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Exercise your voice and help make your vision for this town a reality

Guest Column

July 3, 2018
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Another arrival of our nation's birthday got me thinking about the importance of independence. After all, it's something we here on Fort Myers Beach also hold near and dear.

It was in the summer of 1995 that the voters of this community decided to claim our independence. We felt then that people who lived and worked here could make better decisions about the future of our community than members of the board of county commissioners who resided in a columned brick building downtown.

In the 20-plus years prior to our incorporation, there hadn't been a single movement of its sort in southwest Florida since Sanibel incorporated in 1974. However, since 1995 there have been four such successful efforts: Fort Myers Beach, Marco Island, Bonita Springs and the village of Estero. The expression "all politics are local" delivers the reason for this - who doesn't want to control their own destiny, especially when it involves their own back yard?

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The incorporation battle was difficult for everyone. It pitted businesses against residents - a common theme even today.

Prior to the town's incorporation, the chamber of commerce had served as the de facto government for the town. This left many residents feeling as if they weren't being heard - as if their values were never as important as those of the latest business enterprise looking to make its way to the beach.

Some 22-plus years later, this discussion still takes place on our small 7-mile island. There are still people, whether it be business owner, visitor or resident, who feel their opinions aren't respected.

Over the last month or so I have spoken to about 20 different individuals who felt the town's best way forward would be to relinquish our local rule and "go back to the way it used to be." Go back to less of a watchful eye. Go back to what they feel would be a less restrictive, less patrolled, less angry government. They felt that a more removed system would be more objective.

They are frustrated with new ordinances. They feel watched and threatened by the very people who live in this community and were elected to serve them. They're frustrated beyond words.

In my conversations I have tried to listen - not just to the complaints, but to the underlying issues that have driven them to a place where they were ready to choose unincorporation. In every conversation I did my best to explain why I believe it's not the right decision.

But take heed to the tried-and-true notion that you should never underestimate what a few committed citizens can do.

In March, our town will choose to elect two new people to the council. Maybe we'll elect incumbents or maybe we'll choose to take a different path. That decision is yours and in 2020 you'll get to choose three more people to fill those seats. In less than two years, you could see an entirely different town council with five new members.

Exercise your voice and help make your vision for this town a reality - not by relinquishing the independence for which we fought so hard, but by putting leaders in place that echo your viewpoint..

Moments like this are a helpful reality check. They measure not just what we dislike, but allow us to reflect on our accomplishments of the past 22 years.

There's no doubt in my mind that Fort Myers Beach would be a different community had that vote in the summer of 1995 never taken place. We could argue all day about whether or not it would be better or worse, but one thing is absolutely certain to me: I would rather have the people of this community make decisions for themselves rather than delegate them to that columned brick building downtown.

With all due respect to the county commissioners that serve now and before, the independence of Fort Myers Beach is critical to the character and the quality of our community.

With all due respect to those of you who feel frustrated and angry, our independence shouldn't be sacrificed.

Make your feelings known at the ballot box and change the course of the town in the best way possible.

Take control, don't lose it.

- Anita Cereceda, Fort Myers Beach Town Council Member



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