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After a contentious campaign preceding the Naples election, Mayor Teresa Heitmann and three new City Council members sworn in April 3 are ready to work together to tackle important issues about local development, the environment and more. 

“We’ve always worked very cohesively. Once you’re elected and you get on Council, you’re so focused on the issues and what needs to be done and decisions that need to be made that the personalities or whatever is going on otherwise out there in the atmosphere just goes away. It has to. It’s all about the work, not about the personality,” said Linda Penniman, who was elected along with Bill Kramer and Berne Barton to fill three open seats on the seven-member Council. 

Kramer and Barton agree that it’s time to let bygones be bygones and get to work. 

“This election was contentious and got a little bit nasty here and there but we’re going to put that behind us and we’re going to start a healing process,” Barton said. “I’m going to really bend over backwards to try to find middle ground with those that we didn’t have middle ground with during the process and make sure we can all start going in the same direction so that we can make some progress.” 

The city created an orientation program designed to introduce the new City Council members to the workings of municipal government. Initial meetings with the new members took place before the swearing-in this week and a “welcome tour” will take about a month to complete, City Manager Jay Boodheshwar said. 

“We have a robust ‘welcome tour’ onboarding program designed to include initial meetings with the charter officials—city manager, city clerk and city attorney—followed by half-day or full-day sessions and tours with city departments,” he said. 

“There’s just so much that happens behind the scenes. Most people have no idea,” Boodheshwar said. “Our goal is to help facilitate the team effort.” 

A resident of Naples since 2000, Penniman served five years on Council, but since it has been five years since she stepped down in 2019, she was appreciative of Boodheshwar’s city refresher. 

“We’re all up to speed as to what’s going on, what portends kind of for the near future, and I can tell you that, generally speaking, the emphasis certainly among all of us I think is going to be resiliency, resiliency, resiliency and adaptation,” Penniman said. “It just has to happen. So, I think you’re going to find that that’s really, generally, where the emphasis is going to be.” 

That includes the city stormwater management program to improve water quality, flooding and coastal resiliency. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has mandated that the city remove some of the stormwater discharge outfalls along the shore. 

While previously on Council, Penniman questioned piping dirty water 2,500 feet out into the Gulf without cleaning it first. “Everybody agreed we should, so we hired a company to do that. Now, it’s six years later and we still don’t have those in the works. It’s nobody’s fault but that project needs to get done. The DEP is all over us,” she said.  

“We’ve got to get that outfalls project done. It’s been languishing now for six years, and that’s why it went up to $90 million. It went on too long.” 

Kramer takes a seat on City Council after being asked for years to run for a government office before he retired as the all-time winningest coach of the Naples High School football team. Kramer also was the top vote-getter in the six-way race for the three open Council seats. 

“I’m called to serve. I came to this community to serve when we came in ‘98,” said Kramer, who finds common goals between succeeding in a football stadium and the political arena. 

“Nothing has really changed for me fundamentally. It’s a different vehicle,” he said. “I’m going to prepare like I would prepare for anything else. I’ll do whatever it takes to do a good job.” 

Already accustomed to juggling a lot within a short time to be well prepared, Kramer plans to do his pre-meeting homework and seek answers to any questions he might have. 

“I have relationships for a long time with a lot of people that work for and in the city, so I have tremendous resources. All I have to do is go ask,” he said. “My plan is to have the work done in advance for whatever I don’t understand. I’m sure there are going to be some things I don’t know what I don’t know.” 

Kramer looks forward to leading Naples, which he said is arguably the most valuable city in Florida. 

“I’m honored that the people have placed their trust in me. I’m going to give my very best to do all I can to help everybody who lives or works or owns a business in the city of Naples.” 

Born and raised in Naples, Barton wants to retain and attract city staff with institutional knowledge about the local community.  

“You lose people who have been part of that city staff for decades and you lose that institutional knowledge. That can’t be replaced. People can be replaced but the institutional knowledge is lost, somebody who has been a part of the equation for 10 or 20 years. It can take years to get that back into the system and create a staff that can be effective and efficient moving forward. We’ve got a lot of work to do in reference to that.” 

The closeness of the election shows that a clear mandate for a particular party doesn’t exist. 

When it comes to redevelopment in the city, Barton has no desire to change the building codes or the height restrictions.  

“I embrace them, in fact,” he said. “Part of the reason we have the charm that we have here in Naples, Florida, is because of the building codes and height restrictions that we put in place back in the ‘90s. They’ve been in place for two and a half decades and they’re there for a reason. They’ve done a great job.” 

However, Barton is concerned about the effect of the high-density development under construction just outside the city limits. He wants to hold Collier County more accountable. “We, as a city, we desperately need to get a seat at the table, create a position of liaison, somebody or someway to have an open dialogue with the county, the county commissioners, in reference to those projects,” he said. “The important thing is we need to address the problem. It’s not going anywhere.” 

Outside of being away at college, the 54-year-old Barton has spent his entire life in Naples. 

“Naples is just awesome, and it’s done so much for me and family,” he said. “I really wanted to try to put myself in a position to give myself an opportunity to give back to Naples, the community. I just love Naples so much.”  

Re-elected to another four-year term, Mayor Heitmann also is ready to leave behind a campaign that she said was tough and negative at times. 

“I am deeply honored and humbled by the opportunity to serve our community as mayor, and I pledge to do my utmost to represent all of our residents’ interests and values with integrity and dedication,” Heitmann said, thanking residents for standing by her in a three-way race that included former Council members Gary Price and Ted Blankenship. “Together, let’s continue to make Naples a city we are proud to call home.” 

This story will be published in The Naples Press on April 5.

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