Are You Getting Enough Representation?

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Several members of the Southwest Florida delegation say you are not and they want to change how Lee County Government operates. Over 100 people showed up to a town hall meeting on the subject in Lehigh Wednesday, including Mayor Dan Allers, other local elected officials, and many candidates running for office.

The way Lee County Government works now is that when a Commissioner seat comes up, all voters vote on every seat. Fort Myers Beach is in District 3, represented by Ray Sandelli. However, while Sandelli is the primary go-to person for Fort Myers Beach, if someone has an issue on the beach, they can go to any Commissioner for help. Also, any voter in Lee County can call Sandelli for help. While his primary district is district 4, he represents everyone in Lee County.

With the way the population is growing in Lee County some people want to change that form of government to what’s called single-member district. If approved, the end result would be, Fort Myers Beach residents get to vote for one Commissioner, the Commissioner that represents their district. And, that Commissioner is responsible for the issues in that district only. There is only one other county in Florida that operates the way Lee County does now; Polk County.

A criticism of the current form of government is that candidates who raise the most money – and align with big developers – will always win elections. Lee County Property Appraiser Matt Caldwell is a proponent of single-member districts. He says the current setup disenfranchises voters. Caldwell said we have it good in Lee County but we could be great. “At-large districts existed before the Jim Crowe era. They were created to disenfranchise minority voters. Lee County is larger than 4 states. It’s too large for any one person to get their arms around.”

The current population of Lee County is 800,000. It’s expected to grow to 1 million by 2030.

Lee County Commissioner (district 2) spoke at the Lehigh meeting in opposition to the proposed change. Pendergrass handed out a two-sided sheet that focused on projects and funding specifically in Lehigh Acres.

At the Lehigh meeting the public was about 50-50 split about the proposed change. Some in the audience believe this will give them better representation, others want the state to keep its nose out of local politics.
Florida House Representative (District 77) Tiffany Esposito chaired the meeting. Esposito represents unincorporated Lehigh and is in favor of the change. She says representation for communities like Lehigh will be improved under a single-member district without becoming a city.

The process to change how Lee County government operates is not quick, nor is it easy. It has to start as a local bill in front of the Southwest Florida delegation (they meet again in December). If it’s approved by the local delegation it moves on the House where 3 committees must approve it. Then the Florida Senate must approve and the Governor has to sign it. At that point the change goes on a referendum in front of the voters so we’re looking at the 2026 ballot at the earliest.

More meeting are planned to help educate the voters.

 

2 COMMENTS

  1. Then why establish districts? Without a district’s representation for the better interests of its people, those people lose their voice. Isn’t their voice as important as those outside of their districts? The US Constitution requires a representative for every 50k people. With those representations, the people would have an open ear from their elected representative and not lobbyists from special interest groups. Congress is at fault for illegally stopping the representation required by the Constitution to assure themselves power and control over the sovereign rights of citizens.
    (I ask everyone to read their Constitution and Bill of Rights before you lose them. )

  2. At large Commissioners is a much better form of government than district by district. With the d by d system, there is a much greater chance of a small vocal group stalemating county government. The needs of the Lee County must be viewed as a whole, not section by section.

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