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Thursday, 29 October 2015 09:37

First and Foremost, No Special Interest Group Should be Given Taxpaper Property to Promote Its Agenda

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The taxpayers in the Town of Fort Myers Beach should be outraged over the recent rhetoric in Town Hall to consider letting a small group of special interests usurp the public space in Times Square for use by the beach Chamber of Commerce.

Adding to the their outrage should be the suggestion by what we see as a few behind the scenes policy manipulators that have gone so far as to suggest the Town’s property should be given “free” to the Chamber to use for their “Bambi” informational trailer.

Last week the small island weekly, The Sand Paper, ran an article entitled “RFQ Requested for Time Square Kiosk.” Now a RFQ (Request for Qualifications) is just a substitute for the more typical RFP (Request for Proposal) that an organization – in this case the Town of Fort Myers Beach would use to find out who would want to use the space in Times Square and what they would do with it if Council approves their request.

This is a set up in the works and the good people of Fort Myers Beach should know it.

The principal players are The Chamber along with its President, Bud Nocera, and current Chairman, Dave Anderson, Al Durret of Fish Tale Marina, and the Island Sand Paper by and through its current owners, Missy and Bob Layfield (Bob and Al have both served on the Board of Directors of the Chamber so the fruit has not fallen far from the tree). They will be aided by whomever they can get to serve their purposes, including council members they can sway to their side.

First and foremost, no special interest group should be given taxpayer property to promote its agenda. We live in a time when icons of American history like the Ten Commandments, the Confederate Flag and any mention of God is being removed from public properties to avoid even the appearance of bias.

Yet, the players mentioned earlier are trying to sell us on using a Chamber of Commerce to dispense information to the public from public property and to have this activity sanctioned by our elected body – The Town Council of Fort Myers Beach. Make no bones about it, the Chamber of Commerce represents dues-paying business members and not the general public, and if that is not a “special interest” then it would be hard to imagine what would be one.

I suspect the reason they changed the name to Request for QUALIFICATIONS is that those trying to control what information you get will soon try and convince you that because the Chamber received a designation from Visit Florida saying they are a Certified Welcome Center they are more qualified. Well, anyone can take the same classes downtown through Lee County Visitors and Convention Bureau.

For example, The Fort Myers Beach-Sanibel Welcome Center will soon receive the same designation. The big difference is that Welcome Center is not asking to be an “official” source of information for the public. It already serves that role with private dollars and has never asked for public dollars and never will. It also operates out of the same building originally rented by the Chamber for that very purpose before they were asked to leave two years ago for non-payment of rent - money they still owe and refuse to pay to beach residents and businesses.

The Welcome Center uses private dollars at its 3500 square foot facility and is fully staffed by PAID professionals to give out information to visitors, tourists and anyone who asks for information is given it free of charge without being a member of a Chamber and no preference is given since there are no “members.”

The Welcome Center told us they do not intend to submit a RFQ reply because it understands that public space should not be used for special interests no matter how they are styled or what rhetoric its supporters use to justify themselves.

It is also egregious that this particular Chamber of Commerce is asking for the space from taxpayers. As already mentioned and elaborated upon in prior investigative articles by The Sun Bay Paper, this Chamber owes people money for rent that it not only refuses to pay, it also refuses to publically acknowledge its debt despite statements by many people who know what they owe, including several past Chairman and Chairwomen of its Board of Directors. These debts are real and substantial. Recently the Chamber tried to get money from the Tourist Development Council and was told by the County Attorney Andrea Frazier they were not “eligible” for those taxpayer dollars. The same reasoning should prevail here.

How a town could consider giving public property to a deadbeat organization and allow it the use of valuable land and a concession when it has not paid for the last property it occupied is beyond good sense and fair play. Fran Myers, a well-known and respected business woman who owns the Red Coconut and serves on the County Airport Board and Tourist Development Council, has called this Chamber “squatters” for their refusal to pay their just obligations. Yet still we read in the Sand Paper that this Chamber should be seriously considered for the space. Seriously?

Mayor Anita Cereceda has gone on the record as saying she prefers to use the space either for something else or by an organization that has no special interests. She is right but whether she will stick to her guns and guide this issue accordingly remains to be seen.

Al Durrett was quoted at the last Council meeting as saying “the Chamber should be allowed to have their informational trailer in Time Square for free, especially in light of the disruptions to local business caused by the Estero Boulevard construction.” He goes on to add, “There should be another space next to them, where businesses like mine could pay to set up in for three days or so, these are the ways to get income from Time Square.”

Really.

Of course Durrett wants it this way – he stands to profit or he wouldn’t be interested. Just so readers know, taxpayers are already profiting from the space. It’s been leased (now on month to month because the Town wouldn’t renew his lease) by George Altemeier doing business as the Tours Information Booth for over 6 years.

In our opinion the only reason the lease wasn’t renewed was because of the back-door efforts by the Chamber and its supporters to get into the space that George has faithfully paid for over the years which is more than this Chamber can say.

In the end, what will be will be but it’s a shame that a Que Sera, Sera attitude so permeates our voter base that policy decisions are made by the handful who take it upon themselves to “represent” all of us.

If the Town Council is comfortable giving an indebted Chamber of Commerce prime taxpayer space and allowing it to be the sole provider of information for our community and ignore the fact they are a member-dues based organization, then we submit we are already being ran by special interests.

Carl Conley

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