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Get out and vote group draws packed house

By Staff | Oct 3, 2010

A town hall meeting Saturday on the importance of elections and voter participation became heated at times as citizens voiced their frustration and anger with city officials.
Hosted by a group called “Get out and vote … Take back the Cape,” the meeting aimed to inform and educate the public about voting and elections. The group, made up of local residents, believes that “voter apathy results in the minority electing leaders who aren’t always seemingly for ‘all the people,'” according to the meeting’s agenda.
Organizer Eileyn Sobeck-Bador said people are unhappy with their city government.
“They need to step up and go to the polls and vote,” she said.
About 140 people gathered at the Cape Coral-Lee County Library to participate in the meeting. The crowd consisted of supporters of the group, curious residents, most of the sitting Cape Coral City Council and employees of the city, including the city manager.
Sobeck-Bador was surprised by the number of attendees and the mix in the crowd.
“I think that we had the right people in the right chairs today,” she said.
The group gave presentations on the elections process and statistics, offered advice on campaigning for those interested in running for office and emphasized the importance of learning about candidates and being an informed, educated voter. The information came with an apparent undercurrent of dissatisfaction regarding the actions of some officials.
“Many of us would not be in this room if we felt like we were being listened to,” said Daryl Teblum, who referred to the city council’s “lack of willingness to bring in new business” in one presentation and pointed out proposed projects that it has voted down.
Group discussion throughout the meeting allowed attendees to take up the microphone and speak their mind. Some citizens expressed anger at public safety employees being “attacked,” while others vented about remarks made toward residents by some officials.
“We want our council people to look at us as people,” Lyndia Bradley said.
“I want honesty in my city,” she continued. “I don’t want backdoor deals. I want transparency.”
A large part of audience participation came toward the end of the meeting as attendees were asked how they and the group could lower voter apathy and get more people out to the polls for future elections. One man suggested putting a controversial issue, like Amendment 4, at the forefront to get people talking.
“That’s going to get your voter turnout,” he said.
The youth vote also was discussed. One person offered up that parents question their children and their children’s friends about what they know about each candidate, almost in a “peer pressure” manner. One woman said young voters would become more active at the polls if they understood the impact the issues and candidates can have on them.
“Nobody does anything today without a personal agenda,” she said.
Another suggestion for reaching the youth was through technology, including cell phones, the Internet and social networking sites, like Facebook and Twitter. One man said the group would be wasting its time focusing on the youth and that people vote when they have had enough. Another man argued that the youth put Obama in office.
Intermingled with the brainstorming, citizens continued to rail against city officials.
Lt. Dave Cooper, with the Cape Coral Fire Department, was one employee who decided to address the room. A city firefighter for 20 years, he said he has never been so worried.
“This council can do real damage. They’re voting as one bloc,” Cooper said. “Damage that could take years to make up.”
Others urged the room to stop “bashing” the council and focus on increasing votes.
“We have to come together as a community,” Lynn Rosko said, adding that if citizens are unhappy then they need to get out and vote. “Know who you’re voting for.”
City Manager Gary King took the microphone at one point and offered examples of the positive work the city council and staff is accomplishing. He said there is an active plan to reopen the Saturn dealership and the city is looking at creative ways to bring back the SR 78/Pine Island Road widening project.
The Department of Community Development is working to streamline the process for bringing in potential businesses and a rebalancing of the city’s investment portfolio will generate more revenue down the line, King added.
At the end of the meeting, Mayor John Sullivan said he thought it was a good effort to get people to vote. He echoed multiple comments that day on being an informed voter.
“They have to know who the candidates are and what they stand for,” Sullivan said.
Asked about the negative comments regarding some officials, he said the city council has to make hard decisions and those are not always supported by every single person.
“Everybody has an opinion, no matter what we do,” Sullivan said. “There’s going to be people who aren’t happy.”