State of the City – August 2016

Councilman Bill Barnett

Mayor Bill Barnett

I have to give real journalists a lot of credit. Although I have been writing articles for Life in Naples magazine since its inception and before that for the Naples Journal, I think I’m far removed from adding the title journalist to my resume if I had one. I sit here with a lot to write about but struggle mightily with the fact that today is June 26th, my deadline for this article is July 1st, and it won’t be on the stands until August 1st. To make matters worse what I’m about to write has to cover August, September,
and October.

Now if I was a certified professional journalist this challenge would be a piece of cake and probably exciting to me, but, alas I’m not but with tongue in cheek I’ll do my best!

After being elected as your Mayor in March and being officially sworn-in in early April it has been a whirlwind for me. I say that
on a purely positive note because there are so many exciting events happening in our City now, and on the drawing boards for the City’s future. I would be remiss if I didn’t have something to say about our current City Council and our very fine staff and employees that we all depend on every day 365 days a year and 24-7 if we need them. Although it has only been three months since the election and we have only had seven Council meetings I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to work with. From the sitting Council members to those who were newly elected it is going to be a council that will accomplish a lot. Already we have shared many differing opinions, had some 4-3 votes, proven that we have a sense of humor, and perhaps the most important of all is the simple fact that we can work together regardless of what the issue at hand is.

Baker Park is going to become a reality! Our council has adopted the plan of what this park will look like; awarded the engineering contracts, and committed to fund the remaining balance needed to complete the park. I know it will be spectacular for the simple reason of how long it took to finally get to where we are. When days turn to months and months turn to years and different Council’s share different ideas and progress seems to take one step forward and two steps back it becomes a tedious task for all involved. Our staff remained committed to steadily add useful input during the entire process, and we were and are truly fortunate to have Matthew Kragh who is one of Naples premier architects donating his time and services because he truly believes in supporting our Naples community. The bottom line is it will take the engineers approximately one year to come back with the plans, which will be June of 2017, and hopefully we will break ground later that year. Exciting stuff!

I don’t think there was a Mayor anywhere in the world including me, who didn’t have a nauseous feeling in the pit of their stomachs when the horrible Pulse Nightclub tragedy occurred. It could have been any of our cities and I’m sure that during those horrible days and weeks afterward and for who knows how long in the future it will remain with us. The Mayor of Orlando John “Buddy” Dyer brought tears to my eyes when I listened to him talk about those tragic first moments when he was awakened by a phone call that will remain embedded in his memory forever. During the days and weeks that followed he truly personified his role as a Mayor who firmly believes and cares about his community.

I think that all of us at one time or another have said something during their lives that they wish they could take back. The year was 1984 and I was a newly elected City Council member, the youngest that had ever been elected to Council at that time. All of my fellow Council members had automatically become mentors to me since I didn’t have a clue of what to do. Each of them had already concluded successful business careers and had retired from business. I soon learned that similar to today there were regulars that would show up for Council meetings although they didn’t have the luxury of watching our meetings on television or their computers. I couldn’t help but notice a lady that showed up at every meeting and she made no bones about how she felt about issues in front of Council. Her name was Sue B. Smith. Well after two years of listening to Ms. Smith speak on about every topic that came up and being a little tired of hearing in her opinion that we couldn’t do anything right I decided that I didn’t want to listen to her any more. I remember clearly that our Mayor at the time was Ned Putzell who down the road became my mentor. So after I had made this decision and at our next Council meeting when she got up to speak I got up as well
and went into the back room behind Council chambers. There  was a speaker back there so I heard everything that was being
said and after she finished speaking I would come back out and sit down. Well after a few meetings I got up one day when she
got up to speak and no sooner had I entered the back room I heard her say to the Mayor: “I’m not speaking until Mr. Barnett
comes back out here.”

Well Mayor Putzell said to her “Ms. Smith, the time clock is running, it’s your choice.” She spoke and I came back out when
she was finished. I have to tell you that at that time I had only been married a short time to my wife Chris and for those of you that know Chris she was and still is as nice a person as you would ever want to meet. So I get home that night and she very calmly and in her own way said to me that Sue Smith had a sincere passion for everything she said and that I needed to understand that and stop being rude and disrespectful to Ms. Smith. She also said I was a better person than that and I needed to realize that I was an elected official and what I was doing would not go over well with the people that supported me. Well, I heeded her prudent advice although candidly it was difficult for me, because I was absolutely full of myself.

The years went by and Sue Smith and I were never best friends but we had a mutual respect for each other. During my prior Mayoral years I tried my best to accommodate her and if she had questions that needed to be answered I saw to it that she received answers. She remained steadfast with her passion about what she believed in her was in the City’s best interests and although I probably disagreed with her more than I agreed but I never forgot what Chris had said to me. Sue Smith would come to my office frequently during my term from 2008-12 and my administrative assistant at the time Michael had built a friendship with her and found out quite by accident that she liked M&Ms, so we always kept some in a bowl for her visits. I guess it’s true about the saying of time has a way of healing old wounds because she and I actually developed a cordial relationship these last few years.

At a recent Council meeting there was a presentation from the Naples Historical Society talking about preservation of Historical Homes in Old Naples where she had lived for the last 45 plus years and Sue Smith got up and vehemently stated
they could do what they liked, but in no way was she going to sign up for what they were offering. She called me at my office
the next day and made me promise her that I would keep her in the loop with regard to the above and to please call her if I
received any further information. I promised her I would.

Sue B. Smith passed away on June 18th. I wish I could take back my rudeness that I displayed in 1986, but I hope that as
time passed on that behavior passed on as well. I will truly miss her; she certainly had a passion that was inspiring.

My next article will be in November and I will bring you up to date on City issues. Remember to check out the City’s website at it is really an informative site with plenty of information about our City. I do respond to e-mail at

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