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Increased speed limit is defeated during Student Government Day

By Staff | Nov 23, 2010

Participants at last Thursday's Student Government Day at City Hall included, from left, councilman Marty Harrity, Will Sitton, Olivia Lohnes, Casey Wexler, Andy Perez, Chris Arundel and mayor Kevin Ruane.

The younger generation often gets a bad rap, but if the eighth grade students who took part in last week’s Student Government Day at City Hall are any indication, Sanibel’s future looks pretty bright.

The annual field trip to the city’s Dunlop Road headquarters saw 42 students, teachers and volunteers tour MacKenzie Hall and meet with Mayor Kevin Ruane and councilman Marty Harrity before breaking into smaller groups for visits with the city’s various departments.

During the first portion of the agenda, Ruane and Harrity spoke about how a citizen becomes a City Council member, how members of the community can provide input to the council, and how Sanibel’s laws are made and enforced.

As an exercise, the students nominated and elected a five-member council, which consisted of Chris Arundel as mayor, Olivia Lohnes as vice mayor and Andy Perez, Casey Wexler and Will Sitton as councilors.

The group were then suggested to debate a topic which might be of interest to the local community. The issue was whether to increase the speed limit on Sanibel-Captiva Road to 40 mph.

“Regardless of what my opinion is, it’s our job to give everybody respect and an opportunity to speak about their concerns,” Ruane told the student panel.

Opening the floor to public comment, fellow eighth grader Catherine Strange told the council that she would be opposed to increasing the speed limit.

“People drive 10 mph over the speed limit on that road anyway, so you’d have people probably driving 50 mph or more,” said Strange. “I don’t think that would be very safe.”

After several more opinions from the audience — both pro and con — were heard, the council shared their view on the matter.

“Too many people drive over the speed limit… I know my father does,” said Sitton, triggering a huge laugh from the crowd. “Therefore, I’d be against it.”

Eventually, the council voted 4-1 against increasing the speed limit on Sanibel-Captiva Road.

“We have to represent the entire community,” Ruane told the students. “We’re here to listen to the community and address your concerns. As an elected official, I listen to everybody’s opinion. Some of them I agree with and some of them I do not. But the most important thing you have to do is listen.”

“It’s all about balance here,” added Harrity. “Living with nature and providing a safe community that everybody can enjoy and live together in harmony.”

Following the conclusion of the council session, the students were divided into four groups that then toured the city’s Public Works/Utilities, Building/Planning, Police/Recreation and Finance/MIS departments.

Lunch for the visitors from The Sanibel School was provided by Schnapper’s Hots and Bailey’s General Store.