District 1 candidates address county’s mental health concerns
Lee County’s District 1 candidates for the Board of County Commissioners addressed how they plan to maintain mental health services and carry on the legacy of late Commissioner Bob Janes at a forum Tuesday night.
Candidates for county commission and other races attended the forum at the Lee County Alliance for the Arts, one in a number of forums scheduled before the Aug. 24 primary and general election on Nov. 2. When it began at 6:30 p.m. there was standing room only.
The main theme of the forum was how each candidate plans on improving mental health and substance abuse services in Lee County. Janes, who passed away in March, not only held the District 1 county commission seat for nearly 10 years but also spearheaded the expansion of mental health services.
Candidates praised Janes for the progress he made in improving local services, and pledged to continue his work. They agreed that far too many tax dollars are spent on incarceration and not on prevention and core services.
“There is a huge cost to incarcerate and not dealing with this issue,” said candidate Chris Berardi, a former member of the Cape Coral City Council. “We have to work with state agencies to keep dollars from the state from shrinking.”
Candidate Mike Jackson, a former director of economic development in Cape Coral, said community collaboration is the key to expanding services, and he pointed to the opening of Lee County’s Triage Center/Low Demand Shelter, a facility serving as an alternative to incarcerating those who commit minor criminal violations and are suspected of mental illness.
“We need to think about the value of community collaboration,” said Jackson.
Bob Chilmonik, another candidate for District 1, stressed the importance of reaching out to the community and keeping an open door policy as a commissioner.
“The best way a commissioner can interact with the community is going out into the public,” said Chilmonik, who said his success, as a two-term member of the Lee County School Board, was made possible by reaching out to the community.
Carla Johnston – a former mayor of the city of Sanibel like Janes – said the best way to honor the late commissioner would be to continue the cause.
“He cared about these issues,” said Johnston. “I understand the sensitivities and problems within this.”
The District 1 incumbent, John Manning, said he’ll keep his door open to anyone wanting to discuss mental health services.
“I’ll always keep an open door to these issues,” said Manning, who said he wanted to see a Community Corrections Facility in Lee County, which could cut the amount of jail space and expenditures.
Each of the candidates was also asked whether they would consider raising the sales tax to fund the expansion of mental health services, and none said they would support such a proposal.
Gov. Charlie Crist appointed Manning, a former county commissioner, to the District 1 seat to fill the vacancy left by Jane’s death.
Berardi, Chilmonik, Jackson and Manning are Republicans who will face off in the primary. The winner will face Johnson, who is running without party affiliation, in November.