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Four vie in primary for Dist. 2 commission seat

By Staff | Jul 14, 2012

With Brian Bigelow leaving his District 2 seat on the Lee County Board of Commissioners to run for Clerk of Courts, the race to replace him is wide open, with four Republicans looking to win the Aug. 14 primary for the right to face write-in candidate Neal Moore and independent John W. Sawyer in the November election.

Cecil Pendergrass

Age: 49

Residence: Fort Myers

Occupation: Investment

Pendergrass has Lee County in his blood, having been born and raised in Fort Myers and spending 25 years on the police force. He said that in-fighting and hard feelings have broken the commission.

“There are still the same problems with bickering and unprofessional behavior,” Pendergrass said. “I have high expectations of our officials. We can’t pick and choose who we treat well. We have to respect opinions and not hold grudges.”

Like most of the candidates, Pendergrass is displeased with the way the commission spends money and dips into reserves to balance the budget.

“I don’t like the way Lee County spends money. We need fiscal responsibility and to balance the budget by cutting spending,” Pendergrass said. “We need a plan and direction.”

Pendergrass said while tourism is vital, the best way to get more money into Lee County is to bring real jobs in, and not through baseball.

“We have to create jobs locally and get businesses that come here to get workers here,” Pendergrass said. “We have properties here that need to be filled. A strong economy brings up property values.”

Doug St. Cerny

Age: 65

Residence: Fort Myers

Occupation: Retired

St. Cerny brings leadership to the forefront as a District 2 commissioner from 1990 to 2006 and a current member of the FGCU board of trustees. He said he was asked to run when Bigelow decided to leave.

“I got an outpouring of support and they wanted me to go for it,” St. Cerny said. “I bring experience, consistency and can relate with everybody.”

St. Cerny’s biggest concern is that the board has become too fractured and full of personalities to be effective. He says he can bring it together.

“Most important is that we come to a situation with the intent to work together, come to a consensus and have civility between the members,” St. Cerny said.

St. Cerny said he doesn’t go into the primary with an agenda, leaving that to the people.

“I never ran for office with an agenda. The citizens set the agenda and the goal is to do what the people expect you to do,” St. Cerny said. “The people need help now. We’ve been through six years of hard times. There’s a lack of jobs and we need to be creative in getting them.”

Don Stilwell

Age: 73

Residence: Fort Myers

Occupation: semi-retired

Stilwell brings 16 years experience as a county manager in Lee County to the table, and said he’s running because he has become frustrated with the way the commissioner has balanced the budget through spending reserves.

“I never thought of being commissioner, but we’re having challenges with spending money,” Stilwell said. “Over the last three years, Lee County has spent tens of millions more than budgeted and they’re taking the reserves to balance the budget.”

What’s worse, Stilwell said the county isn’t providing any better services than before.

“We’re diluting services but not making cuts. You can’t live off your savings accounts,” Stilwell said. “Until you get your financial house in order, you can’t do other things.”

Stilwell calls for more transparency, bringing in more jobs and to continue the high quality of life in Lee County, again, through the ability of spending within your means.

“This is my home. I don’t want to leave debts to my kids and grandkids,” Stilwell said. “It will take a long time for revenues to increase. We need to create jobs and the only way to do it is by investing in the county.”

Warren Wright

Age: 46

Residence: Fort Myers

Occupation: pharmaceutical sales

Wright, a former Fort Myers city council member and currently a councilmember on the Lee County Tourist Development Council, not only believes the commission is spending too much money, he also says the money is being used in a way it gets a poor return on its investment.

“We make $40 million a year on baseball, while fishing brings in almost $600 million. It’s a poor choice of how we spend our tax dollars,” Wright said. “Why are we building baseball palaces when we need to tackle the budget and spending?”

Wright said the county has to get with the times in regard to bringing in jobs, and he believes he has the answer.

“I have a clear vision for Lee County. The economy is in transformation. We can’t go back to old ways,” Wright said. “We have no plan to broaden the economic base and change our infrastructure.”

Wright believes the commission spends too much and says the urban areas need to receive more attention.

“We promoted the suburbs for 20 years and it spread our resources thin. We failed to take care of our old roads,” Wright said. “We need fiscal responsibility and I want a spread sheet identifying our reserves. I want staff held accountable.”