In Bonita, points were raised without tempers rising

Didn't know what to expect at forum on homeless shelter

JEFF LYTLE

We hear stories about political rhetoric run amok across the country.

We wonder whether some of it boils over into violence.

This past week I read somewhere that the atmosphere is so toxic and partisan that we punish politicians who want to work together and reach across the aisle on real problems.

We even see flashes of nasty stuff around here, where people throw their hardest punches rather than make their best cases and paint issues only in black and white.

If you don’t agree with whichever side is speaking, you are a fool or you hate America.

This just in: Not so in Bonita Springs.

A public forum the other afternoon on one of those issues that can get real ugly real fast turned out to be a model of civil discourse.

Panelists and the nearly 300 people in the audience came with their minds pretty well made up on whether to allow an extension of Naples-based St. Matthew’s House homeless shelter at the site of a former lumber yard on Old 41 Road. The campus would eventually expand to host other social-service agencies.

The panelists were good — and no, nobody against the project came forward to join former Bonita City Council member Pat McCourt.

Still, it all worked.

Then again, how can a crowd get too testy after standing for a rousing rendition of “America, the Beautiful”? In the meeting hall of First Presbyterian Church?

As moderator I asked everyone to stand and sing at the start of the program, and the response was swift and enthusiastic.

What a relief, because I’ll admit it: With opponents to St. Matthew’s preferring pointy e-mails to City Hall rather than engaging in the public debate, I was worried about the lid blowing off.

I had some appeals for respect and civility all sketched out and ready to go, and even consulted with a minister — a man of peace.

Shame on me.

There were hard questions and hard answers. Period.

No one harmed, no one fouled.

We like to editorialize about people being positive and setting the bar high with expectations of success rather than suppositions of bad behavior. We usually do this in the context of adults’ regard for teenagers.

It all worked out, as I should have known it would.

That’s the story behind the story.

n n n

There is some really, really good political maneuvering going on these days.

Not saying that it will all translate into good public policy. But the ability to bob and weave and demonstrate some sleight of hand these days — just when you think the economy has sucked out all of our energy — is kind of encouraging in a strange kind of way.

Take, for instance, the re-election campaign announcement ceremony held by Collier County Commissioner Donna Fiala. It came on Valentine’s Day — because she loves her constituents so much.

She was flanked by East Naples firefighters. Might they be hoping for the same favor she granted for the North Naples fire district — to handle advanced life support services, formerly the domain of Collier County Emergency Medical Services, where her son happens to work?

Then comes Collier County Public Schools, which grants the application for a charter high school on Marco Island — only to frustrate efforts as it moves forward. Is that to protect nearby Lely High School?

Note that the school system lets prime land known as Tract K sit dormant for years on Marco Island — until the charter school folks start moving in that direction. Then the School Board signs a five-year preservation contract with an organization, formed last year, dedicated to protecting bald eagles, which have been reported on Tract K.

The champion for bobbing and weaving is the proposed runway extension at Naples Municipal Airport, as Airport Authority members and City Council, which appoints them, strive to find ways to get it done without anyone being responsible.

Even the Washington scene is represented. While declining to say whether Connie Mack IV is a Senate candidate, an aide to the District 14 U.S. House member from Fort Myers says Mack’s first and only money-raiser has been hired and will set up shop — in Naples.

She is described as a heavy hitter — a veteran of big campaigns in several states.

When asked whether that means a Mack run against U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is a sure thing, the aide says not really. The money raised goes to Friends of Connie Mack and can be used for any Mack campaign — even another one for the U.S. House.

So, what’s it all mean? It means there is some political life left around here. And, as someone in a TV commercial for 4G cell-phone service says, “It makes sense if you don’t think about it.”

n n n

Did you see the “Jeopardy!” shows this past week featuring the showdown between a new IBM computer named Watson and the game shows’ two greatest champions of all time?

Though it came off too much as a commercial for IBM, the matchup was a moment in time.

Yet, in only 10 or even five years, we will look back on it as quaint. There will be Watsons that will fit into our palms rather than several large rooms, and they will be a lot smarter than the Watson that whipped both of those guys.

Lytle is editorial page editor of the Daily News. His e-mail address is jlytle@naplesnews.com. Call him at 263-4773. Check his blog at naplesnews.com/blogs/jefflytle.

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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