Thursday, November 19, 2009

The future of Sanibel placed in young hands

The future of Sanibel placed in young hands

Vice Mayor Mark Thomas, left, and Mayor Rocco Smith sat at the front of MacKenzie Hall last week as the duly-elected local leaders on Student Government Day.

As the result of a narrow 4-3 vote from the sitting City Council, Sanibel will now be open for development by fast food hamburger chains and coffee mega-merchants.

That is, if Friday's acting council members had things go their way.

Last week, 44 eighth grade students from The Sanibel School visited MacKenzie Hall as part of Student Government Day. The annual outing included the mock election of a Mayor, Vice Mayor and three council members as well as appointments of a City Manager, City Clerk and City Attorney.

Following a brief introductory welcome by City Clerk Pamela Smith, councilmen Jim Jennings and Peter Pappas spoke to the teenagers and their teachers on several topics, including "How a citizen becomes a City Council member," "How citizens submit input to City Council," "How Sanibel laws are enforced" and "How Sanibel laws are made."

"Hopefully, you will all become involved voters," said Jennings, who described the election process to the group, "because that's the way citizens understand what is going on in their community."

Asking the students for their opinion on how their city is governed, as well as seeking comment or suggestions on what could be done to improve Sanibel yielded many responses.

Maxas Jankauskas, for example, noted where repairs to portions of the city's shared use paths would improve safety for walkers and bicycle riders alike.

Other students complained about vehicular traffic not stopping for pedestrians or bikers at crosswalks, garbage trucks who exceed the local speed limit, dead rodents on roadways and the poor taste of water at several fountains along the bike path.

"I've heard some very valid concerns today. It's nice to hear that so many of you have concerns about your city," said Jennings. "You did great with this. Not just great... excellent."

Next, the students staged a mock election, nominating three of their own - Kimberly Breece, Mark Thomas and Rocco Smith - for election to the Sanibel City Council.

Asked why her fellow pupils should vote for her, Breece boasted, "Because I'm awesome! I watch a lot of those law shows, too."

Nearly unanimously, Smith took the center chair as Mayor, with Thomas selected as Vice Mayor. Breece, Jankauskas and Dane Johnson rounded out the council. Later, students chose Lochlainn Kane to serve as City Clerk, Samantha Fowler as City Manager and Ronnie Griest as City Attorney.

After debating a number of suggested "hot topics," the acting City Council invited a discussion on whether to allow fast food eateries to develop on Sanibel. Several teens demanded the need for "fast and cheap" food on the island, while others noted that such competition could run long-established local eateries out of business.

Following public comment, the council offered their own "pros" and "cons" to allow such development, finally settling upon the go-ahead for McDonald's, Starbucks and all comers to add their services here on Sanibel. That "yes" nod elicited a loud round of applause from the audience, save for a few silent and disgruntled grown-ups.

"You live in a city that's unlike any other government in the world," said Pappas. "We operate with a unique form of government where citizens have an opportunity to participate in decision-making... maybe greater than anywhere else."

Before the students broke for lunch, which was generously donated by George Schnapp of Schnapper's Hots, the visitors were divided into smaller groups for tours of various departments represented at City Hall.

Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

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