by Guest Contributor Barbara Joy Cooley
Running for election to the Sanibel city council is not a decision to be taken lightly.
The city council consists of five people who serve four-year terms. Every two years, a municipal election is held in which two or three of the council members are elected. Sanibel city council members serve voluntarily, with no pay. They should be year-round residents because important decisions regarding the city budget and other issues are made by the council during the summer months. In addition to attending city council meetings, each council member serves in liaison roles in organizations throughout the region. The council meets at least once a month. In the days before each council meeting, members receive much information to read in preparation for many agenda items. The time commitment is significant. Council meetings alone can last for 5 or 6 hours or more.
Before deciding to run for the Sanibel city council, potential candidates should prepare by attending as many city council meetings as possible (or listen to them online).
In this unusual year, two positions on the Sanibel city council opened up months before the next municipal election, which takes place on March 2. Fourteen people signed up to be considered for appointment to these two interim positions. Three of them indicated that they were only interested in the interim positions, and did not intend to run for that election in March during which Sanibel voters will elect three council members. To “keep a level playing field” on which no candidate would have the advantage of running as an incumbent, the city council decided to appoint two of the people who did not intend to run for election: Chauncey Goss and Jerry Muench. These two men had also served on this city council in the past.
If all of the remaining eleven people follow through and decide to become candidates, that might be an unprecedented number of candidates in a municipal election on Sanibel. Additional people might also decide to run.
What does “following through” mean? Paperwork, and plenty of it.
To become a candidate, a person must follow the candidate qualifying procedures. That means filing campaign documents with the Sanibel city clerk, Scotty Kelly. Campaign documents include all candidate-qualifying forms and periodic campaign treasurer’s reports.
Most candidates who intend to qualify for municipal office use the candidate-petition method, although it is also possible to qualify by paying a fee. Before collecting signatures on those petitions, the candidate must first file with the city clerk a form that designates the campaign treasurer and the location of the campaign bank account.
While the city clerk handles most details regarding qualifying and reporting for council candidates’ campaigns, it is the Lee County Supervisor of Elections who must validate signatures on the petitions. To qualify, candidates need to collect valid signatures equal to or greater than one percent of the total number of registered voters on Sanibel in the last general election. Petitions can be signed by people registered to vote in Sanibel — that is, registered voters in precincts 16, 117, and 126. Signatures of Captiva voters (precinct 17) would not be valid.
After qualifying, campaign finance reports must be filed periodically during the campaign. It is the campaign treasurer who usually handles the filing of these reports.
Qualifying takes place beginning at noon Monday, Jan. 11 to noon Friday, Jan. 15. After that, Sanibel voters will know how many candidates are running for the three council positions.
For information about the exact reporting deadlines and forms, contact the city clerk, Scotty Kelly, at 239-472-3700.