Election Dates & Term Limits
When Town of Fort Myers Beach voters cast their ballots for the March 17 election, they will not only fill three Town Council seats, but will settle two referendums concerning future election dates as well as the length of Town Council terms.
Charter Amendment One states that “The Town Charter currently provides that the regular election of members of Town Council shall be held the Second Tuesday in March. It is proposed that the Charter be amended to revise such provisions by moving the regular election of the Town Council to the First Tuesday after the First Monday in November, to coincide with Federal and State election dates.”
Charter Amendment Two reads that “The Town Charter provides for three-year terms with a maximum of 2 consecutive terms (total six years) for each Councilmember. It is proposed that the Charter be amended to increase the term of office to 4 years with a maximum of 2 consecutive terms (total eight years) to ensure that regular Town Council elections coincide with Federal and State election dates as set forth in proposed Charter Amendment Number One.”
The Top Five!
At their Management & Planning Session on Thursday, February 6, Council, who voted to place the two Charter Amendments on the March 17 ballot, discussed a chart prepared by Council member Joanne Shamp highlighting their major points. Shamp, who voted against placing the referendums on the ballot, noted that “you will hear plenty of opposing points of view!”
Council member Rexann Hosafros felt the chart too complicated and suggested “adding the Top 5 Reasons why Council thinks you should vote ‘Yes’ on these issues.” Town Manager Roger Hernstadt advised Council “to be careful about that,” with Town Attorney John Herin, Junior, adding that “you cannot use public funds to advocate for one side or the other, but you can to provide voter education in a neutral manner; for example, you can state if voters approve the Referendums, the Town will save taxpayer money by having less elections.”
Hosafros suggested the following: “Number One: The Lee County Supervisor of Elections requested that the Town take this action. Number Two: This will save the Town money if you pass both and that is a fact. Number 3: Other Lee County communities, like the City of Fort Myers and Village of Estero already have four-year Council terms. Number Four: On Fort Myers Beach, the FMB Fire Department, Public Library Board and FMB Mosquito Control District all hold November elections. Someone help me with a fifth reason.” The Town Attorney added, “you will have a greater turnout in November in conjunction with Federal and State elections and that is a fact.”
Facts Are Facts
Hosafros said that those in opposition state that “more Town voters are here in March than November, but 50% of our citizens now Vote-By-Mail, making that argument less important.” Vice Mayor Ray Murphy noted, “Turnout in the last two March Town elections was low, even though more voters are here.” “I agree with those facts, but there are other facts,” countered Shamp. “If these pass, Ray and Rexann will serve until November 2022, meaning they will serve 3-year; 8-month terms rather than the 3-year term to which people elected them, and the three new Council members may serve 4-year, 8-month terms. I think you two are doing a lovely job but voters elected you to three-year terms and that is a fact!”
Hosafros disagreed, pointing out, “In a 3-year term, it takes you a year to catch up to speed on everything,” with Mayor Anita Cereceda adding, “I personally don’t think anyone will care about that extra 8 months.” Shamp, however, stated, “There is a big difference between a 3-year and 4-year, 8-month term!” Council member Bruce Butcher opined, “Four-year terms versus 3-year terms means there will be 33% less elections over time, but I agree that the 4-year, 8-month term needs to be pointed out.” Murphy noted, “If people are unhappy with those they elect to a 4-year, 8-month term, you are not stuck with them because there is the recall process. It has never been done yet in the Town but it can be done; no one is forever.”
Point, Counter Point
While Cereceda and Shamp are on opposite sides of the Referendums’ issue, neither has a vested interest, as Cereceda is not on the ballot due to term limits, with Shamp not seeking re-election.
In addition to the Council’s top five reasons, Cereceda sees several more advantages to approving the two Charter Amendments. “There is much less island traffic in November than March that is the peak of Spring Break and tourist seasons, so trying to vote then is a nightmare, unless you do it first thing in the morning. I agree with Council member Rexann that it takes one year to get up to speed with Council’s numerous issues, so we should give people enough time to accomplish things! Four-year terms help to establish an institutional knowledge, continuity and stability. Look at Mayor Kevin Ruane of Sanibel. He has been in the office now for 10 years and has not only achieved many great things for his community but became a statewide and even national figure in the water quality movement.”
She responded to several arguments against the Charter Amendments. “It is true that Town voters defeated similar Referendums the Charter Review Committee proposed just a few years ago, but if memory serves me correctly, there were 17 Referendums on that ballot, causing the typical voter to just vote No all across the board. I know Council members Butcher and Shamp want people to be aware that the three candidates elected this March may serve 4-year, 8-month terms, but that is a one-time correction. Lastly, the issue that the Charter Amendment One seeks to remedy, is in a sense, already obsolete, because Fort Myers Beach is the only Lee County community that holds its election the second Tuesday of March, meaning we switched at least our last two to different March dates to coincide with nearby municipalities. I do see the counterpoint that March election voters only need to concentrate on Town issues, but the bottom line is that four-year terms and November elections are the norm, so to me this is common sense and a no-brainer! I do, however, encourage Town voters to either vote for or against both, as passing just one will create more conflict than it will solve.”
Shamp conversely said she “believes that the 3-year commitment is significant if you prepare thoroughly over the broad variety of topics covered at each meeting. I prefer the candidate information and forums to continue to be held in-season so that all property owners can participate in the conversation regarding current issues of importance to the entire island, rather than during the time of year when businesses are sometimes closed and storm cleanup may be a priority. Other surrounding communities like Estero and Sanibel agree and kept March elections. Finally, of our nearly $20 million budget, $17,500 is a small price to pay for an active community participation.”