Guest opinion: Let’s step into the sunshine and grow together as a community

It’s not difficult to find a city manager who talks a good game….

Guest opinion: Let's step into the sunshine and grow together as a community 1

The retirement of City Manager Saeed Kazemi reflects a concerning trend in local government: it is easier to be critical of others and divert attention away from the actual issue rather than do the hard work of governing. Even if I did not always agree with Kazemi, his vision for the city, problem-solving ability and core knowledge about the city is unmatched, as is his dedication to serving our citizens.

Kazemi experienced budget ups and downs firsthand, weathering the great recession and navigating the challenges of Hurricane Irma recovery and continuing effects of COVID-19. Skilled at meeting obstacles head-on, he made his objectives clear, addressing unfunded liabilities and investing in city infrastructure even in tough financial times. A primary example of this is the Downtown Streetscape Project. The City of Fort Myers would not enjoy the notoriety it has today as the fastest growing city in America if it were not for Kazemi’s future-focused efforts.

More: No successor picked as Fort Myers manager departure nears

He led environmental stewardship efforts, working to keep nutrients from entering the Caloosahatchee. The Billy Creek Filter Marsh system, Ford Street Preserve, Downtown Detention Basin, and Stormwater Nutrient Bank are among projects benefiting all of us. Kazemi negotiated the first of its kind agreement to sell excess reclaimed water to the City of Cape Coral, an endeavor more than a decade in the making.

Kazemi laid the plans for City View Park and Forum Park, both eagerly anticipated new outdoor community spaces. His tenacity kept the recently completed Hanson Street Extension on track and gave rise to the Luminary Hotel and Caloosa Sound Convention Center.

It’s not difficult to find a city manager who talks a good game. More rare are the action-oriented professionals who strive towards equitable outcomes. Areas of the city that were neglected for years no longer experience residual flooding because long-awaited neighborhood improvement projects were completed. More than 75% of the city’s aging infrastructure has been replaced, with more to come. None of this would have been possible without the planning and perseverance of Kazemi.

Kazemi’s fortitude for the most arduous tasks is what makes him special. Others gave up where he persisted. Our city is better for it, and while I have hope for the future city manager, we as elected officials must work together to foster an open dialogue that tackles challenges facing our community. No one can do it alone, and it shouldn’t be done in the shade.

Teresa Watkins Brown is a member of the Fort Myers City Council. She represents Ward 1.


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