Just a Mess

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As tempting as it is to start this week’s editorial with a Laurel and Hardy quote regarding what a fine mess we’ve gotten ourselves into, I’m having trouble finding the humor in our current situation in Fort Myers Beach. And I can find humor in just about anything. A lot of other people are also concerned, if my conversations this week are any guide.

I have never heard so many people genuinely upset over the way our Town is being run. It’s not unusual to have a handful of people call or stop by to share their concerns each week. That’s all part of the coconut telegraph here on the Island. The last two weeks, however, have brought a steady stream, an angry steady stream. These are thoughtful people who are generally supportive, or at least tolerant, of the eccentricities of our small Island’s version of government. But they each independently have come to us with messages of frustration, embarrassment and helplessness.

Islanders are famously tolerant of those who hold opinions different than their own. Our Island is a community of personalities and we appreciate the quirky, the eccentric, the slightly off-center view of things. Up to a point.

Many Islanders are way past that point on the topic of town government.

I am quite aware that there are also Islanders who believe that our Town is finally being run the way it should be by the right people and the rest of us should just sit down and shut up, especially if we weren’t born here or can’t show 25-year residency. That message has come through loud and clear.

It’s not just the families that have been here for 25+ years that make up our community. There are a lot of other people who have made the Island their home and they matter too. In April we pointed out that over 83% of our Town’s taxes are paid by non-resident (non-voting) property owners. While they can’t vote, their voices should mean something too as they’re footing the bills for our Town.

Our council needs to remember that when they talk about “our town,” they need to factor in all of these people, and if they can’t do that, they can’t effectively represent all of us.

There’s been some discussion about election results proving what ‘the people’ want. Let’s look at what the people wanted. A majority of voters chose a candidate other than the two who won. In our last election, 2770 people voted, as measured by the number of votes for Charter amendments. As each voter could choose two candidates and some chose only one, a total of 4906 votes were cast for 7 candidates. The winners combined for a total of 2203 votes or 45% of the total votes cast. The five other candidates garnered 2667 votes or 55% of council votes cast.

Last week, with less than three months in office, our Mayor blindsided at least two council members and a good chunk of the Town when he called a special meeting and fired the Town Manager. The other two council members seemed to be with the mayor’s program. How could that be as Sunshine laws prohibit discussion of Town business between council members outside of posted meetings?

The vague accusations against the manager didn’t bother them. Neither did the mayor’s secret meetings with an attorney other than the Town Attorney to draft language to fire the manager or his choice for an interim manager. All that was just fine for three members of our council that are supposed to be serving all of us.

As a result of their rash actions, we are on the verge of having some very expensive legal bills. It won’t come out of their pocket, it will be ours. And those 83% who didn’t get a chance to vote in March. Bet they’re happy.

Some surprising  observations this week during an exceptionally surprising week:

  • No mention at either council meeting Monday of a search for a Town Manager, not even during a conversation on agenda management. Why not?
  • Council still plans to take the month of July off. They’ll meet June 13th for a budget meeting and June 20th for a regular set of meetings, then they’re done until August.
  • Everyone knew a hearing request from the fired manager was coming. Sure hope they find the time to do that before they go on break in July.

One of the most concerning conversations I had this week was with a community leader who was angry about the direction council is going, yet afraid to voice their opinion publicly for fear of backlash from council members, but who asked for ideas on what a single resident could do.

For that person and any others who feel as if they no longer are represented by the actions of our Town Council, here are a few ideas to ponder:

If you are not now, register to vote.

Speak up during public comment at council meetings. Bring your friends to speak.

Talk with your friends and neighbors about next March’s election when three seats, a majority, will be on the ballot. Who is willing to run?

For those unwilling to wait for March’s election, rules for recall elections exist in the Florida Statutes. It’s not an easy process intentionally but an option.

Those who are truly angry & frustrated with Town Council’s actions – you’re not alone. You have the power to create change. You have a voice – if you use it.

 

Missy Layfield