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Resident urges Town folk to volunteer

--Guest commentary--

December 19, 2012
By Jay Light , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

A "mini-crisis" has developed with the Town's advisory committees, which deserves the Council's attention and action. It is that several of the committees are short-handed and, as a result, by the current rules, are unable to function officially.

There are a variety of reasons for this situation, many of which date back to the actions of the "Angry Council" years ago. At that time, they claimed there was a huge backlog of volunteers in the wings who wanted to serve, but couldn't because the committees were stacked with appointees from the mythological "evil political machine" they claim existed. They purged several committees of some very good people (who happened to disagree with them) and severely restricted the eligibility rules for membership including term limits, residency requirements and no husband-wife memberships.

The huge backlog of volunteers never really materialized and committees have struggled to find members ever since. Subsequent councils have slowly loosened some of the requirements, and the time has come to go back to the way things were before the purge.

Membership on most committees is a mixed bag of accomplishment and frustration. Some volunteers come on forgetting the meaning of the word "advisory." They think they are a legislative body which they aren't. The Council is under no obligation to take their advice and doesn't always. That's sometimes too bad, because in many cases there are committee members who know a lot more about the subject matter than many Council members do. It isn't fun to have months of research, deliberations, refining and drafting of an idea summarily tossed out by the council, but that's a part of the game.

However, just as often, an idea that originates in an advisory committee results in an action that makes the town a better place. That feels good.

The committees operate under the same sunshine laws that the council does. The laws are a pain in the neck, but necessary. Sometimes, after taking months to get something done, one thinks, "Gee, two or three of us could have gone out for a couple of beers and arrived at the same solution in a couple of hours."

I was a member of the original Anchorage Advisory Committee, which oversaw the installation of the mooring field. (My appointment was not renewed during the purge years ago. My wife, who doesn't write letters to the papers, was seen as more politically acceptable, and has been chair of that committee for several years now.) We spent two years refining the original management plan, which has, in fact, still never been officially approved by either the State or the Town. Since that time, the laws have changed enough that some of what's in the document is irrelevant anyhow.

Even so, the committee's efforts of advertising and their creation of the "Cruiser's Appreciation Day" event have turned the harbor from the stink-hole it was before the mooring field into a destination that has cruisers staying for weeks and enjoying and contributing to the town. The regional boating press calls us one of the friendliest places to visit in the state. The installation of the dinghy dock and changing the management franchisee to Matanzas Inn have been a huge factor in this success, too.

More recently, I spent about three years on the Marine Resources Task Force. (I resigned two years ago to check off the top item on my bucket list, which required me to be away too much to serve.) During that time, the committee's purview expanded to environmental issues beyond the water. At this time, there is only two members. In the interest of calling things what they are, the Council should rename and redefine the committee to be an Environmental Protection Task Force, a title which is much more likely to attract volunteers and calls it what it is.

The first policy on committee membership that needs to be changed is the residency requirement. There used to be members who didn't live on the island who represented other agencies with which the local committees interacted. They were a gold mine of information and connections and helped get a lot done. They should be invited back.

The other is the arbitrary number of five members for a committee to function. It makes no sense to put a committee out of action because they are short-handed.

Everybody should take a good look at the advisory committees and remember why they're there. Council members should pledge to examine the committee's advice fully. Residents should volunteer with the assurance that their input will not get blown off without serious consideration.

Service on the committees gets one a good dinner at the annual appreciation event and a nice plaque when you leave. It also gets you involved and gives the opportunity to contribute your interest, special knowledge and desire to occasionally do something worthwhile for the town.

Our town, like all others, needs all the help it can get. Come on, people, step up.



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