EITA and the Friends of FMB PAC

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Clearing the Air

The Estero Island Taxpayer Association (EITA) hosted a “Meet The Candidates” forum for the four candidates for the March 5 Town Council election on Monday, February 11. Some, however, question whether the EITA should sponsor such an event, as it has an affiliated Political Action Committee (PAC). Beverley Milligan, who is the Executive Director of both organizations, explained the difference between the two groups and why the EITA created its PAC.

“The biggest difference between the two is the EITA is a 501c4 organization that is a not-for-profit group to promote social welfare and cannot become involved in any political activities. A PAC privately raises money to influence elections and legislation. In our case, we renamed the PAC ‘The Friends of Fort Myers Beach’ to distinguish between the two. The EITA formed three years ago to provide our citizens with facts concerning a multitude of community issues, and the speakers we invite are experts on those topics who speak factually on them so the community is better informed about the issues. That will always be the role of the EITA, and we will never take any local political positions, and the ‘Meet the Candidates’ forum proved that. The Friends of FMB, on the other hand, can take political positions and express information in a political format.”

Milligan said that each organization has its own officers and she is the only overlapping member. “Everyone on Fort Myers Beach knows I wear many hats, like being President of the FMB Woman’s Club, so these are just two more in my service to the community, and I can do so ethically. My role in each is on public record, so it is no secret, nor should it be. You can see this for yourself at sunbiz.org and the Florida Department of State, Division of Elections. Both the EITA and The Friends of FMB report all financial matters to the State of Florida, so we follow all public regulations.”

Fear, Buzz & Bullying

A steering committee in 2016 developed the EITA mission as “recognition, participation, and representation of all property taxpayers and businesses who have a physical presence on Estero Island at the town, county, state and federal levels to ensure an equitable voice in government policy decisions as they affect Estero Island.” “The EITA formed,” Milligan recalled, “to be a larger voice for the entire community, to bring everyone together, because if you just look at Fort Myers Beach voters, that is only about 5,000 people, but if you look at the taxpaying community, that number can be as high as 40,000 and that is a much larger voice, so it is important that every one of those people has a say in the issues that affect Fort Myers Beach, as most of those 40,000 people can’t do that at the municipal level. I challenge anyone who was at the EITA ‘Candidates’ forum to say that EITA displayed any favoritism for or antagonism against any of the four candidates.”

Organizations like the EITA and The Friends of FMB, Milligan said, are crucial at this time in the history of Fort Myers Beach because “we heard many times over the past three years there is a disconnect on this island between its government and citizens, with so much fear and a buzz about the use of bullying as a political tool, and that is why these groups exist. The mission of The Friends of FMB ensures that island citizens have a complete knowledge of the facts so they can make educated decisions and vote accordingly, as most voters lead busy lives and cannot focus every day on what their government is up to, so we help them with that engagement. Elections are tremendously important; the more educated the voter, the better decisions they make.”

The Friends of FMB, she stated, “builds on the notion of that larger voice, to communicate with our State representatives as well as to provide information to our residents about local issues and decisions that affect us all on the island, like clean water that all four current Council candidates agree is the Number One issue on Fort Myers Beach but one over which they have little control. This will be true of statewide issues other than water, as the need arises, that are beyond the scope of our municipal officials, to communicate to broader decision-makers the needs of Fort Myers Beach.”

For All to See

Milligan acknowledged that EITA made contributions to the Friends of FMB, “and again that is on public record for all to see. EITA made an initial contribution of $3,200 when The Friends of FMB first formed in February 2017, and just recently made another of $8,000; to date, those are the only two contributions to The Friends of FMB. We made expenditures of $1,000 in September 2017, split between Florida State Representatives Ray Rodrigues (R-District 76, Lee County) and Mike LaRosa (R-District 42, Osceola & Polk Counties). The EITA ad hoc Board of Directors approved those two contributions to The Friends of FMB PAC.”

While The Friends of FMB passed on the November 2018 statewide races and issues, it will be active in the March 5 Town Council election, taking out several different advertisements on-line and in local publications against the re-election of Council member Dennis Boback. “The Friends of FMB does this to make people aware of the facts about the Boback candidacy. State leaders will not respect the Fort Myers Beach community if we do not have good local governance. The truth must come out, in an ethical manner. We are not financially supporting any of the three challengers, either through an endorsement, advertising or contributions.”

At some point, The Friends of FMB will accept donations from outside of Fort Myers Beach and Florida, said Milligan. “We will soon have a website and Facebook page, with a PayPal button to make contributions. We will absolutely accept funds from out of state, because we have people who live and vacation and work and do business here from places like Minnesota and Wisconsin, so why would we not accept contributions from places like Minnesota and Wisconsin, as anyone who comes to the beach wants a better community. I do not know the process well enough yet about what to do if someone wanted to contribute from outside the United States, but we have no intention of soliciting any overseas funds.”

Milligan said she hoped the general public does not confuse the EITA with The Friends of FMB. “When we first formed The Friends, its initial name was quite similar to the EITA, so we purposely changed its title to eliminate any possible discrepancy. We absolutely feel there is no conflict of interest between the EITA and Friends of FMB and believe we demonstrate that at our EITA meetings, like the ‘Meet the Candidates’ forum and our other EITA programs, such as for stormwater and hosting Dennis Boback when he was Mayor or Roger Hernstadt when he first became Town Manager or for the Code Enforcement session, where we are fair to our guests while allowing the public to learn the issues. That is what it is all about.”

 

By Gary Mooney
gary@fortmyersbeach.news