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Commission, school board put items on ballot

Voters to decide board term limits, additional district seats

June 4, 2014
By TIFFANY REPECKI ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Two Lee County entities voted Tuesday to place separate referendums on the November ballot.

During regular scheduled meetings, the Lee County Board of County Commissioners and the Lee County School Board each approved putting a proposal before the voting public. Voters will decide on whether to term limit the commissioners and whether to expand the school board by two members.

One referendum limits county commissioners to three consecutive terms, or 12 years. The other referendum expands the school board from five to seven seats. The existing offices would be elected based on single-member residence districts, while the two new offices would be elected at large.

District 4 Commissioner Brian Hamman brought forward the issue of setting term limits.

"I think it goes back to the very foundation of our country," he said Tuesday. "I don't believe that America was founded on a ruling class of career politicians."

Hamman noted that long-time politicians can lose touch with the people they are serving.

"Term limits give us the opportunity to have fresh ideas brought into our government," he said, citing more oversight as another aspect. "It'll provide the opportunity for more people to get involved."

District 2 Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass echoed that.

"The positive thing is that it gives the voters in all areas of Lee County a clear direction, transparency," he said Tuesday. "We don't have a stagnation of government, politicians making a career out of it."

Pendergrass pointed out that the public votes the commissioners into office.

"The people should make that decision on whether we have limits or not," he said.

Pendergrass also touched on the proposed cutoff - three consecutive terms.

"Our job really involves a lot of knowledge," he said, noting that longer serving commissioners can offer wisdom and background on issues. "I didn't want to see a lot of turnaround right at first."

At the meeting, the language of the referendum was amended. It originally allowed a commissioner to serve beyond the three consecutive terms by taking off at least one term - four years- in between.

District 1 Commissioner John Manning supported removing the language that allowed for that.

"Now you can only serve three consecutive terms and you're done," he said.

Manning pointed out that he is not an overwhelming supporter nor opposer of term limits.

"I think that's up to the voters to decide," he said. "I originally wanted to go through the Charter Review Commission. That was something that a majority of the board did not want to do."

Manning noted that he never heard many constituents calling for term limits.

"There was never a lot of public outcry, at least through my emails and telephone calls, to do something," he said. "This was brought up by one county commissioner, and there was support for putting it in the ballot."

The commission unanimously approved placing the referendum on the ballot.

On Tuesday, the school board also voted unanimously to put its proposal before voters. In addition to expanding the board to seven offices and changing the existing five into single-member districts, the referendum calls for approximately $126,380 for annual salaries and benefits for the two new offices.

"We have a very large audience that we're serving, a very large population," Board Chairman Thomas Scott said. "They're entitled to have their voices heard. I'm anxious to get this in front of the voters."

Board Member Jeanne Dozier noted that single-member districts have come up before.

"This has been something that has been on the radar," she said.

Dozier added that she will maintain a countywide perspective if voters support the referendum.

"I'm not going to get polarized with just my district," she said.

Board Member Don Armstrong voiced concern about electing the new offices at large.

"I'd love to see seven members with each his own district," he said. "I think that's the way to go, but again, you have to start somewhere."

Dozier agreed.

"This will be a seamless transition," she said, noting the difficulty in adding offices and changing them all to single-member districts. "This is the way to actually allow it to happen in a quicker stance."

A handful of residents spoke on the issue Tuesday during the public input segment. Nearly all voiced support for the referendum, with many calling for all of the offices to be single-member districts.

Former School Board Member Steven Teuber was one who took issue with the proposal.

"I think we need to put politics aside and do what's right for our community," he said. "I believe we need to go to seven single-member districts and give representation to the people."



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