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The continuing saga of the ‘Shell Love Bug’

By Staff | Jul 11, 2018

The trouble began when, according to Sanibel artist Pam Rambo, she was told that in exchange for her professional assistance in creating the Shell Bug, and after it being used for a time by Lee County for tourism promotion, she would be given the vehicle. That commitment, according to Mrs. Rambo, was given verbally by an employee at the highest level at the Visitors and Convention Bureau, an agency of Lee County Government. Then, based on what Mrs. Rambo believed to be a clear understanding, she began the artistic work on the VW, with the help of volunteers. All the work took place at the Rambo home and studio under Pam Rambo’s direct supervision.

The Rambos have been residents of Sanibel for 17 years and enjoy the best of reputations and multitudes of friends. Mrs. Rambo also had a long established working relationship with the VCB, and accordingly she felt confident that the verbal assurance she had received about the transfer of ownership of the car was valid. When she began work on the car, it never occurred to her to ask for some written contract.

At this point, with litigation under way, it appears to the casual observer that the county is saying to Mrs. Rambo, an honorable and contributing citizen of Sanibel and working partner with the VCB for many months, that she had made up the whole story about being promised the car, and was in fact “lying,” in order to gain ownership of a car with a today Blue Book value of maybe $4,000. Such a contrived scheme is simply impossible to believe.

It needs to be noted here that in a spirit of compromise, the Rambos offered to buy the VW when they learned it might not be given to them. They would have paid the county $7,000 and the issue would have been over. They were told that such a sale simply wasn’t possible. The county continued using the now decorated vehicle on several occasions, and were evasive regarding the unresolved ownership question.

The county now, through its outside counsel, has suggested that mediation to find a solution be put off until as late as July 2019. The result of such delay means only that legal expenses will continue to grow with every memo, letter, and phone call or email. Bringing on a required paid mediator only exacerbates the runaway fee meter. As of this date, my understanding is that legal expenses combined on both sides are approaching $50,000. That is 10 times the value of the VW car, when this misunderstanding began. It is utterly impossible to explain to the public how this issue got so out of control. The absurdity worsens when the little car has become so controversial that it couldn’t even be used in the recently celebrated National Seashell Day, for which it had been created over two years ago.

It is my clear understanding that the county staff person did not have the authority to offer the car to Mrs. Rambo in exchange for her professional work. That was an unfortunate mistake for which no one needs to be punished. Nonetheless, Mrs. Rambo proceeded to complete her part of the agreement in good faith. I do not need any additional legal advice about what to do. The right thing to do is to give her the car, and pay her legal fees. And stop the needless agony for this good citizen.

Frank Mann represent District 5 on the Lee County Board of County Commissioners.