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Who is running our government?

February 8, 2017
Pine Island Eagle

To the editor,

As an attorney, I have grown tired of folks quoting Shakespeare's Dick the Butcher in Henry VI, Part II: ''The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.''

But who is running our government here in Lee County? Is it the lawyers?

On Dec. 12, 2016, the City Council of Cape Coral voted to annex six lots located in Matlacha, Lee County. In explaining her vote for annexation, Councilmember Stout said:

"I trust our legal staff. I don't have to question whether I have had good information. I trust our legal staff. I know legal opinions can vary greatly; but, I'm sorry, I have to support our attorney and so therefore I will vote no on this motion."

Councilmember Carioscia, not to be outdone, said:

"I also trust our legal department when they tell us that they have spoken to the county attorney, they have spoken to the county, the people that are in charge of this, they agree with us."

The problem with these comments is that the City Attorney did not present a legal opinion on annexation to the council members. We asked: it does not exist. The problem with member Carioscia's comment is that the "legal department" had not spoken with the county Moreover, Councilmember Stout apparently doesn't care what the opinion is of the City Attorney. Anything is fine with her.

The Lee County Commissioners are no better at evaluating their attorney's advice. When the Matlacha/Pine Island Fire District challenged the annexation of Lee County property by Cape Coral, Lee County did not agree to participate in the intergovernmental conflict resolution process. Why? You will never know. We don't know. The county attorney circulated an email to all the County Commissioners. In the email, he said:

"The conflicts alleged within the Resolution are primarily interests that are specific to the District or concern legal opinions that are not consistent with previous opinions from our Office on this matter. Based on our review of the District's Resolution and the City of Cape Coral's annexation, the County will have no role in approving or implementing any aspect of a settlement reached between the parties and the County has no substantial interests that may be affected by the resolution of the conflict. Consequently, the County Attorney's office does not recommend electing to participate in the proceedings."

I added the italics. Not a single commissioner responded to the email. Why is that important? Because there was NO DECISION by the Lee County elected officials on this important issue. Instead, the deadline for joining the process passed with deadly silence from the commissioners.

Moreover, what were "the previous opinions from our Office on this matter?" You will never know, because they are not part of any public record before the Lee County Commissioners.

As an attorney, I will be the first to say it is dangerous for elected officials to close their eyes to the opinions of their attorneys. The way government should work is our elected officials make the decisions, and then their attorneys figure out how to implement them. Get it? The elected officials work for us, and the attorneys work for them.

For those of us in Matlacha Isles, Matlacha Shore, Cape Royale, Matlacha, Bokeelia, St. James City and Pine Island, this is really important. We know Cape Coral won't act in our best interest. Look at what City Councilmember Richard Leon a professed lover of Pine Island and Matlacha said at the Dec. 12 hearing:

"You know, I can sit up here and say what I want, do what I want; and really in the end the majority of you [the protestors to annexation] weren't even Cape Coral residents. I don't have to answer to you. It doesn't matter what you say, really. If you look at it, it doesn't matter."

We understand Mr. Leon. So our only refuge is in our own elected officials: the Lee County Commissioners. So, Messrs. Manning, Pendergrass, Kiker, Hamman and Mann, please learn the facts for yourself. Find out what the various legal opinions are and make up your own mind. But regardless, you should insist that Lee County participate in the conflict resolution process over annexation. There is no greater ignorance than he who will not hear.

The conflict resolution process will be a public proceeding. The first meeting will take place in the middle of February. Stay tuned.

J. Michael Hannon

Matlacha

 
 

 

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