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Editorial 616

Missy Layfield - Editor

Don’t Shoot the Messenger

With the General Election just three weeks behind us, I hesitate to mention this, but we have another election coming up in March.

Town Council will have two seats on the ballot this year. When Council called for interested candidates for the open seat left when Larry Kiker resigned to run for County Commissioner, they drew 11 highly qualified candidates. With that level of interest in a term of only a few months, there should be a strong field of candidates for a full three-year term.

Anyone who is a registered voter and has lived in the Town of Fort Myers Beach for a year is eligible to file candidacy papers. See our story on page 16 for more details.

Here at the Sand Paper, we’ve been working on how best to cover the Town Council election, helping voters learn about the candidates in the most effective way possible, while giving fair coverage to all candidates. We feel it’s important to weigh our policy carefully because in this type of local election, we appreciate that we are one of the primary conduits through which voters will learn about these candidates. And that requires taking into account access and fairness, responsibility and duty to our community.

You won’t be seeing expensive ads on the nightly news shows or hearing in-depth radio interviews or even getting piles of campaign mail from these candidates. Local elections are grassroots elections. You know the people running for office. You can call them and ask questions. You’ve probably had conversations with most of the people who will appear on the ballot. You’ve seen them in the produce aisle and passed them on the street.

We’ve decided to open our news pages to candidates in the following ways. We will publish a story when candidates announce their candidacy.We will give candidates two opportunities to publish a guest opinion, letting them tell voters why they should be elected in their own words. We will publish a series of "Ask the Candidate” questions where they will answer questions of interest to voters. All candidates will have the same access to news space. Advertising space is purchased by the candidate and we do not control what is in paid ads.

What can voters do?We hope that voters send us their suggestions for questions to ask candidates. Residents are also encouraged to write letters to the editor to support their candidates, once candidates have announced.

See our election story for more details or stop by our office to pick up a copy of our full campaign policy.

Shake off any lingering election fatigue and get involved in the March Town Council election.

Reasons for Optimism

Lee County set a record in collecting $26.5 million in tourist bed tax in fiscal year 2011-12.That reflects an increase in number of visitors, occupancy rates and average length of stay.

The Lee County Port Authority reports the passenger count for October was up 3.3% compared to last year.

Retail sales of Thanksgiving weekend climbed 13% over last year according to the National Retail Federation.

Black Friday online spending topped $1 billion for the first time ever. Cyber Monday sales rose over 25% according to retail analysts. These numbers show consumer confidence.

The unemployment rate has dropped for the last 3 months in Lee County.

In the housing market, the number of foreclosure and short sales are dropping. The median home price is rising, for 20 consecutive months now, according to the Realtor Association of Greater Fort Myers and the Beach.

We hear that seasonal rentals have been filling up early.

We’ve waited in some early season traffic slow-downs.

Our favorite restaurants and bars have fewer available seats.

Things are looking up here on the beach.

Sure, things are not entirely rosy. There are still too many people out of work. Many of those that are working don’t earn enough to pay for health insurance or health care. The fiscal cliff looms in Washington. Our representatives still haven’t figured out a way to work together to solve our problems.

But the fact is that there are many signs pointing to an improved economy right here in Lee County.And that is reason for optimism.

After the cold winter of 2009-2010, then the oil spill that hurt us though it never came near us, it’s about time we got some good economic news.

After the doom and gloom of the presidential race ads and the spin coming out of campaigns, it might be a little hard to shake off that Chicken Little hangover. But shake it off we must.

The sky is not falling. We are not doomed. The world is not ending on December 21st.

We are at the beginning of what looks like the best winter season in years right here on our island.

Have you noticed all the bright new signs along Estero Blvd? Or the newly painted buildings? Or the number of homes, condos and businesses that have holiday lights up?

Little things, but added together…reasons for optimism.

Missy Layfield