Controversy & Elections

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Our Town is in the midst of controversy. The Grand Resorts FMB downtown redevelopment, stormwater utility, parking lots, development on San Carlos Island, to name just a few. We don’t have small controversies here, we have knockdown, drag-out community battles, it seems. Even some of the folks who claim to be looking for a calm rational conversation on controversial topics often switch into attack mode if they sense a lack of complete agreement in their audience. And then there are those who, lacking any proof, launch into accusations of impropriety by those they disagree with.

Calls for the resignation of Town Council members are the latest ridiculous concept floated out on the Coconut Telegraph. Supposedly because they have failed to represent the people who elected them.

Let’s start with the basics. The Grand Resorts FMB project has not come before Town Council or the Lee County Board of County Commissioners for any plan approvals yet. Neither has been asked to approve any building plan or variance or special exception because nothing has been submitted. The developers state they are seeking public input before they submit a plan. Everything they’ve done so far – holding meetings to introduce the plan and answer questions, meeting with small groups to answer questions – indicates that they are doing what they said they would. Yet they’ve been received by many as if they have the ethics of Al Capone and Adolf Hitler combined. We’re skeptical by nature and we fail to see the rationale for the nastiness we’ve seen.

Don’t like their plans? Disagree with their efforts? That’s the right of every Islander. But in this preliminary discussion phase, we all need to not only speak but also listen. That’s what makes it a discussion. On Thursday, January 14th at 5:30pm at Bay Oaks, there will be another opportunity for us as a community to have a discussion about the Grand Resorts concept. We surely hope that we can all participate, listen and voice our ideas and that the loud crowd does not drown out the voices of other Islanders. Whether they are willing to admit it or not, they don’t represent all Islanders. And we all have the right to be heard.

So far the Town and County have been asked to approve the developer’s application to DEP and FEMA to get some preliminary information on whether the planned seawall will do what they hope it will. Both Town and County have withheld even that action, with the Town determining that due to their small piece of property in the project, they don’t need to sign off on the application. The County has yet to discuss it.

So, if they haven’t done anything yet, just why are council members being pilloried? Council is seeking a professional advisor so that they are confident that they have all the information they need when they are faced with making decisions on the project. That seems wise, if a little costly considering that we have a Community Development department with two professional planners on staff.

The bottom line is that our Council has not approved anything regarding the downtown project, yet they are being accused of betraying Island voters. It’s a sad, sad day when just listening to an idea is enough to convict elected officials of betrayal.

We elect our council members to represent all of us. There are some who don’t want anything to do with the project. There are others who like it the way it was first presented. And there are some who are not sure yet and are waiting to learn more. Council represents all of those people and we are glad that they are wise enough to listen to all of us.

Two council seats will be up for election in March. Our Town has over 5,000 registered voters, but historically only about a quarter of them vote. If you are a new resident of Fort Myers Beach and want to vote in our Town Council election on March 15th, you have until February 16th to register. If you are already registered, please mark March 15 on your calendar so you can participate in this most American event. It’s the same day as the Presidential Preference Primary.

With our controversies, there is a lot of interest in the two open seats on Town Council. While there are a lot of people who have expressed interest and completed some of the required forms, according to Town staff, there is only one person as of mid-week who has fully qualified (Tracey Gore). Anyone interested in running for a Council seat should start by checking the link on the Town’s website. It holds all the forms, rules and deadlines for candidates. Pre-Qualifying begins Monday, January 11th with the official Qualifying period being from noon January 25th to noon January 29th. By the end of day January 29th, we’ll all know who will be on the ballot in March. Until then, it’s up to potential candidates to get all their required forms in order and turned in.

Missy Layfield