Lee County commissioners tap newest board member Kevin Ruane to become chairman

Bill Smith
 
| Fort Myers News-Press

Newly elected Lee County Commissioner Kevin Ruane took the oath of office as the newest member of the board Tuesday morning, and less than an hour into his first term, became its chairman.

Casting aside the tradition of rotating the chairman’s seat, commissioners elected Ruane on a 4-0 vote, with Cecil Pendergrass absent. Commissioner Frank Mann would have been the next in line for the gavel, with Ruane’s District 1 seat coming up the following year.

Mann voiced neither objection nor surprise at his fellow commissioners’ decision to depart from the practice of rotating the chair among all five districts.

As mayor, and chairman of the city council on Sanibel, Ruane encouraged extensive discussion among members of the public and city council members on issues as they came up, and said he will continue that goal of encouraging public input. 

“The same type of process I’d like to see take place (at the county), to be fully transparent,”  Ruane said. “We’ll be much more engaged with the citizenry, and have as much public comment and/or discussion that we need to have.”

At Tuesday’s session Ruane invited a participant in the commission’s public comment period to leave her phone number so that he could get in touch to engage in further discussion about the homeless crisis in the county and whether the county can keep better track of the homeless population.

“The door is always open,”  Ruane said in an interview following the meeting.  “What I’m going to do is try and serve. She talked about an issue that I understand from my early childhood … human services is something we need to do, people are hurting during this pandemic, I want to understand her concerns.”

The meeting was opened by Lee Clerk of Court Linda Doggett who asked for nominations for chairman. Ruane was nominated by Ray Sandelli. 

Last year, when Sandelli was appointed to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Larry Kiker, he was in line to succeed to Kiker’s role as chairman in line with the commission tradition.

Mann sought to protect that tradition by interrupting the election of Vice Chair Brian Hamman as chairman, pointing out that commission tradition would give Sandelli the gavel even when he was just appointed. Sandelli declined to be nominated.

Pendergrass and Hamman are the next commissioners to face reelection in 2022.

More: Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker voted new chairman

More: New Lee commissioner: ‘I’m old enough to know what I don’t know’

Commission pay nears six-figures

Pay for county commissioners, who are elected to serve four-year terms, is inching closer to the $100,000 mark.

Florida statutes set the pay for county commissioners using a complex formula based on population and multiplied by three other factors.

When the math was done, Lee County commissioners’ pay was set for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 at $99,045, an increase of 4.7 percent over last year.  By comparison, the commission voted a 3% raise for county employees last August.

Commissioners in seven other counties, including Broward, Hillsborough, and Miami-Dade, are paid more than $100,000 a year. The lowest paid commissioners in the state are in Lafayette County inland of the Big Bend coastline, where they are paid $26,999.

Salaries for the so-called constitutional officers in the county — clerk of the circuit court, property appraiser, election supervisor, and tax collector are set at $164,100, a 5.2percent increase over last year.  Sheriff’s pay is set by the state formula for that office at $173,922 and increased 3.7 percent this year.

Commission Chairman Kevin Ruane has vowed to donate his net pay after taxes to charity.

More: LeeCARES COVID-19 relief makes more people eligible with higher payments available

More: Lee schools push to start rapid COVID-19 tests this week as spread on campuses rises

County kicks in for school COVID tests

Commissioners voted to authorize the expenditure of up to $250,000 from the county’s federal CARES Act grant of $134 million to pay for providing COVID-19 testing for students and staff in the Lee school district.

The rapid tests will be available for students and staff with symptoms of the COVID-19 virus. Lee schools chief of staff Lauren Stillwell said the tests have been authorized for students who show symptoms.

Commissioners also approved a final round of business assistance grants under the Lee Cares program.  Companies that were previously approved will be eligible for additional funding to continue initiatives supporting and helping to relaunch businesses battling to get through pandemic-related issues.

The new business funding round means the program that helped people pay their utility bills will be ending on Nov. 30.

“With the opening of the business round, we need the processing capacity of our staff, and those applications are winding down anyway,” said Assistant County Manager Glen Salyer.

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