Ask the Candidate: Fort Myers Beach Town Council

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In preparation for the March 15th election, the Sand Paper continues its series of Ask the Candidate questions, contacting Town Council candidates with a question regarding a topic of interest to Island residents. Their answers are printed here in reverse alphabetical order. This week’s question:

One of the challenges of serving a community with diverse opinions is dealing with those who disagree with you. If elected, how would you validate the opinions of others and work toward compromise with those who hold different opinions on an important issue for Fort Myers Beach?

 Ber Stevenson’s response:

I will utilize Facebook and other Internet options to provide transparency and communication regarding residents’ opinions, as well as complaints regarding building code, noise and other ordinance violations. Any Facebook communication to me would be followed up by an email response from me quickly and efficiently. This would empower citizens to be heard and recognized, regardless of their opinion. This would help refine the Town Council’s thinking, and give everyone a voice. Town Council has lost touch with residents of FMB, as well as with technology. Currently, the Town of FMB does not have (nor does it want to have) a Facebook presence.

If elected, I will encourage online referendums to be conducted for all important issues. When it comes down to it, I believe that the cumulative voice of the people generally will provide a correct and balanced answer to any question. To that end, I will work to always find out what is the opinion of the majority of FMB residents regarding FMB issues. Just last week, FMB Mayor Anita Cerecedo stated that she does not support a voter referendum to determine what action should be taken by the Town regarding the Grand Resort issue. I totally disagree with her.

At present, Town Council has too much power and has made a long string of bad decisions both socially and financially. Getting residents’ opinions via an online mechanism would greatly improve the Town Council’s decision-making abilities, and ultimately make it a more viable and democratic entity.

Suzanne Katt’s response:

Attitude is so important in situations where folks disagree. I was a registered mediator in Indiana before I retired. I always found that treating people with respect and civility went a long way toward validating their opinions and resolving conflict.

It is my experience that one of the best ways to arrive at a compromise is to put all of the stakeholders in the same room and have them explain the reasons that support their positions. Just understanding a party’s position can be very helpful. A stakeholder may be willing to give on a less important issue in return for a concession from the opposing party. By the way, this isn’t a comfortable exercise so it is hard to get people to agree to do it.

Of course, compromise isn’t always possible. Sometimes the issue doesn’t lend itself to compromise and sometimes people just agree to disagree. Ultimately, I cannot control how other people behave. All I can do is promise that I will do my best to respect the opinions of others. I do think a simple code of conduct enforced at all town meetings could be helpful in reminding all participants that courteous behavior is expected.

Tracey Gore’s response:

Validating the opinions of others has already served as a basis of my community involvement on our island for a long time. I not only listen to diverse opinions, I actually welcome them as an important part of community dialogue and informed decision-making. I will conduct extensive in-depth research on issues and present it for consideration and deliberation in the public forum. The role of Council is to serve the interests and welfare of the residents, property owners and businesses and to do this one must know their opinions to serve them properly. I believe strongly that open dialogue and consensus building in full view of the public, according to the Sunshine Laws, develops mutual respect within the community and confidence in the leadership of Town Council.

Bruce Butcher’s response:

I don’t think that anyone one this island needs to have their opinion “validated” by a candidate or elected official. Everyone’s opinion is a valid opinion. As a town councilperson, representing the people of Fort Myers Beach I will listen to everyone’s opinion, speak with staff and relevant experts and then I will work for the solution that has the best and most economical outcome for the people of Fort Myers Beach. I will work to preserve our quality of life, while making our government more affordable for the people.

Dennis Boback’s response:

The first step in working with those who disagree with you is to listen to them. You always learn more by listening than talking. You must realize that just because someone has a different view or opinion than you it does not mean that person’s opinion is wrong and you are right. That’s why they call them opinions. Everybody has one.

Each side must be open and willing to listen to the other side or nothing will be accomplished. Each side must have the opportunity to explain how and why they formed their opinion based on their reasoning and supporting conclusions. Then you see if there is any common ground between the two differing opinions that each can agree on. If common ground can be established the two sides can work on areas of disagreement to reduce those areas into agreed upon areas. Sometimes this will lead to more compromise and the ability for both sides to reach a common conclusion.

Unfortunately reaching a common conclusion is not always the resulting outcome. When that happens both sides must agree to disagree. When two people disagree it does not make either a bad person or wrong. This Town is made of a very diverse population, people from all over the US, as well as other countries all with different backgrounds and opinions. The best outcome is for the two sides to work through to a compromise both sides can live with or at least to agree to disagree without any animosity.

Dan Andre’s response:

Diverse opinions are great and makes for engaging and democratic debate. I have always listened to all sides of a discussion in order to educate myself and make the best decision I feel is in the best interest of the entire community and not just the wishes of a few. At a recent forum, one of the attendees approached me after the meeting and said he may not always agree with my position, but he respects my preparedness and speaking on fact. My job as a policy maker is to make reasonable and sound decisions that will help and benefit the people of this island.

No response was received from candidate Jack Green by deadline.

Election Information

On March 15, 2016, the Town of Fort Myers Beach will hold an election to fill two Town Council seats. Also on the ballot will be 21 Town Charter Amendment questions. See a summary of all 21 questions in this issue. The Florida Presidential Preference Primary is also being held the same day. Registered voters who are registered members of the Republican or Democratic Party will be able to indicate their choice for their party’s Presidential candidate.

Early voting at 10 locations in Lee County will be open from March 5-12 from 11am-7pm each day. The closest locations to Fort Myers Beach are at 25987 S. Tamiami Trail in Bonita Springs and 13180 S. Cleveland Ave, across from Bell Tower Shops in Fort Myers. Voters may request a Vote by Mail ballot until March 9, 2016.

Fort Myers Beach will have three precincts. Voting locations will be at Chapel by the Sea (#82), St. Peter Lutheran Church (#127) and Church of the Ascension (#81). To view a sample ballot, find your precinct or sign up for a Vote by Mail ballot, visit LeeElections.com or call 239-LEE-VOTE.