Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott may be one of the most-public public figures in our community but it didn’t start out that way. “When I was first elected and well into my second term I actually resisted being in our popular public service announcements (PSA) and related opportunities, but the more I spoke to colleagues across the state and nation I realized the power of the forum,” he explains. “I am happy to speak to Rotary luncheons and similar groups but that is generally 40 or 50 people. Lee County today has close to one million residents and visitors at any given time and I can reach a couple of hundred thousand all at once with our lifesaving tips and advice.”
A seminal PSA centers on the perils of teens driving and texting. “The image of the daughter behind the wheel is a powerful message, that taking your eyes off the road for just one second can lead to tragedy, is something relatable to 99.99% of the general public.” Sheriff Scott points with pride that production costs are paid for from forfeited dollars from drug arrests, transforming these ill-gotten gains into life-saving community outreach sessions.
This mass-media marketing is necessary in a jurisdiction that covers over 1,000-square-miles and is now quite different from the world of the young Mike Scott. A third-generation Lee County resident, Sheriff Scott recalls with nostalgia how dirt trails then are 6-lane roadways now, “and those changes pale compared to the experiences of my 87-year-old Mother, or listening to my grandparents before her.” While he appreciates our commerce and economy, innovation and expansion, Sheriff Scott feels that change isn’t always for the better, and while realistic that the Fort Myers of his past is gone, he hopes “we do not destroy the very things we live here for or moved here to appreciate – the beaches, natural beauty, spectacular weather. Our challenge is to keep this in balance with our growing residential base and tourism industry.”
As such, Sheriff Scott believes that Fort Myers Beach embraces a special role in Lee County. “Despite Sanibel and Captiva, Spring Training, and all our beautiful neighborhoods and attractions, I still feel that when people think Southwest Florida, they think Fort Myers Beach!” His own beach memories are vibrant and rich, as he was a resident of the beach every summer of his youth. “My late Dad had a small construction company, and he hooked up with two early beach developers, Bob Davis and Aaron Johnson. Dad helped build the original Pink Shell, the Gulfview shops, and many of the original cottages on Estero Boulevard. We lived in North Fort Myers, however, and it was quite a trip to Fort Myers Beach, especially with the old span bridge that got stuck open for hours at a time. Since they had so many properties and Dad was so handy, they generously offered him a house to live in on Fort Myers Beach each summer.
“It was a dream situation – Dad loved the beach and he did not have to commute every day. It was great for our family, and perfect for the developers because Dad looked after their investments so well. Mom was a teacher at Fort Myers High School with summers off, as of course did my two sisters and I since we were in school. We stayed primarily in two homes; one was a single-story on the Gulf, off Flamingo, with the other on the beach across from the Catholic church. Mr. Davis and Mr. Johnson tried in vain to get Dad to buy property on Estero, calling it a bargain at $16,500. That seems inexpensive today, but was a lot of money then for a working-class family with three children. Despite that, I lived on the beach every summer from 1967 through 1980, and made a lot of friends and connections who I still enjoy today. For a kid there was no better childhood!”
Outgoing and charismatic, with a broad smile and shoulders to match, Sheriff Scott maintains that healthy beachfront persona from his youth. “I was never the star but played baseball and basketball through high school, then got into strength training in college and that became a lifelong trend. I wish I had more time to devote to it today, but I can still do 100 pushups and easily pass any physical benchmark required of a law enforcement officer.” He jokes that perhaps his best workouts occur twice-a-week when he still cuts his own lawn with his walk-behind mower!
Fort Myers Beach played a prominent role in his early law enforcement career. “When I began with the Sheriff’s Office in 1988, it was my first patrol assignment. Plus I did motorcycle patrol for many Spring Breaks. I always enjoy the beach, except for the traffic. It’s not just the cars, but all the walkers and bikes, skateboards and scooters. You really need to be vigilant.”
The Sheriff is seeking a 4th term in 2016. For a kid who grew up playing G.I. Joes and majoring in Political Science with ROTC training at the University of South Florida, law enforcement may have been natural but politics never. After standing on principle to defeat the incumbent in 2004, Sheriff Scott is pleasantly surprised he has no regrets about this segment of his life. “It is an honor to be elected Lee County Sheriff by the very residents I serve. Others in similar positions to me are there by appointment – a mayor and six or seven city council people name them to the job – and as such they only need to ensure that small group is happy. I have hundreds of thousands of constituents and I am as responsive to them as possible, for it is the citizens who hold my job in their hands. This is not all robbers and murders but interacting with the public, and that is why I still have the same telephone number all these years later.”
Spring Break is an excellent example of his people-first philosophy. “While the Sheriff’s Office significantly increases its presence, both with special detail patrols paid by the Town as well as our own additional personnel, we understand the kids and young adults travel often a long way to enjoy a good time, so we employ a pretty long leash. They come here to spend a lot of money, guys want to meet gals and vice versa, and to make memories to last a lifetime. The weather so far this year is perfect, and the beach is on-track to best last year’s record turnout. Our goal is to give Spring Breakers their space while ensuring they do not cross the line. Mostly everything goes off without a hitch.”
Just as Fort Myers Beach and Lee County significantly evolved throughout prior decades, so has law enforcement, and Sheriff Scott sadly relates that one of the biggest concerns of our time is domestic terrorism. “It doesn’t have to be planes flying into skyscrapers, and unfortunately prime areas now are public meeting places such as churches and schools. The threat doesn’t just come from organized groups but the mentally-ill or socially-challenged who slip through the cracks. In Lee alone we have over 90,000 students on more than 100 campuses and that does not include private schools or universities. That’s a lot of book bags we hope are carrying nothing more than books – it’s quite a challenge.”
Sheriff Scott recently spoke to one of his predecessors who commiserated that societal issues combined with technological innovations like cyberattacks make one four-year term seem to him like 3 or 4 from the old days. So with challenges aplenty and over a quarter-century already in public service, why does The Smiling Sheriff still burn with the passion for another term?
“Every homeowner wants the best for their family – that’s how it is in the Scott household with my wife and two kids; we’re always doing some improvement for the betterment of everyone. Well, Fort Myers, the beach, and Lee County are my homes. They are the reason I started here as a young officer in the late 1980s, and remain my passion for service today. This is my home, and you take care of your home.”
Contact The Lee County Sheriff’s Office at 239-477-1000 or at www.sheriffleefl.org, and for emergencies call 911. Sheriff Mike Scott and The Lee County Sheriff’s Office – Working to Keep Paradise Safe!