Editorial / Poll: Estero ... cityhood is in question, civic involvement is not

Should Estero become a formal city?

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Bonita Springs Mayor Ben Nelson perhaps summed it up best this past Monday as he took the microphone in front of a packed gymnasium at the Estero Community Park.

He joked that he would have had to have done something shockingly bad to attract that size of crowd to a public meeting in his hometown to the south.

The turnout — somewhere between 500 and 700 based on news reporter estimates — is a testament to what has made Estero a unique community in Southwest Florida. The unincorporated, economically diverse Estero area often speaks with a unified voice and holds its own when it comes to Lee County and regional infrastructure, spending and zoning. That’s because the residents are engaged and eager to learn all they can about community and community issues.

The Estero Council of Community Leaders, led by Don Eslick, one of the public meeting’s panelists, helps make that happen. Members from each big neighborhood are wired to each other in terms of community commitment, Internet technology and information sharing. They survey the horizon for trouble as well as opportunities for progress. They are as adept at saying “yes” to public-policy compromise and promoting the arts as they are at saying “no” to development in the wrong places.

The gathering, part of a town-hall meeting hosted by the Fountain Lakes Community Association, was to discuss “future governance options.” Should Estero incorporate, establishing exact city boundaries and a town government? Should it entertain annexation to the city of Bonita Springs? Or should it remain as is — an unincorporated area of Lee County?

The wild card amid those options, which we have heard before in locales throughout Southwest Florida, is the two-mile buffer that would have to come between the north boundary of Bonita and the south boundary of a new city. Unless, that is, the buffer were waived by the Florida Legislature, which would require major constituency-building for a local lawmaker to sign on.

The pros and cons of all three options were examined by a panel that included Nelson as a guest. He was joined by Mike Maloney of the Vote Estero organization, which favors cityhood, and Eslick, whose group says the status quo, thanks to the Community Leaders’ effective involvement at the county level, suffices for now.

The Daily News was delighted and honored to moderate.

No decision was made and no decision was expected. It was to be an educational forum and, with its distinct blend of civility and frankness, it was a success.

Whatever direction Estero takes in the future, it’s a safe bet that absenteeism will be at a minimum and the homework will be done.

Issues such as power, expense and trust are dearly held and debated — although without the pre-set partisan rancor that prevails in other venues.

That alone is a point of light in any civic landscape.

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