Lee County government has become the antithesis of what used to be its motto: ‘community, transparency, and accountability.’

Lee Future advocates for transparent and representative governance, and for holding our elected officials accountable. As we stated in our essay on “Citizen Engagement in Lee County.”

 “Lee County government has become the antithesis of what used to be its motto: ‘community, transparency, and accountability.’ For the sake of its future, we need leaders who will work to restore county government to that lofty standard.”

Charlotte Newton has penned an op ed published in the News-Press on May 16, 2020 on the topic. The headline says it all: “County’s lack of accountability, transparency impacts trust.”

The latest example is the County’s refusal to report on Lee’s status of PPE supplies, unlike other counties in SWFL and beyond.  Every county and local government is having to manage during this time of pandemic, and we can see in stark relief how much more transparent and accountable other counties are to their citizens.

Guest opinion: County’s lack of accountability, transparency impacts trust

Charlotte Newton, Special to The News-Press

Published 6:00 p.m. ET May 16, 2020

There is an incredible gulf between our county government and its citizenry.

A News-Press/USA Today story on May 10 (“Virus strains supply chains along Florida’s Gulf Coast“) surveyed 13 Gulf Coast counties about the status of PPE supplies on hand in our region. The article reported on the situations in counties ranging from Collier to Manatee and beyond — but could not report on Lee’s status because “Lee County only provided data for PPE on order.  [The] county spokeswoman said they don’t use the phrase ‘days of PPE’.  The county has distributed more than a million pieces of PPE and cleaning items since the start of the pandemic, she said.”

What does this tell us?  Have they used up their supplies?  Do they know how much PPE they have available?  If not, how can they take the momentous decision to reopen our economy without basic knowledge of what is on hand to handle any increase in cases that might result?

Our county government has a fundamental obligation to its citizens to be responsible, forthcoming and accountable.  If they know the status of PPE supplies, why not tell us?  And a fundamental question: why are we in Lee County getting less information than is made available by other jurisdictions?

We could fault our unelected bureaucrats who administer our county and who time and again fail to offer innovative solutions to problems.  After all, who decided not to track “days of PPE”?  Whoever it was, we expect leadership from our elected commissioners to whom these county employees report and accountability for the decisions they make.  We expect our leaders to ask the right questions and to be knowledgeable about our readiness to deal with this situation.  In Lee County, that leadership is sadly absent.  By allowing county bureaucrats to stonewall the press and the public, by allowing them to keep their heads down, our county commissioners are not doing their job.  And it is for that reason that we must replace them.

Unfortunately, the county’s lack of forthrightness with the press and its citizens underscores a growing pattern of spin, stonewalling, and secrecy.  Budgets are crafted in the dark and presented to the public in a process that allows citizens only 3-minutes of comment time and only during final commission deliberations, rather than in workshops where initial discussions among commissioners take place. Decisions favoring developer donors are mysteriously agreed to by the usual 4-1 vote. How much else goes on that we don’t know about and is not revealed? Whatever happened to transparency?

Not knowing — or not revealing — when asked how much PPE equipment is on hand makes me wonder if they are purposefully trying to hide what is a shameful situation. The lack of transparency is concerning and so sad.

What if the News-Press/USA Today hadn’t posed the question to the county?  Are we prepared for what is to come as a result of reopening our community?  Are we prepared for next week, much less tomorrow?  Who knows?  By not being forthright when asked by the media, the county has not provided us with any assurance that this crisis is in any way under control.   Don’t we have a right to know?  Journalists who ask questions, scratch below the surface, and report what they find are so critical to our community.

(Charlotte Newton on behalf of the Steering Committee of Women For a Better Lee.)

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

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