Future Leaders Tour Town Hall

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In her magnificent masterpiece, The Greatest Love of All, the late great Whitney Houston sang, “the children are our future; teach them well and let them lead the way!” To the kids from the 5th grade class of the Beach Elementary School, their opportunity to lead the way began with a tour of Town Hall, expertly guided by council member Tracey Gore.

While in the water department office, Ms. Tracey explained that “we keep our drinking water safe. Water comes in under the Matanzas Pass Bridge through a huge 16-inch pipe, then it goes up to the big water tower at Moss Marina. It is so important to keep our water clean.”

As they moved to zoning, Ms. Tracey said, “our employees make sure people park in proper legal places.” Their teacher, Jennifer Martin, reminded the kids to “never park in a handicap spot because those are for people who need to park close, for things you often take for granted, like being able to park in the furthest spot and walk for exercise.”

Ms. Tracey introduced Ms. Rae, the Town’s environmental and stormwater technician, who taught the students to “never pick up and keep live seashells; not only is it wrong but there is a $500 fine and can go to jail. Taking shells without any creatures is OK.” Ms. Tracey said “Ms. Rae protects our clean water and makes sure our sea turtles are safe, including the right lights on the beach as turtles travel by moonlight. You don’t want to confuse them or they will end up in peoples’ backyards where they do not belong, or in the road where a car can hit them.”

Ms. Rae explained that “turtles lay 150 to 300 eggs each time, and can return 1 to 5 times each season to lay more. Only one in about a thousand survive to adulthood, with most babies being a good food source.” That elicited a loud groan from the class, but she gently reminded them that “this is the circle of life that keeps other animals alive, and turtle populations are still increasing because humans protect them.”

Hit The Books

She told the students if they want to protect the water and turtles, “education is so important – I have my Master’s in Biology and undergraduate in Environmental Studies.”

The class shifted to Council Chambers, where most will attend a real meeting on Monday, January 23, 2017, with Ms. Tracey saying “you will take over, sit in the actual Council chairs, speak into the microphones, appear in front of the audience, and be on public cable television. You must speak into the microphone because we record everything we say in Chambers because that is a public record.” Ms. Martin explained that “teachers do the same thing – every time I send an email to your parents that is a public record, too.”

Ms. Martin reminded her class that the purpose of the field trip is because they will all “write a five-paragraph paper about what you can do for Fort Myers Beach, and Ms. Tracey will help select the winners for the January 23 meeting. Now that you see this is all so real, explain why you want to be a part of this, and why it is a really big deal. Take this seriously and do not be silly.” Ms. Tracey reinforced that “getting into a good college and even high school now can be pretty competitive, with all the students out there, so when schools see this on your application they know you are an excellent kid who gets involved with the community.”

Any Old Problem

One student asked if Council “talks about any old problem,” eliciting a hearty laugh from Ms. Tracey! “Town Staff takes care of most problems before they ever reach the five Council members,” she explained, “but everyone owns the Town so everyone can attend the public meetings and speak, though we set a 3-minute limit or we would be here all night. You can come to Council and say ’we need pizza at Bay Oaks; this is a discussion we need to have,’ so tell us why pizza at Bay Oaks is important and Council can make that decision.”

She added that “the Bay Oaks Recreation Center is an excellent example of how Town children can assist our community right now. We just hired a new Bay Oaks director who will start in early January, so tell us what you would like to see there that will have you and your family visiting it more often.”

Another inquired about the large gavel in front of Mayor Dennis Boback’s chair: Ms. Tracey said with a good chuckle that “the Mayor does not use his gavel unless we have heated discussions – and we have heated discussions!”

Ms. Tracey added that “we all live in rainbows and unicorn land! The Town of Fort Myers Beach formed 21 years ago because your families and neighbors live on a small island and wanted daily control over what happens here, rather than letting Lee County make all our decisions for us. No one knows Fort Myers Beach better or knows what is better for Fort Myers Beach than the people who live here.”

Ms. Martin encouraged each of her 26 students to “make your voice heard at as young an age as possible, to help the Town make positive changes.”

Following the tour, Ms. Martin explained that her class will “soon start our kids’ council, so this was excellent. They really did not understand Town Council before this, so this is a great introduction to local government and services.”

The children are our future, and our future is in bright capable hands!

 

Gary Mooney

Photo by Gary Mooney