Commentary - #13 April 17, 2005

Recent Letters to Editors

TO THE EDITOR, THE NEWS-PRESS:

The 18% voter turnout in Fort Myers was shameful. There should be community meetings going on all over town to ask: Why did we let this happen, especially when there was a referendum to make a major change in our city government, a change that was approved by a margin of only 61, or 1.7% of those who voted on the proposition? This is an incredibly miniscule proportion, less than a tenth of a percent of the Ft. Myers electorate. If only 32 voters (less than four hundredths of a percent) had shown up to the polls and voted the other way, the change to a City Manager form would not have been approved.

After all, the claims of the change-managers are highly questionable. There is little or no evidence to substantiate them. They reflect bias or naïve hopes rather than fact. The bias is an old one left over from our country’s so-called “Progressive Era” of about 100 years ago – that we would be better governed by “experts” rather than elected officials. No assumption is more dangerous to a democratic community than this. The assumption that Ft. Myers would be “a more accountable city” is especially mistaken. Voters will not be able to turn out a city manager with the ease that they can turn out a mayor. In my hometown of Gloucester, Massachusetts, voters changed to a City Manager form many years ago, then changed back to a mayor/council form little more than a dozen years later. I predict that, once voters get a taste of the City Manager form and are able to more deliberately assess what they have gotten themselves into, they will want to switch back, too.

The attitude of those who voted for the City Manager form seems to be: Let professionals carry on their responsibilities as citizens. In other words, let local democracy and the public interest give way to a small minority. The “Citizens for a Better Fort Myers” are certainly well-intentioned. They act as if they represent the public interest and future of the city. But it’s dangerous to assume that the small minority who voted for the change are smarter, better informed, or more concerned than others for the future of Fort Myers. The extremely low turnout implies that there is not a sufficient public to represent the city’s public interest.

Peter Bearse, author of We, The People: A Conservative Populism (Alpha Publishing, 2004).

TO THE EDITOR, THENEWS-PRESS:

I agree with the recommendations of George Hopgood of Cape Coral in his letter headlined “Negative election,” that…

  • “city government should make use of the tax-supported Cape TV” (but is it “tax supported” or is it a public access channel supported by the cable TV industry”?); and
  • “local newspapers should abandon the practice of endorsing candidates for election.”

I was surprised, however, that Mr. Hopgood did not remark on the shameful voter turnout. Political scientists call those who do not vote “free riders.” A more old-fashioned American label should be pinned on each of their lapels: “freeloaders.” Their attitude is “let George do it”-- Let others carry on their responsibilities as citizens; in other words, let local democracy and the public interest give way to a small minority, many of whom are politically and/or economically self-interested. It’s dangerous to assume that the small minority who did vote are smarter, better informed, or more concerned about the future of Cape Coral. Contrary to the implicit assumption of Mr. Hopgood’s final paragraph, there does not seem to be a “public” in Cape Coral.

Peter Bearse, author of We, The People: A Conservative Populism (Alpha Publishing, 2004).

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