Near the end of their meeting on Monday, November 7, Interim Town Manager James Steele informed Council members of the Town of Fort Myers Beach that he would not be a candidate for the full time position, and tendered his letter of resignation effective March 2017.
Minutes later, Vice Mayor Summer Stockton in an emotional announcement stated that due to family obligations she will resign from Council on Wednesday, November 30.
That set off a firestorm between the four remaining council members about when and how to fill the vacancy.
“I will not seek the fulltime position,” Steele told Council. “I only wanted to serve four months to pass the budget and conduct the water rate study. Now that the Town is financially sound, I will stay until you find a replacement after the election and through a transition. Life is short,” he philosophized, “and I miss my free time playing golf and spending time with my friends!” Mayor Dennis Boback commented that Steele “did a heck of a good job! I wish you could stay but I understand.”
Stockton told her colleagues that she “no longer has the time to devote to this position” She thanked residents for believing in her and for giving her the opportunity to serve.” Council Member Anita Cereceda said that “no one could ever question your passion for this town.”
To Vote or Not to Vote
Council member Tracy Gore inquired about the process to fill the seat. Council member Rexann Hosafros recalled that she was a candidate for a vacancy, and recollects that the Town published ads in local newspapers, with interested parties submitting a resume. Mayor Boback would like to accept them through Noon on Friday, November 18, and fill the vacancy at the next Council meeting on Monday; November 21.
Hosafros suggested Council not name a replacement until the December 5 meeting, to allow properly study of the candidates. Cereceda concurred, saying that Stockton will still be a council member on November 21. People need time to digest this information, and determine if they really have the time and passion to serve. Hosafros wondered if Stockton can even vote for her own replacement. Gore thought that she can, but Hosafros countered that since Stockton is not a remaining member, she is ineligible; it is clear a person who resigns cannot vote on their own replacement.
Town legal counsel Dawn Lehnert agreed with Hosafros. Since Stockton will still be an active council member through November 30, there will not be an opening to fill on November 21; that would be odd. For her to vote on her own replacement would seem to be a violation of the Town Charter, therefore she should not. Cereceda said that no one who resigns their position should vote for their replacement. She suggested if there is any vote on that date, it should be to formally accept the resignation of the Vice Mayor, and provide time to perform due diligence on the prospective applicants.
Full Speed Ahead
Lehnert suggested Council receive public applications then leave themselves a reasonable amount of time to proceed, and she had trouble with the November 18 timeframe. The Mayor said that if they have the new person in place on November 21 they can be up to speed by the December 5 meeting and the Town can proceed with a full council. Hosafros reiterated that the Town legal counsel advises not to proceed with the plan for November 18 & 21.
Gore inquired if the Town must do a public notice; and asked if Council itself can select the replacement. Hosafros expressed surprise that Gore made this suggestion as she always requests public input. Gore replied that there is no conspiracy in the process. Hosafros says that the Town has a history of past practice on its side that has served it well and can help it avoid any appearance of impropriety, and if they wait until December 5, that is still less than 30 days.
Boback set the date to fill the soon-to-be-vacant council seat for Monday, December 5, and instructed the clerk to initiate the call for applications process with the local newspapers.