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Single member district proposal fails charter commission vote

By Staff | Mar 11, 2016

The Lee County Charter Review Commission on Thursday shot down two proposed amendments, one of which would have dramatically reshaped the way the Board of County Commissioners does business.

The potential hybrid districting referendum would expand the BOCC from five to seven members, with five single-member district seats and two at-large seats, the same system the school board has in place.

Currently, the BOCC members are elected on by the entire county although they must live in the district that they represent.

Many at the meeting were opposed to the plan, saying it would increase the size of government, cost millions of taxpayer dollars to implement and maintain, and further disenfranchise minority voters.

Even worse, it could lead to a situation where political parties and PACs could flood a single district with money to buy a seat on the board, critics said.

“This won’t bring diversity, but more money into elections. They can affect small populations by dumping money into them with smear campaigns and allow those with the most money to get elected,” said Leland Garvin.

Proponents for the change said the county has grown too much to continue with the same form of government and that more members would bring more diversity.

“The population has doubled and many of the older residents have relocated. It will cost money, but let’s leave it up to the voters,” said David Vasquez.

The commission was mixed on the issue. Mohamed Yasin favored the measure, saying if the people want it on the ballot, put it on.

“People want representation. They feel neglected. If people are asking for it on the ballot, what are we afraid of? Let them vote,” Yasin said.

Commission chariman Edward Volz said single-member government brings it closer to the people and brought up voting statistics to back that position.

“In the history of Lee County 45 percent of the time the elected commissioner either won his district and lost overall or lost his district and won overall. That’s denying people’s choice,” Volz said.

Ismael Hernandez said he would probably vote against it, but favored putting the measure on the ballot so that voters can decide for themselves.

Joe Mazurkewicz, a former Cape Coral mayor and a current government-issues consultant, said two similar measures have been brought up in the past, but both failed because the people don’t want hybrid governance.

“The people are not interested in that form of government. They want a republic form of government. If we were a town hall government, fine,” Mazurkewicz said. “Hybrids are susceptible to bringing money in to influence elections.”

He also added with this form of government, three members can potentially live in the same neighborhood, which could concentrate growth in one small section while leaving other areas (one member used North Fort Myers as an example) behind.

The vote was 8-7 in favor of passing it along to the Board of County Commissioners for final consideration for the ballot, but the measure failed because nine votes were needed for passage.

Frederick Dunbar Morgan said he voted for the hybrid form because it would give more representation and bring government closer to the people, especially those who need the most help.

“It would help them actually meet with their commissioners to discuss issues affecting their community,” Morgan said. “We have neglected communities that the commission needs to pay attention to because those pockets of poverty are where our crime is coming from.”

“There was no evidence that a seven-member commission would provide for better governance. I was looking for evidence that charter amendments would enhance governance and we didn’t get that,” Mazurkewicz said.

The second measure to reduce the number of affirmative votes for the Charter Review Commission to place a charter amendment directly on the ballot from 12 to 10 also failed as the members voted 9-6 against it.