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Back to the Beach following hiatus

-- Guest Commentary --

June 6, 2012
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Boy, when you go away for a few months, you're really taking a chance. You just don't know where things will be when you get back.

I've just returned from a six-month Caribbean cruise on my sailboat, checking off the top item on my bucket list. Living on a boat you're really out of it - no newspapers, just a little bit of radio and an occasional beach bar that has satellite TV. It's therapeutic.

It turns out that nationally nothing has changed. John Boehner is still orange. Barack Obama is still black and Tim Tebow still has God's private cell phone number. The entire global economy is still in the toilet and, somehow, this is all Obama's fault.

Locally, however, there is one significant change, which is Mayor Larry Kiker's decision to run for County Commission against Commissioner-in-Perpetuity (he hopes) Ray Judah.

Ever since the Red Sox baseball park deal which Judah spearheaded, in which 80-million taxpayer dollars were spent in order to have 16 major-league ball games here each year, I've been much less of a fan of Mighty Ray. At the same time, it is clear that Mr. Kiker has fallen victim to the hubris virus inspired by the title "Mayor." Once bitten and under the spell of this insidious infection, the only logical step is up.

What this means for the Town of Fort Myers Beach is that the Kiker era will end sooner than expected since His Honor will have to resign from the Council several months before his term expires in order to run for the Commission. I'm surprised that his strongest supporters haven't yet begun a campaign to change the name of Estero Boulevard to MLK Boulevard. After all, just about every other town in the country has one, why shouldn't we? Why quibble about whom the initials stand for?

It also means that someone else on the Council will have to assume the mantle of greatness.

This is a good time once again to urge everyone in the town government, the new mayor (whoever that is), the rest of the Council and the town manager to read those portions of the Town Charter, which clearly outline each of their duties and responsibilities and the limits thereof.

The short version is that the position of mayor is strictly ceremonial. The mayor chairs the meetings, signs the papers and cuts the ribbons. The mayor has only one of five votes on the council and does not have the authority to tell either the town manager or any staffer, "I want you to . . ."

That's the job of the entire Council, acting in official meetings. The Council's job is to establish policy. It is not to micromanage the town's day-to-day operation. It is also their responsibility to hire and fire the town manager. Beyond that, they are supposed to get out of the way and let the manager manage.

Being town manager in a place like this can't be easy. The mayor is one of his five bosses who determine whether he stays or goes or even gets a raise. It takes a lot of guts for someone who needs a job to say to a mayor, "No, I won't do that because you don't have the authority to direct me to do it without a resolution from the whole council." It's a very fine tightrope to have to walk but I urge Mr. Stewart to rehearse that lyric regularly. Perhaps he could set it to music and sing it; he has a very good voice.

For those of us who have followed the "Beach Saga" (aka B.S.) for many years, it is known that some of our recent mayors have either not had the reading comprehension skills to understand what the limits of the office were, or simply chose to ignore them in the interest of "getting things done."

Therefore, I offer a proposal: Change the Town Charter and eliminate the position of "Mayor" and replace it with the title "Chair of the Town Council." Have the position rotate annually based on seniority on the Council. That way, nobody gets sucked in to the notion that there's more authority in the position than there actually is.

Hey! How 'bout that? That's exactly how the County Commission operates - the very commission to which Mr. Kiker aspires. Well, if he is elected he'll have to figure out that, unlike being mayor, there's no glory in chairing the Commission. I guess the only logical next step up would be the State Legislature. Why stop there? He should shoot for Congress. Can the office of Speaker be far behind?

I love this place. It's good to be back.

By Jay Light

Light is a long-time Beach resident and former member of the Town's Marine Resources Task Force.



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