April 19, 2018. New-Press.com

Leaders of a movement to bring a Children’s Services Council to Lee County took a hit Tuesday when a motion by Lee County Commissioner Frank Mann to create language for a referendum to bring the issue to voters died for a lack of a second commissioner vote.

The movement, by a group called Pennies For Community Progress, has picked up considerable momentum and support the last two years from business, community and religious groups. They saw the need to fund critical early child hood learning, after school and health care programs that are underfunded. 

Regrettably, the commissioners did not see enough of a need to bring the issue before voters to decide on the council, which would be funded by an increase in property taxes. The lack of a second vote and a momentary derailment of the proposal does not kill the initiative. Not by a long shot. If the Pennies group wants to continue with their efforts to bring important funding to children in need, the following must happen:

  • Work the process with the commissioners, particularly Frank Mann and Larry Kiker, on what they need to move forward. Mann, who made the initial motion and has been a supporter of the children’s council, said Tuesday he has not seen enough documentation on what children and families need and how much money would it take to adequately fund programs. Kiker is willing to work with the group on funding sources that may or may not include a services council and take the lead in developing a plan over the next year that could provide a sustainable funding source.
  • Continue to encourage the groups that have promised their support to Pennies and the CRC to stay on board and be part of the process. Government doesn’t work quickly and good things for a community can take time, but the commitment must remain.
  • Regroup as a board and establish a strategy focused on answering the questions of government and the community about how we are failing our children and how a CSC or another funding resource can turn those failures into success stories.
  • Community leaders should continue to connect with Pennies and be part of the process. Prominent figures in law enforcement, education, health care and business must be among the faces and voices that engage on this issue.

Tuesday was a setback but one that can be overcome with the right kind of commitment to working through the process. It’s likely this issue will not appear before voters during the November election. Tuesday probably ended that march to the ballot. Kiker’s possible solutions, along with Mann’s involvement, could jump start funding effort or another run at a Children’s Services Council in the presidential election year of 2020.

It also allows more time to convince voters and taxpayers of a CSC’s importance because its their support and money that invest in a child’s future through an increase in property taxes.

What was impressive about Tuesday’s meeting was the over 200 people who sat in front of the five commissioners in support of a Children’s Services Council proposal. More than 100 of them were from the Lee Interfaith for Empowerment group, which had vowed months ago to support the initiative. Other groups represented were the Lee County of Women Voters and Pennies for Community Progress members. There were also other community leaders who spoke in support.

Although the CSC ballot language motion failed before public input on the issue, representatives of each of the groups still talked about the importance of the initiative.

There are eight other independent councils operating in counties throughout the state, and working successfully on improving reading scores and kindergarten preparedness among children. They are seeing higher high school graduation rates and lower incarceration rates. They are seeing the health of children, young mothers and families improve. The results have been remarkable.

That’s why two other counties – Leon and Alachua – will likely have referendums on the ballot this November for their electorates to decide on bringing councils to their communities. One day, hopefully in the not too distant future, Lee can join them.

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