Lee County Commissioner Frank Mann told members of the Lehigh Acres Community Planning Panel. (LACPP) that the group should consider joining with another group in the community so that the county can get information from just one official group.
"I know I might get myself in hot water here," he said smiling, "but we on the County Commission and staffers in the county get calls and messages from various groups in Lehigh, and sometimes, one group asks us to do one thing, while another group may ask for something else different.
"I'm really here to discuss the future of the LACPP and want to thank you for doing an excellent job in getting a land use plan nearly completed for Lehigh Acres. The results you people have come up with along with the Saturday morning meetings have been important and you as a group have met your mission," he said. County planners have taken over the final planning for the land use plan.
The LACPP began nine years ago at Lehigh Senior High School when community volunteers offered to serve on a board to plan the future of Lehigh Acres as other communities were doing at the request of the county to be included in the comprehensive plan.
Since then, a number of people have come and gone as members of the group. Today there are 15 members on the board and they meet once a month on the second Wednesday.
Just last month, chairman Edd Weiner, resigned and said he was moving to Punta Gorda. That brought Thomas Pfuner as interim chairman to conduct the meeting.
This suggestion from Mann gave the group an opportunity to reexamine its purpose and listening to Mann was difficult for some who have served on the LACPP since its inception.
Tami Baker, the treasurer of the LACPP, said it had been meeting for nine years. She is an executive officer of the Lehigh Community Council, a group of residents who meet on the third Monday night of each month to discuss Lehigh, its issues, and to listen to those who have plans for the betterment of the community.
The request from Mann came hard for at least one member of the LACPP. It was Frank LaRosa who has served on the board since the beginning, and who has been active in other affairs in Lehigh, and once served a time on the Lee County Health Systems board of directors as an elected member for the hospital group.
"It's a little bit of a sore spot with me concerning the Community Council," LaRosa said. "We have been an active group and in my opinion have done more in our time than they have done in all the years they have been meeting."
But Commissioner Mann said it was time, he thought, for the members of the LACPP "to fold their tents," as he put it and become a part of the Community Council in Lehigh.
Tami Baker, a member of both the LACPP and the Community Council, said she had been asked by the Community Council to invite the members of the planning group in Lehigh to join them and become an important part of their organization.
And Mann joined in and said if the LACPP would become a part of Community Council, it would be one group of volunteers in Lehigh, all working together, "to send us one message."
"That's what we need if we are to move along now," Mann said.
Members of the planning group in Lehigh, 14 of them present, said they would attend the meeting Monday night (Aug. 19) and discuss the matter with the Community Council.
The discussion took up most of the meeting. Mann left after he made his request for the two groups to come together in what many can see as a merger.
Over the weekend, Jim Kreger, president of the Lehigh Community Council, said the group was indeed happy to receive the 15 members to join them as equal members for voting and making decisions on the board.
What may have occurred this past Monday night cannot be reported because The Citizen's deadline has passed.
"I think Lehigh has a bright future ... but we need one united voice in Lehigh, not several. Then we on the county commission can get a clear picture that represents the people of Lehigh. I think the group would even be stronger and it would be even better for the plans coming up for Lehigh in the future," Mann said before he left.
Frank LaRosa said he did believe that the LACPP should become "a subcommittee" of the Lehigh Community Council and Tami Baker said that would not be the case.
A board under the umbrella of the LACPP called the Architectural Review Board, could become a subcommittee under the combined group. The ARB, as it is called, meets with prospective developers and planners, to aid them in their plans for Lehigh development before they take their requests before a hearing examiner and eventually to the county commissioners.
The Lehigh Community Council has its own web page and if members of the LACPP were to "merge" with the Community Council, their names would be featured as equal members, according to Jim Kreger, current president of the Community Council.
Kreger said that when members of the Community Council serve a term, their names can come up along with anyone else who wants to become a member through a community vote, which is undertaken in the media, such as The Lehigh Acres Citizen, which publishes their ballots.
If the LACPP were to decide to merge with the Community Council, it would have to absolve its 501 C(3) status.
Mohamad Yasin, a member of both groups, said he thought it was a good idea because the LACPP has accomplished what it set out to do.
"If we in Lehigh could become one group, it would mean there would not be several groups, all representing Lehigh. It would be one voice to our county government. I like and support the idea."
"When there is one big group talking, people will listen," he said.
Thomas Pfuner, the interim president of the local planning group, said he supported Commissioner Frank Mann's suggestions.
Tonda Soisson said she was among those who had started the One Voice movement in Lehigh and has tried to get it to work. She said she agreed that one group was needed and one voice in the community would be more beneficial to county lawmakers.
Over the years, it is no secret that in Lehigh there are various strong personalities, and often people disagree.
"We need to leave the strong egos at the door and let it go and work together," Soisson said.
The group agreed to attend this past Monday's night meeting and meet again as the LACPP to decide whether to merge with the larger group, which has about 40 or so board members.
Kreger said he thought it was the right thing to do and believed the members of the LACPP could bring good ideas to the Community Council as equal members.