Potential Changes to the Management of Lee County

What you should know!

Three candidates are vying to become the next county commissioner for District 3 in Lee County, a decision that will significantly impact our local governance. This is not just a routine election but a crucial moment for our community.

The district covers Fort Myers Beach, Bonita Springs, and Bonita Beach in South Lee. Also included is a section of Estero, mainly south of Corkscrew Road, and Fort Myers, west of U.S. 41 to the Caloosahatchee River. The northern border is primarily at Gladiolus Drive, but it does shimmy up to Cypress Lake Drive along parts of McGregor Boulevard.

The seat is one of five on the Board of County Commissioners, Lee’s legislative and governing body. Each commissioner is elected at large for a maximum of three four-year terms of office and must reside in the district represented. Currently, two incorporated cities are split between 2 County Commissioners. This could increase to 3 if/when Lehigh Acrea is ever incorporated.

Republican Commissioner Ray Sandelli of Bonita Springs decided not to run again. Sandelli won his first full term in 2020 after Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed him in 2019 to replace the late Larry Kiker. It was the first time a Republican and Democrat faced off in a District 3 general election since 1996, but the latter isn’t represented this time.1

Your Participation is Key!

The primary on Aug. 20 and the general election on Nov. 5 are crucial dates that will shape the future of our county.

Engage Estero is bringing to your attention a discussion on an important potential change in the structure of our Lee County Commissioners. This is a crucial matter connected to the vote by the Lee County Commissioners in November 2023 that opposed the idea of an elected county mayor and single-member districts. Two issues need to be considered.

  1. Expanding the number of elected county commissioners and how they are elected.
  2. The implementation of control of Lee County that an elected mayor would carry out.

Currently, voters elect commissioners countywide. Under the proposed legislation, the commission would expand to seven members: five elected by voters in their districts and two at-large. Advocates in Lee County’s historically Black Dunbar community have advocated for single-member districts to provide minority representation.2

A review of the history of the Lee County BoCC reveals that the Board has been comprised of five at-large commissioners since its inception in 1887. The five-member BoCC served the agriculturally focused county well until the rapid residential growth cycle began after 2000.3 This growth has changed the complexity of representation. We are a large county with a large population and more complex issues. The legacy of poor planning, lagging infrastructure, and limited protection of wildlife habitat have contributed to citizens’ increased needs and feelings about needing to be represented.

One view about expanding to seven elected officials was that it would increase administrative costs2. However, little is said about improving representation for high-density areas.

The idea of having an elected mayor would shift from the current executive responsibilities of the five commissioners and an appointed county manager who currently works under their direction to the elected mayor.

Some felt that adopting the idea of an elected mayor would place responsibilities for the management of the county in a situation that was more likely to be open to the risk from lobbyists who financially supported the individual.

Roger Desjarlais, the previous Lee County Manager, said the proposed “strong mayor” position is notorious for rewarding political allies and advocated for the current council-manager form of government, in which that person carries out the work as recommended by the commissioners.

Although there are some risks with a change to a single-elected mayor approach, some public members supported a proposed bill introduced by state Rep. Adam Botana,4 which would establish single-member districts. This would mean that only those in the district that a commissioner would represent could cast their vote; it would not be a county-wide vote. Others commented that the system worked well, so why change it?

If there were to be a change, both these issues would need a referendum and be subject to a vote on November 5, 2024.

Please provide Engage Estero with your answers to the following four questions, which we will then share with the Lee County Commissioners.

Do you agree or disagree with the suggestion to have an elected mayor for Lee County?

Do you agree or disagree with increasing the number of county commissioners from 5 to 7?

Do you agree or disagree with the suggestion that most, if not all, commissioners should be elected on a district basis instead of the current system, where commissioners are elected county-wide?

Do you agree with the term limits of 2 terms, with a maximum of 8 years?

8 + 11 =

References

  1. Elections 2024: Three candidates are vying for the Commission District 3 job in Lee County, The News-Press, Phil Fernandez, Naples Daily News, Thursday, July 4, 2024. https://news.yahoo.com/news/elections-2024-three-candidates-vying-090118346.html?fr=yhssrp_catchall
  2. Single-member vs. at-large voting debate intensifies in Lee County, GulfShore Business, David Dorsey, May 2, 2024 https://www.gulfshorebusiness.com/single-member-vs-at-large-voting-debate-intensifies-in-lee-county/
  3. History of the Lee County Board of County Commissioners. https://leefl.gov/130/Documents/BoCC_History%20for%20website%209-11-18.pdf
  4. Nov 29, 2023 — Adam Botana and Mike Giallombardo have local bills that would put governance on the ballot in Lee County.
    https://floridapolitics.com/archives/646421-single-member-districts-government-consolidations-on-agenda-for-lee-county-lawmakers/

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and Make an Impact!