We have a shift in Town Council with the departure of Summer Stockton and the selection of Joanne Shamp to serve the remaining three months of Stockton’s term.
Any time there is a shift in the makeup of council, there’s the opportunity for a fresh start, even with just one new member of council as the dynamics of council change. This council desperately needs a fresh start.
As we often say in explaining the role of the local newspaper in a small town, our editorial role is often to point out that the emperor has no clothes. In other words, we are tasked with stating what others may fear to say for fear of backlash. We know there are people who won’t stand before council and say what they really think for fear of having a permit or a variance denied or delayed.
What we say in this space is just our opinion, of course, and we expect that many disagree with us. We regularly invite those who disagree to write letters explaining their position so that the same people who see our opinion on this page, will see their contrasting opinion in our paper also.
So, here’s the way we see it:
Since March, the tone of council has been confrontational. Toward each other, toward applicants trying to do business with the town, toward business. Each tense moment has had a number of contributing factors, but the result has been a confrontational council. And that is not good for council, the Town or its residents, who the council is supposed to be serving. It’s also not good for Town staff. We’ve worked with Town staff for a lot of years – a number of different departments. We’ve never seen staff as tense as they are right now.
Our Town Charter is very clear that staff is supposed to report to the Town Manager. Council members cannot direct staff. Yet we have many staff members nervous about council members’ reaction to the job they’re doing. With an Interim Manager and a staff that can’t tell which way the wind is blowing with this Town Council, there’s a whole lot of looking over their shoulders to see who’s watching. How can that possibly make for an efficient staff? We’ve got a skilled and competent Town Manager and staff. What say we let them do their jobs?
A fresh start is sorely needed. Now is a good time to try for it.
Many think it’s not possible until after the March elections. We’re more optimistic than that. There’s an opportunity right now to shift the course of this council.
The need for a fresh start is not just our opinion. Look at the appearance within our little town, of grass roots organizations whose main goal is to have their voices heard. Beach Area Civic Association. Estero Island Taxpayers Association. Not to mention the rash of Facebook pages, many of them anonymous, that have popped up in relation to downtown development. All signs of lack of access to our elected officials.
If we had a functional and approachable council, those people might not feel the need to organize a group to represent their interests, or hide behind an anonymous website. In the days of a less confrontational council, they would have simply spoken to Town Council, either individually or at a council meeting. Many people in our Town no longer feel comfortable doing that. We know because more than a few have told us so.
Every citizen in this town should feel at ease approaching any member of Town Council, whether individually or at a meeting. That is what they were elected for.
We trust that our council members aren’t happy with the way council has been operating either. We believe that they all want what’s best for our town.
We believe that they can see that the way council has functioned the last few months is not good for our town, nor is it serving the Town’s residents, voters, taxpayers and businesses.
How about a fresh start? We all need one once in awhile. Let’s grasp this one for the sake of our town and our neighbors.