Naples Daily News
Clearly, something has been bothering the voters of Naples.
And they have indicated Ray Christman best understands what it is.Christman’s impressive vote tally in Tuesday’s special election, nearly 51 percent of all votes cast in a four-candidate race, earned him a spot on the Naples City Council. He will replace Linda Penniman, who resigned in January to spend time with her ailing husband.
Voter turnout of 29 percent in the special election might not seem impressive at first glance. But remember that in the regular City Council election of 2018, when three council seats were at stake, turnout was only 25 percent.
Elections officials were predicting about 20 percent turnout for Tuesday’s vote.
The second-place finisher, former City Manager Bill Moss, had endorsements from Mayor Bill Barnett and four of the five other council members.
So the combination of relatively high turnout and a majority vote for one candidate who was not the favorite of the sitting powers tells us Christman’s candidacy resonated with the city electorate.
What does that portend going forward?
First, Christman was executive director of Ethics Naples before he resigned to run for the council seat.
The group has advocated for a stricter ethics code for city officials, including oversight by a volunteer ethics commission appointed by the state attorney. The effort has met resistance from the City Council majority, and litigation over a possible referendum on the question is pending.
The City Council should reconsider its position in light of Christman’s win over Moss, who opposed creation of an independent ethics commission for the city.
To quote Christman: “I trust the voters on this one.” The council should too.
Second, Christman was viewed as being less inclined to favor developers when they ask for variances on building heights and setbacks on city projects.
Moss’ statement on variances, “A variance request must yield a better project than would otherwise occur if the strict zoning ordinance is applied,” is an eminently reasonable position.
But the fact that he was the city manager when dozens of variances were approved, and few were denied, obviously didn’t sit well with voters.
Christman will be sworn in at the April 17 council meeting, when the mother of all redevelopment projects, the remaking of the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club, comes before the council, complete with requests for variances on building height and setbacks.
It’s worth noting Christman’s main concern with the plan, outlined in a response to the newspaper last week, is over language ensuring the 109 acres of green space at the site is protected from future development in exchange for those variances.
In the bigger picture, Christman said, “Zoning exceptions for large projects should be rare, not routine.”
Penniman was hardly a rubber stamp for increased development, and she endorsed Christman, so it seems unlikely his presence alone will change the balance of power on council.
But the facts of his win — a majority total in a fourperson election; prevailing over a runner-up with citywide name recognition and two other candidates with strengths of their own; a higher-than-expected turnout and a rejection of the endorsements of the council majority — indicate the status quo does not sit well with residents.
The council would be wise to take note.
Brent Batten wrote this for the Naples Daily News editorial board.