Early voting in the State has been brisk, and according to University of Florida political science professor Daniel Smith, over a million Floridians have cast early voting ballots as of a week before the primary itself. Of those ballots, 600 thousand were from Republicans, and 480 thousand by democrats. All 67 counties in Florida will require in-person early voting March 5th through the 12th. Before that, there was a boom in absentee ballots coming in through the mail, to a rate of nearly 900 thousand.
Of course, while the primary looms large, March 15 also will have numerous local races for Council seats in various municipalities here in Lee County. Over 21 thousand independent voters have cast their votes already for these races throughout the state, and Southwest Florida will see several races listed below the main Presidential Primary. Fort Myers Beach will have two open Council seats, and has six candidates on the ballot vying for them (as well as one write in candidate.) Just as important are various referendum that could change numerous aspects of the Town’s governance, concerning issues ranging from debt to term limits.
Bonita Springs will also be lining up Council elections for two of its Districts with the Primary election, as well as their mayoral election to fill the spot left by outgoing two-term Mayor Ben Nelson.
With so many issues on the ballots, it’s more important than ever to vote, especially in these elections that fall outside the main presidential election in November. In towns and villages that only contain thousands of potential voters, a handful can make the difference in which direction a community will take in the upcoming years. With massive infrastructure projects impacting cities throughout Lee County, one vote really can matter.
Anyone going to vote will need to bring a photo ID and signature,” Vicki Collins from the Lee County Supervisor of Elections Office said. While the deadline for registration for the March elections has already passed, one can still change their personal information. “If someone needs to make an address change, they need to do it before they go in to vote on the 15th.”
Those who have registered will also be registered for elections happening later this year, including local and County primaries in August, and the national elections in November. Those who haven’t registered for this election will have until August 1st to register for the August elections, though.
The most effective voter is one with knowledge of the ballot beforehand, knowing not only what the candidates stand for, but what other issues may be up for a vote in the form of referendums. As such, the Sun Bay Paper has compiled a list of candidates for the local races, with some information on each of them, so readers can head to the booths with a better understanding of what’s in store for them there.
Bonita Springs Mayoral Election:
Having served two four-year terms, Mayor Ben Nelson has reached his term limit this year, making way for a three man race to fill the vacancy. Whoever wins will be heading a Council dealing with numerous issues that range from the redevelopment of Bonita Springs Old Downtown area along Old US 41 (including massive road work), to the lingering issue of where to put a high school that serves the city’s children.
Stephen McIntosh is one of three candidates vying for Mayor of Bonita Springs at the March 15th elections, along with Peter Simmons and Rick Steinmeyer. The winner will be replacing two-term Mayor Ben Nelson.
The Vice Mayor of Bonita Springs will be aiming to succeed Nelson, following a term and half on the Council. A resident of Bonita for 15 years, he serves as the current Chairman of the Board at the Florida Gulf Coast UniversityFoundation. He is a founding partner of Tartan Counsulting, a firm that focuses on strategic planning.
In office, he co-wrote and sponsored the Environmental Sustainability Strategy that dealt with issue of land use, resource conservation, transportation, and energy optimization.
Another councilmember in Bonita Springs, serving District 4, Simmons has served on the government body for the past 4 years. He is the president of the consulting firm, The Simmons Group. He also served as Representative Curt Clawson’s Deputy Chief of Staff before running for mayor.
He is running on a platform that espouses fiscal conservatism, including the auditing of the city’s taxes, as well as pledges for continued investment into infrastructure.
A retired carpenter and retail manager, Steinmeyer has been a fixture at Council meetings even before he threw his hat into the mayoral race, a campaign that he finances himself. He positions himself as a frugal man who would handle the affairs of the city with a conservative hand when it came to obtaining and spending funds.
Bonita Springs City Council
With Stephen Macintosh running for mayor, that leaves his former seat open for this election cycle. Like the mayoral race, three candidates are vying for the job.
Owner of Tri-Town Construction, Devisse states that he’s a “strong believer” in environmental sustainability, as well as focusing on bringing business down to Bonita Springs.
A former Police Captain from Rhode Island, and a former Bonita Spring Councilmember who represented District 1 directly before McIntosh, Ferreira is also focused on water quality. Specifically the state of Estero Bay and its fisheries, as well as restoration of land in the DRGR.
Amy Burns Quaremba
A resident of Bonita Springs since 2010, she had a career as an analyst for the Institute for Defense Analyses. Her platform includes maintaining Bonita Springs small town character, and pursuing conservative budgeting principles.
Bonita Springs City Council
With current District 2 Councilmember Janet Martin choosing not to run again, two candidates have entered the race to take her seat.
Gregory L Dewitt
Owner of Greg Dewitt Services Inc., and the assistant chief for the Bonita Springs Fire District.
Bases one of the key cornerstones of his campaign on guarding the DRGR and the Imperial River against development.
Fort Myers Beach
Unlike the Bonita Springs council elections, which have candidates running for specific districts that they have to live in to represent, FMB takes the “at large” approach to selecting Councilmembers. As such, six candidates are running for the two open seats, and the top two vote getters will take their place on the Town Council.
The Incumbent Vice Mayor of Fort Myers Beach is vying for a second term on Council, and stakes his bid on his knowledge of the various issues and projects that are ongoing in the Town, from the massive Estero Boulevard redevelopment project to the water utility replacements. He is also the former vice chairman of the Marine Resources Task Force, where he helped create a recycling program at the Island's beach accesses.
A familiar name and face for beach residents, Boback is a former FMB Councilmember from 2005-2008, and served as the Town's mayor starting in early 2006. A resident on the Island for over 20 years, Boback was a staunch advocate for the Government-lite philosophy the Town was founded on while he was in office, and continues to speak out for better management of the Town's money in his current run for one of the open Council seats.
Another candidate who has plenty of experience in the local government, Green served for many years as the Public Works Director for the Town, as well as Interim Town Manager. Before that, he was an enlisted sailor with the U.S. Coast Guard until his retirement in 2005. His campaign touches on numerous issues ranging from development, beach health, and the Lake Okeechobee water releases, issues that he had to deal with on numerous occasions during his time with Town Staff.
For over 40 years a resident of the Beach, Gore has seen about every kind of change the Island can experience in that time. One of the central themes of her campaign for a Council Seat is to ensure the remains beholden to the Comprehensive Plan FMB put in place when it incorporated over 20 years ago, with aims to preserve the 'small town' aspect of the beach in the face of proposed developments looking to transform the beach.
A homeowner on the Island since 2004, Butcher has been a member of the Town's Local Planning Agency and Public Safety Committee, as well as a member of Bike Walk Lee Steering Committee. His platform looks to keep government-lite, making the Town "live within its means." Butcher states that "Our town is undergoing changes and we must have someone that looks to the future, not the past, for solutions to our challenges."
Becoming a resident of the Beach in 2014, Katt was quick to get involved with FMB. Already, she has served on the Town's Local Planning Agency. An attorney with over 30 years of experience, she also served as deputy prosecutor back in Indianapolis in the 80s, Katt hopes to bring her legal know-how into office in order to serve the Town's needs with the big projects already underway, and with the looming future projects that could change the face of the beach.
Also running for the two seats, but not appearing on the ballot, is the write-in candidate Stevenson, who has lived on FMB for over 15 years. His campaign touches heavily on water quality and its impact on the Town, speaking out against the Lake Okeechobee fresh water releases, and the dumping of untreated storm water into Estero Bay.
Fort Myers Beach Referendums:
REMOVING LIMITATIONS ON THE TOWN’S ABILITY TO ENGAGE IN LONG TERM
This amendment will allow the Town to borrow the funds necessary to meet long term capital improvement funding needs in accordance with the Town’s Debt Management Policy.
LOWERING THE REQUIREMENTS FOR RESIDENT INITIATIVES
This amendment will lower the threshold percentage for resident initiatives to be presented to the Town Council regarding adoption of an ordinance affecting the Town from 25% to 15%.
REQUIRING THREE AFFIRMATIVE COUNCIL MEMBER VOTES TO TAKE OFFICIAL ACTION
The Charter currently allows an official action to be adopted upon the affirmative vote of only two members in the event of a voting conflict or absentee member. This amendment will require that all official actions, except in the case of emergencies, will require an affirmative vote of at least three members.
EXTENDING COUNCIL MEMBER TERMS OF OFFICE FROM THREE TO FOUR YEARS
This amendment will change the council member terms of service from three years to four years, with elections being held in odd number years. Seats #1, and #2 will initially be for a term from March 2016 to March 2019.
ELIMINATING TERM LIMITS
This amendment will allow elected council members to serve more than two full consecutive terms; and, eliminates term limits.
ESTABLISHING A TOWN CANVASSING BOARD
This amendment will create a Town Canvassing Board. At the close of any Town election, the Town Canvassing Board will review the votes on file with the Supervisor of Elections and certify the total number of votes taken.
SETTING COUNCIL MEMBER SALARIES AND METHOD FOR ADJUSTMENT
This amendment establishes a specific annual salary for the mayor and council members, effective April 1, 2016, and provides a method for annual adjustment.
CLARIFYING THE DATE MAYOR AND VICE MAYOR ARE SELECTED
This amendment clarifies that the selection of the council members to serve as mayor and vice mayor will occur at the first meeting following the second Tuesday in March.
CLARIFYING THE TERMS OF FORFEITURE OF OFFICE
This amendment clarifies that a council member may forfeit elected office for failure to attend three consecutive regularly scheduled council meetings without an excused absence, or failure to maintain a permanent residence in the Town of Fort Myers Beach.
AMENDING AND CLARIFYING THE PROCESS FOR THE ADOPTION OF EMERGENCY TOWN ORDINANCES
This amendment eliminates unnecessary restraints on the Town Council to enact ordinances under emergency conditions. Emergency ordinances adopted by Council will automatically be repealed 61 days after adoption.
CLARIFY THE PROCESS OF COUNCIL ACTION IN RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATION OF THE CHARTER REVIEW COMMISSION
This amendment removes obsolete language regarding the timing of charter review, which will be conducted every 10 years. It clarifies that Council action with respect to Charter Review Commission recommendations includes the authority to accept, reject or modify the proposed changes after two public hearings.
ESTABLISHING THAT VIOLATIONS OF THE CHARTER’S NON-INTERFERENCE PROVISIONS CONSTITUTE GROUNDS FOR RECALL
The Charter provides that council members will direct improvements to operations of Town government through the Town Manager. This amendment establishes that a violation of this requirement for non-interference with Town staff will constitute grounds for a council member’s recall.
CLARIFYING THE TERRITORIAL BOUNDARIES OF THE TOWN OF FORT MYERS BEACH
The Town Charter currently describes its territorial waters as a corporate limit 1,000 feet offshore. This amendment will clarify that the Town boundaries include the waters within 1,000 feet of Estero Island into the Gulf of Mexico.
UPDATING REQUIREMENTS FOR KEEPING RECORDS AND MINUTES OF COUNCIL MEETINGS
The requirement to keep a journal in addition to minutes of Council meetings is outdated and will be eliminated by this amendment. Minutes of Council meetings will be maintained in accordance with the Town Council Policies and Procedures Manual.
CLARIFYING THE LANGUAGE REGARDING THE FILLING OF COUNCIL MEMBER VACANCIES
This amendment deletes unnecessary language relating to the filling of council vacancies and establishes a gender neutral statement.
CLARIFYING THAT REASONABLE NOTICE WILL BE PROVIDED FOR ALL MEETINGS
The Town Charter currently requires at least 24 hours notice for all Council meetings. This amendment will delete the 24-hour timeframe and require reasonable notice for all meetings.
CLARIFYING COUNCIL VOTE TO REMOVE TOWN MANAGER
This amendment clarifies that removal of the Town Manager requires an affirmative vote of at least three Council members.
CLARIFYING THE TERMS OF THE TOWN MANAGER’S APPOINTMENT
This amendment removes the requirement that Town Council appoint a Town Manager for an indefinite term.
REMOVING THE REFERENDUM REQUIREMENT FOR ROAD AND BRIDGE TOLLS
This amendment deletes the requirement for a referendum vote before the Council can impose bridge or road tolls. Amendment will reflect the reality that the Town does not own any toll-able bridges or roads.
REMOVING OBSOLETE LANGUAGE REGARDING INDEPENDENT SPECIAL DISTRICTS
This amendment is necessary to clean up the charter. It will eliminate provisions applicable to local independent special districts within the boundaries of the Town. No independent special districts exist wholly within the boundaries of the Town.
REMOVING UNNECESSARY LANGAUGE REGARDING REVENUE SHARING
This amendment is necessary to clean up the Charter. The Town Charter currently contains language regarding eligibility for state revenue sharing based on the calculations including local special districts. This authority is already provided for by both a special act of the legislature and by general law.