In the thoughtful and concise article below, Charlotte Newton with Women for a Better Lee outlines 10 steps that could be taken today to improve Lee County, citizens’ access to government and our quality of life… so why isn’t the county acting?
The News-Press, which published Newton’s article, offered the opportunity for a county response. Not surprisingly, that response was underwhelming and fact-challenged…
OpEd by Charlotte Newton originally published on Jan. 17, 2020 in the Fort Myers News-Press.
Opinion: A 2020 wish list to improve lives of Lee County citizens
A new decade means new hope for a more livable, environmentally committed and civically-engaged Lee County.
With this vision in mind, Women For a Better Lee proposes the following 10-point wish list of actions for our Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) – actions that can be undertaken now by the five Lee County commissioners to improve the quality of life of all Lee County citizens.
1. Allow citizens to communicate with commissioners on land use and zoning matters without fear of fines and/or jail. Currently, any communication with a commissioner on a rezoning or land use issue might put a resident in jail for up to 60 days or result in a fine of $500. Lee is the only Florida county to criminalize this.
2. Post signs at county waterways warning citizens of water quality health hazards. Concern about the public health impact of toxins in our water requires coordination with state agencies to properly notify the public.
3. Update flood resiliency plans to address threats from rising sea levels. In 2010, the county helped fund a plan to deal with sea level rise, a plan which has sat on the shelf since then.
4. Prohibit borrowing for road projects until 100% impact fees are restored and adopt ‘growth pays for growth’ policies. The county is considering floating bonds for road construction with interest to be paid by taxpayers. Instead, the BoCC should reinstate impact fees for developers to fund the additional infrastructure required by new residents.
5. Implement safe streets planning to reduce pedestrian and bicycle deaths. Lee County is the 8th most dangerous metro area in the nation for pedestrians. Too many residents are dying due to the BoCC’s failure to act.
6. Require developers to adopt low impact design standards that minimize the effects of septic systems, nutrients and fertilizers on our environment. We can improve water quality by implementing environmentally-friendly design standards for construction.
7. Enable citizens to sign up on the county website for email notifications of upcoming meetings and restore historical documents to website. A quick and easy re-design of the county’s website can enhance citizen participation by proactively informing interested individuals about future workshops and commission meetings.
8. Participate in the SWFL Regional Planning Council and regularly attend meetings of the Metropolitan Planning Organization to improve relationships with the six Lee municipalities. The BoCC should coordinate its plans and activities regionally. Its failure to do so only exacerbates already dysfunctional relationships with the incorporated jurisdictions and poorly serves those Lee residents living in these municipalities.
9. Permit limited time for public comment at BoCC workshops. In the past, citizens were allowed to speak at workshops. Today, the public is barred from doing so.
10. Allow citizens and organizations to meet with senior county staff without requiring the presence of a county communications staff member. Some county staff are only allowed to meet with residents if a communications staff member is included in the discussion; such a requirement creates a chilling effect, as intended.
Implementation of the above wish list does not require a degree in rocket science. These suggestions are feasible, affordable and practical.
So why can’t we get this done? The answer: our Board of County Commissioners lacks the political will to ensure that all who live and work here have the quality of life we deserve.
Women For a Better Lee challenges our county commissioners to act on this wish list and put the concerns and needs of Lee citizens ahead of developers and land use attorneys who want to pave over the county.
Women For a Better Lee is a movement led by women and comprised of Lee County voters who seek good governance, smartly-planned growth and a more livable community.
To get on their mailing list, email: WFBL2020@gmail.com; Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/WomenForABetterLee