addressed Mayor Ruane.

Gore and some other council members were appalled at the way a council member had been spoken to.

We were appalled at the way an invited guest, the mayor of a neighboring city was treated by council.

If you want respect from others, you have to show it to others. Council chamber is where the business of the people is carried out. All the people. It’s not a place for personal agendas.

We know that there is a segment of those concerned with water quality that advocates a single solution and will not consider any other possible solutions. Anyone not 100% on their bandwagon is labeled ‘on the take’ and their motives are suspect. We think that fragmenting the effort to improve water quality and demonizing anyone with a different view does not serve the cause of fixing our water problems. But this is not about our water issue; it’s about our council.

For a couple years now, Town Council has tolerated boorish behavior from both public comment speakers and the audience at council meetings. There’s been booing, clapping, insults, shouted comments, loud sighs and other similar dramatic efforts.

We all endured it. Many wished that council had taken a stand early on. But they didn’t and the problem grew worse.

This week it’s not just the audience, it’s council, at least some of them.

Let’s face it. We are the laughingstock of Lee County for the behavior we allow at council meetings. We need to be taken seriously within Lee County and the greater SWFL community if we want to participate in regional decisions. But that’s not why we need to fix this.

We need to fix this because Islanders deserve better. We deserve to have our elected council members meet in an environment that is open to ideas and cordial discussion. We deserve to have every council member’s ideas heard fully. We each deserve to be treated with respect during public comment – by both council and the audience. Anyone who is unable to control their emotions should be shown the door. If they want to hold signs and shout, they can do so to their heart’s content on the sidewalk outside. We all have the right to attend council meetings, not disrupt them.

A return to respect and civility will encourage more participation from residents and that’s something we need. There are residents who would like to attend meetings and participate in Town government but who are totally repelled by the ‘anything goes’ atmosphere. They don’t want to be booed or heckled. Or harangued from the dais.

It’s not too late. A conscious effort of respect by all, toward all, and civility, especially to those who disagree with you, can go a long way to giving Islanders the government they deserve.

And by the way, a cultural sensitivity issue for the 21st century for those who have clearly missed it – Do Not Ever Refer to Female Town Council Members as Girls.

Or any adult female over the age of 18 for that matter. It’s insulting, patronizing and sexist. Whether conscious or not, the use of ‘girls’ minimizes their contributions and input. Whether meant as an insult or not, it is.

As for Mayor Ruane and Mr. Evans, as citizens of Fort Myers Beach we speak for ourselves and many others when we apologize for the way you were treated at our Council meeting. We are grateful for your efforts to collaborate with other communities in seeking a solution to our water quality problems.
Missy Layfield