As we prepare to select the next three citizen members for The News-Press editorial board, I want to thank our recent members – Chris Berardi, Geri McArdle and Bruce Diamond – for their work and contributions over the previous six months.
Our citizen members usually distinguish themselves in many ways as they participate in discussions – and these three were no different.
Chris, because of his background in politics as a former Cape Coral council member and candidate for county commission and the Florida House, was always well versed in government issues impacting the lives of people living throughout our many communities.
Geri’s passion for people and their lives also came across in every one of our sessions.
And when you talk about passion, Bruce may be the undisputed leader. He was always outspoken – and usually had the facts to back it up – when it came to health and religious issues. The fact that he is a rabbi may have contributed to his impassioned speeches, specifically involving Israel.
The three participated in more than 20 editorial board conversations with various community, state and federal leaders, including members of the county commission, our state Legislature, as well as Gov. Rick Scott and Congressman Trey Radel. They heard about the issues facing the Southwest Florida Conservancy, the Lee Memorial Health System, the Lee County School District, the First Amendment Foundation and the Florida Association of Counties.
They participated in lively debates with county commission, school board, hospital board and state legislative candidates during last year’s election season. The discussions became even more animated when we discussed and ultimately made our endorsement selections for each of the races. On occasion, we agreed to disagree on some of the races, but for the most part our selections were unanimous.
During our interview with Radel, there was a tense moment when Bruce gave him a quiz on specific parts of the U.S. Constitution. Bruce was perturbed Radel did not know most of the answers and Radel was perturbed the questions were even asked. I probably should not have allowed the questions, but I wanted to see how Radel would respond more than if he knew the answer.
When Radel returned after the election, Bruce complimented him on his suits, which he said he was purchasing off a website. They exchanged information on how to get the site and all was right with the world.
I saw a different side of Chris, one not always visible during his time on the campaign trail. He spoke with conviction and confidence during editorial board meetings. He was detailed in his questions and his explanations. You could tell he had done his homework. Oftentimes, when he spoke in public as a candidate, that side of him was not as evident. It was nice to see and I hope he considers another run at public office. I believe he has a lot to offer.
Geri was always bringing me news clippings on various subjects. She wanted me to stay informed. She is an incredibly intelligent woman with a vast array of life experiences that have carried her to distant lands, including Saudi Arabia. I enjoyed hearing her stories and listening as she shared her expertise with our various guests.
The three represented my first citizen selections to the board since I became community conversations editor last August. They each had their strengths and I think that is what made them effective. Once again, I congratulate the three of them for making a difference and for their contributions.
Now, it is own to the next board and once again we have a very versatile and knowledgeable field of candidates. They come from all different backgrounds and from different communities. We have a balance of conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats. We have accountants, attorneys, planners, real estate experts and other community leaders.
I am confident our new members will add depth to our discussions as we move forward with editorial board conversations with community leaders, providing endorsements for the next cycle of elections and setting an agenda for the community. As always, we will expect our new members to respect our positions of confidentiality when it is needed. I will announce the new members in next Sunday’s column.