In December, 2020, WFBL turned two years old, having learned much from our first campaign season. Now, we are gearing up for 2022 with the goal of electing two women to our Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) – admittedly, a heavy lift.
Our #1 priority today is to recruit candidates to run for the seats currently held by Brian Hamman (District 4) and Cecil Pendergrass (District 2). We do not fool ourselves into thinking this will be easy; far from it, we already know how challenging it will be. Both commissioners are actively soliciting endorsements from the downtown establishment and pledges of money to fund soulless campaigns that aim at suffocating any opposition. These are transactional relationships – the establishment gets the county’s help when needed, appointments to committees, and insider insights on policies and politics; the developers get free rein to continue building sprawl and new gated communities. What do the rest of us get? Zilch, nada, nothing – except increased traffic, denser population, fewer services and more crowded amenities.
People ask us: women are on the school board and the city councils of the municipalities, our clerk of courts and tax collector are women, so what else do you want?
Our answer: seats on the Board of County Commissioners, the highest governance body in our county. That’s what we want.
Let’s look at the BoCC:
- It controls all land use and zoning in unincorporated Lee County. Its actions over the past years ended restrictions on mining, resulted in the virtual abandonment of our comprehensive plan, and ensured continuing sprawl in the DR/GR, 88,000 acres originally planned for low density development because the area is a source of our drinking water.
- It controls our budget and has been stingy and slow in disbursing federal funds meant to help families and keep afloat small businesses impacted by the pandemic.
- It oversees our infrastructure, but does nothing to alleviate traffic congestion.
- It boasts about keeping tax rates down, but our taxes rise as home values increase. And to keep taxes flowing, more and more homes are built to house the greater population needed to expand the tax base.
- It ignores the existential threat of sea level rise.
- It believes it is doing a good job because we are #8 in the nation for pedestrian-related deaths, rather than #1, as we once were. Being #8 in the nation should bring us no solace.
- It brags about transparency, yet walk-on items are added to meeting agendas at the last minute, catching citizens by surprise and consequently limiting meaningful public input.
- It pays lip service to the idea of public participation, yet citizens cannot speak at workshop meetings, and are only given the opportunity to comment before the meeting, certainly a unique interpretation of the statute on public input.
- Furthermore, it has decreed that any communication with a county commissioner on a land use/rezoning issue is against the law and can be punished with time in the county jail.
Restricting public engagement means that just about every Lee County voter is shut out from policy decision-making – not just women. We must change this – and the only way to do so is to find candidates who will successfully challenge the men on our commission.
We know that electing women to the county commission will bring fresh viewpoints, questioning voices, and caring and compassion for all citizens.
So where to now?
Women For a Better Lee wants to talk with women interested in running for county commissioner in Districts 4 and 2. (This map shows the current commission district boundaries. You only have to live in the district if you win, not to run.) If you are considering running, contact us. If you want to step up to a position of leadership sometime in the future (or know someone who does), contact us. Our mission is to find and cultivate a cadre of qualified and ambitious women — of whom there are many in our community — to be our future leaders.
We will continue to closely follow the all-male county commission and call it out for its lack of transparency, its ‘give-with-one-hand, take-with-the-other’ environmental policies, and its support of poorly-planned sprawl. We will scrutinize donations, monitor meetings, analyze projects, and hold the commissioners to their promises.
All the while, we will be recruiting supporters to our movement, educating on issues of importance, and asking that each supporter talk with and recruit others to the cause.
Yes, we are aware of the challenges before us, but Women For a Better Lee does not fold and go home. We are tenacious, persistent and resolute. Indeed, we revel in our underdog status because underdogs are underestimated.
This campaign is not something that can be accomplished by the few; we need everyone who cares about the quality of life in our county, who is concerned for its future and who longs for a community in which our kids and their kids remain and thrive, to make this happen — and this means you.