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Editorial 696

Missy Layfield - Editor

Time to Step Up

The November general election seems a long way away. At just under 5 months in the future, it is. But if you’ve been thinking about running for a seat on a local special district, you need to get a move on right now.

There is no last minute decision to run. There is also no spontaneous write-in campaign. In case you were pondering those options. Florida election law doesn’t allow for either one.

To run for a special district, candidates must qualify by June 20th. Qualification week is noon June 16th to noon June 20th. The good news is that it doesn’t take millions of dollars to run for elected office. $25 gets you on the ballot.

Of course, there are rules for candidates and deadlines and details to know. But first, you need to decide if you want to run for a special district office. Fort Myers Beach has three special districts with a total of eight seats up for election in November.

The Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District will have three seats on the ballot, Seats #1, 3 & 5. The Fort Myers Beach Library will have 4 seats, #1,2,3 & 4. The Fort Myers Beach Mosquito District will have one seat, #1.

In all three special districts, candidates must specify which seat they are running for. This is different than Fort Myers Beach Town Council seats, where, in the most recent election, five candidates all ran for the three seats up for election, with the top three vote getters winning a Council seat.

Many incumbents are running for these 8 seats, though not all. As of press time, just 4 candidates for the three seats on the Fire Board have qualified for the November election.

We respect the work and dedication of all incumbents and thank them for their work, but still encourage anyone with an interest in these special districts and the work that they do to consider running for one of these eight seats.

Each of these districts do important work for taxpayers, managing budgets that range from the Mosquito Board’s $366,259 for the 2013-2014 fiscal year to the Beach Library’s $1,394,881 to the Fire Board’s $14 million budget (including reserves of $5.3 million). Serving on a board is more than just hashing out budgets, it’s working with your neighbors to provide important services to your fellow residents and visitors, whether that be fire prevention or emergency medical services or controlling mosquito populations or providing information services via the library.

The quality of life in our area is directly related how involved we all are in our community. Do you have an interest in serving on any of these three boards?

If you are interested, we urge you to contact the Lee County Elections office and pick up an election packet now by calling 239-533-8683. Our community needs interested and engaged candidates for all elected offices.

Summer Cool-down

The July break is coming up for Town meetings, and it couldn’t come at a better time. Meetings have been heating up over the last several months as residents have taken to expressing their opinions randomly and disruptively during Council and advisory board meetings.

All boards provide ample time for Public Comment. There are comment periods at the beginning of meetings, during Public Hearings and at the end of meetings. Residents are invited to share their opinions on agenda items and on whatever they wish to speak about. All that is asked of speakers is that they limit their comments to three minutes and that they remain civil.

Speakers can agree with what has been said during the meeting, disagree with it, offer alternative points of view or share how the subject matter at hand impacts their life or cover any topic they wish. And while they do so, they are granted the polite, patient and respectful attention of everyone on the dais.

Everyone who speaks at a public meeting in our Town deserves that same polite, patient and respectful attention, whether it’s someone giving public comment, a member of the board or someone presenting something to the board. They each deserve that from everyone in attendance at the meeting.

Primarily because it’s a sign of basic respect and maturity, which we like to think we all share. But also because everyone deserves to be heard and when there are comments, cheers, jeers or the ever-popular cluck-and-sigh from audience members, they are preventing the speaker from being heard, both in the meeting room, on live TV and on the DVD recording of the meeting.

Worst of all, it makes our town look like we have a bunch of impatient bumpkins who can’t behave respectfully at a meeting and have a civil discussion. We often hear comments reflecting dismay that "we” meaning the Town or island residents are not taken seriously by the media or off-islanders. It’s hard to be taken seriously when our official meetings look and sound the way ours have lately.

Mayor Cereceda and others running meetings have valiantly attempted to maintain decorum at meetings, but it takes everyone cooperating and that has not been happening. At a neighborhood meeting recently, the Mayor was shouted down by a crowd that seemed to feel that the only way to convey their opinion was to chant it. What? Are we all back in 6th grade here or what?

We totally understand that those making the comments, cheering and jeering are trying to make a point. That’s what public comment periods are for. There’s no need for the loud sighing, mumbled comments, cheers, etc.

If Town meetings are a contest where the loudest win, then the respectful are at a disadvantage and the rude win. Which doesn’t mean that their cause is any more important, it just means that they’re rude.

Town meetings are not rallies; they are official meetings of our elected government. Hopefully after a month cool-down, we can all take a deep breath and find our way to more civil behavior during those meetings and then we all win.

Missy Layfield