Gateway woke up.
That’s the simple takeaway from Tuesday’s election results, which smashed all previous records for number of votes cast in the history of the Gateway CDD.
But what woke Gateway up? And what do the election results mean?
On a scale of 1 to 10, the level of attention paid the GSCDD in the past 2 years has gone from a 1 to about a 5. This publication is largely (solely?) responsible for that.
But specific to the elections, I think the sheer volume of campaign signs along Gateway Boulevard helped people realize that there were candidates that were actually out there fighting for something.
I think I saw three signs for the Trump-Pence campaign in Gateway, and just one for Clinton-Kaine. But we all saw the hundred combined signs for Supervisor-elect Kathleen Flaherty, Mary Carol Stanley and George Huskamp.
In my opinion the candidates efforts helped jolt Gateway residents in to realizing something must be at stake. Which is exactly what’s supposed to happen in an election campaign.
What do the results mean?
Two things I never shared. First, throughout the campaign, and I mean many times each day, people would use the search feature on gatewaysun.com to find and read articles about the candidates.
I have Google Analytics installed on the site, and so I can see what story is being read at any given moment. And I can go back and look at how many times an article has been read. As a result of this election, the number one search term in the history of the Gateway Sun is now “George Huskamp”.
By a mile.
Second, each day I interact with many Gateway residents at their homes. Many have put two and two together and realize I write for the Sun. In the past few weeks, a lot of people have made it a point to tell me their thoughts on the CDD elections. The message I heard over and over was that people were casting their votes based on the fact that they were tired of Gateway being stagnant and stale, and that they wanted a change.
And from their perspective it’s a fair point.
This is not to say that the GSCDD staff and board aren’t doing anything. They’re busier than you can possibly imagine. They desperately need to add people just to catch up on existing tasks, but that’s another article for another day.
But if you look at things from a resident’s point of view, when was the last time there was excitement in the community? When the new Publix was announced, maybe? Nope. It was when Doug Banks joined the Board of Supervisors.
Which tells you that what Banks represents is what people want, and it also takes us back to the election.
The three major political events specific to Gateway in 2016 were the election of Flaherty, the defeat of Huskamp, and the tidal wave of public support for Banks back in April and May.
In all three events, the community has sent the exact same message to the GSCDD: they want people who will represent their interests and move the community forward.
The article that people talk to me about the most was Flaherty’s “field of dreams”. The article described Flaherty’s vision of building baseball diamonds next to the Gateway Commons Pool. That’s what got people interested and excited, while at the same time annoying empty-nesters whose first and only instinct was to immediately complain about the costs.
What this election proved beyond any possible doubt is that the small population who attend the board meetings, and the population who voted in droves, are not the same group of people.
When someone does eventually propose adding something to the community that benefits the children, they will do so with dozens of tired, old faces frowning back at them with disapproval.
But you should have seen how excited those same faces were to turn off the street lights on Fairway Lakes Drive at night to win a squabble over a hundred bucks a month.
Taking something away was like golden nectar to those folks. Really exciting stuff, at least to them.
It was just sad to watch it unfold.
At the end of the day, Mary Carol Stanley and George Huskamp were both rejected because the Gateway electorate decided overwhelmingly that those two individuals did not represent their interests.
Conversely, Kathleen Flaherty was elected – against the specific will of Pelican Preserve, I remind you – because she had a vision that resonated with families.
So to the Supervisors, and to the people who show up to watch what they do, you need to get on the same page as the community. The people have spoken, loudly.
I’m not saying the new board needs to force themselves to start a brand new project at their first meeting on December 1 to acknowledge “the will of the people”. Not at all.
The first thing that has to happen is a staffing plan. It’s not sexy, it’s not what you come here to read about, but it’s the district’s top priority. I’m the biggest advocate for amenities you’ll ever find, but it’s not the time for that stuff. Staffing should be the first thing the board takes care of.
The second thing the Supervisors need to do it to explain to the public why WCI’s paperwork to turn over Gateway’s main roads to Lee County was completed “months ago” but the GSCDD’s paperwork is still not done. Completely unacceptable.
There’s also the water meters, and of course the ponds that need to be dealt with. Important stuff. Everybody gets that.
But at some point this fiscal year the Board of Supervisors needs to honor the election results, listen to the community, ignore the inevitable frowns in the room, and begin working with the Parks & Recreation Department on an idea to do something positive… and reasonably priced… for the community – and include it in the fiscal 2018 budget when the time comes to make a budget plan.
When you consider what the people voted for, and what the people voted against, adding something positive and moving the community forward is the mandate and message that Gateway residents have sent to the GSCDD through the election process.