Elected Officials: Where We Heading, Captain(s)?


There is nothing like an election campaign, primary, caucus or actual election to get you thinking. Many stop and reflect, including those who consider themselves not political, like me. While I have known that political and legislative decisions made on the local, regional or national level affect my life, for years I stuck my head in the sand, and was just too busy to worry about it. Aging sometimes calls for a pause of contemplation, and perhaps that is where many of us are now in our lives. This process of elections we are so privileged to enjoy always begs the question: Where are we heading?

On the Presidential side, the question flowing through the Sand Paper office for some time has been “Where is the reset button?” This comment reflects the opinion that no good answer is available where the direction of our country might be under any of the candidates’ leadership demonstrated so far. Wow, talk about junior high-level exchanges between candidates. Campaign buzzwords like “telling it like it is,” “conservative values,” or “maintaining our small town ways” all fail to describe the most important criteria of our elected officials.

This criteria needed in elected officials is being a leader. Leadership meaning – who can help “captain the ship in any direction, much less the right direction?”

What skills and attributes would such good leaders have? Well, as if often the case, we can start by describing what we know often does not work. Business leaders used to getting their way in running their businesses can be horrible as political leaders. Pause now to mentally pick your own examples. The problem with some business, military, educational or other organizational leaders is their success may not have required compromise, (called bipartisan efforts in political circles), consensus building, collaboration, salesmanship, and just realizing what your mom told you while growing up – that you do not get your way all the time. This type of stubborn leader can bring action and progress to a standstill, and sustain conflict forever on many important subjects.

Another related form of flawed leadership style involves those who cannot or will not see the Big Picture. That Big Picture equates to their responsibility to represent everyone, and not just their family, friends, neighbors, campaign contributors, or Political Action Committees (PACs). For every decision made in the name of progress, equal time should be spent measuring any negative consequences, normally never intended, but perhaps unmentioned or understated by the issue advocates.

I find the following quite ironic in my knowing elected officials over the years. When they are first elected, they are pretty sure they have answers to a lot of issues. But over their elected terms, they say the job gets more difficult because knowing what is the best option for their constituency gets more difficult to decide. As they learn to look at things via the Big Picture, and all the people and entities affected, these things make decision-making no longer so easy and black and white. This, I feel explains the exhausted and haggard official waving goodbye after not winning a reelection or reaching term limits for their position.

Additionally, elected leader officials must work hard, do a lot of research on information provided by staff, consultants, or other outsiders seeking to advance their position on any issue. It’s OK to be skeptical, ask questions and not accept everything before you at first blush. Voters should be able to tell quickly if their elected officials are prepared, or show up to meetings clueless. Being unprepared should be considered an embarrassment to the official and insulting to the voters they represent.

Another interesting reflection or dilemma for our local leaders was indirectly referenced in multiple candidate forums. This reflection is that Fort Myers Beach may be first town in which I lived where non-residents (non voters) pay the majority of the real estate taxes. Between snowbirds and commercial property owners who live off-island, it would indeed be interesting to know what percentage of our total tax collections comes from non-voters.

Some now in Town Hall have indicated they (non-residents) don’t matter, because they don’t vote. Is that fair? The business community provides the goods & services needed for residents and visitors to visit, live and enjoy. Should they have no voice in Town Hall? I say they should, based on a long time premise. Many may have first decided to visit here because of the warm temps, beautiful beaches and waters. But I contend it is the amenities provided by businesses that attracted us, and others, to come back & stay! Failing to support the business community won’t reduce traffic and congestion, it will just change who and what type of people choose our Island to visit and live in the future.

Interesting times ahead for sure. All aboard. To our Captains, we ask: “Where are we heading?”


Bob Layfield

Publisher, Island Sand Paper