Fort Myers city council election features four candidates to represent Ward 3

·5 min read

The election for Fort Myers City Council Ward 3 may be the election to watch on primary night this year with four candidates in the running including Councilwoman Terolyn Watson, who is seeking a second full term.

Council candidates offer diverse professional and educational backgrounds.

Watson works for the bus transportation department in the Lee School District.

Chantel Rhodes has worked as a social worker and is currently employed by Golisano Children's Hospital.

Dorian Scudder has worked as an information technology executive in private industry.

Carlbert White said he has experience in economic development and small business affairs.

While the Aug. 23 election is touted as a primary, any candidate receiving a majority of the votes cast will be considered elected under state law. Otherwise, the two top vote-getters will face off in the Nov. 8 general election.

Bid to block candidate fails

Creating the final list of candidates was controversial, as Rhodes had to get past an effort by Councilman Fred Burson to keep her off the ballot. He asked the council to remove Rhodes from the ballot at a meeting held to officially set the election date and eligible candidates.

Chantel Rhodes is a candidate for Ward 3 City Council in Fort Myers
Chantel Rhodes is a candidate for Ward 3 City Council in Fort Myers

Burson accused Rhodes of not living in the district because her home address was an uninhabitable building, and she wasn't living there. Rhodes claimed temporary quarters outside of Ward 3 while her  62-year-old uninhabitable property undergoes repair.

Deeds filed with the Lee County Clerk of Court indicate Rhodes has had ownership interest in the building since November 2020.  Active building permits are posted on the site, and there is evidence of work by contractors to restore the buildings.

Diverse backgrounds

Scudder said one reason he is running is because council members need to pay more attention to the city's advisory boards appointed by the council.

The boards consider topics such as  building and zoning oversight, economic development, historic preservation, and planning.

“They spend their time, they do some digging, they ask the right questions,” Scudder said in an interview with The News-Press.

He  wants the city council to pay more attention to the free advice.

“There are times when it would appear that our council members are not listening to the feedback on that, whether it be incentives and the way we treat businesses” with matters pending before the city council, he said.

He also wants notice to a wider range of property owners when zoning decisions are being made that impact a wide area of the ward.

Dorian Scudder is a candidate for election to the Fort Myers city council in Ward 3.
Dorian Scudder is a candidate for election to the Fort Myers city council in Ward 3.

“People have bought homes based on how something was zoned, or appeared to be, and then a rezone request goes in,” Scudder said. “It’s hard for an average person to know when these requests are going in.”

He said his family is in a position where he can devote time to public service.

“My focus was work and raising my kids,” said Scudder, a father of three with one grandchild. “I can now look further toward the community and try to understand what is happening locally with our local government."

Watson has been a member of the council since being elected to fill a vacancy in 2015 when she received 68% of the vote in the final election. She was reelected in 2019 and is up for reelection this year as part of Fort Myers' change in election dates to even-numbered years to save money.

Watson was not available for an interview with The News-Press  despite multiple requests going back several weeks.

Fort Myers City Council member Terolyn Watson is seeking reelection.
Fort Myers City Council member Terolyn Watson is seeking reelection.

Because of her duties as a school district employee, Watson frequently misses meetings of  the Community Redevelopment Agency board of directors, which includes all council members, and sometimes appears late for council meetings.

She has been a frequent advocate of programs for children and teens centered at the Carrie Robinson Center and, in particular, in athletic and recreation programs at the STARS complex and has welcomed legendary Fort Myers athletes to spend time with the city's young people.

Carlbert White, campaigning on the slogan "Take Back Ward 3" is, like Watson, a lifelong resident of the city and a Fort Myers High School graduate.

White looks at a variety of qualify of life issues as being important in Ward 3, the only ward in Fort Myers that borders each of the other wards.

He has associate's and bachelor's degrees in business administration and said on his candidate website  that he has five years of experience in economic development and small business affairs.

Quality of life in Fort Myers is a major issue, according to White's published campaign platform.

Under the slogan, "I deeply care", White says the city should get repaved streets and sidewalks, make a commitment to affordable housing, and create better lighting in the ward.

Carlbert White is a candidate for Ward 3 city council person in Fort Myers
Carlbert White is a candidate for Ward 3 city council person in Fort Myers

The White platform also urges better communication between the public and law enforcement agencies, frequent meetings in the community, and a neighborhood watch program.

Rhodes said her decision to run for city council was based on "recognizing the need for a higher standard of representation" in the ward.

"I would say that we can do a lot better, there is more that we can do," Rhodes said. "When you look at the culture and the issues around voting, the issues around government, it goes way beyond just going into a ballot booth and checking off a name."

A graduate of North Fort Myers High School, Rhodes said she received a bachelor's degree in criminology at the University of South Florida at Tampa and a master's degree in social work at Georgia State University.

She began her professional career in Georgia, working with the homeless population and on the settlement of Syrian refugees. She then taught English to students in China before returning to Fort Myers where she was a leader in the local Black Lives Matter movement and a social worker at Golisano Children's Hospital.

In an interview with The News-Press, Rhodes said she has experienced "stonewalling and ignoring" when it came to her own interactions with city government over restoration of the house she inherited from her grandmother

"There needs to be more representation from the individual ward, " she said. "We are saying to the generation coming up, your ideas are just as relevant as my ideas, your life experience holds just as must weight as my life experience."

This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: Election 2022: Fort Myers Ward 3 race brings diverse challengers