By the end of the March 18 meeting of the Fort Myers Beach Town Council, only Council Member Bruce Butcher began and ended in the same seat! Mayor Tracey Gore and Council member Dennis Boback concluded their terms; Vice Mayor Joanne Shamp reverted back to a Council member; Council member Anita Cereceda once again became Mayor; with former Vice Mayor Rexann Hosafros rejoining Council, along with former Mayor Ray Murphy as the new Vice Mayor! Got all that?
Gaggle of Mayors
Gore began the meeting with the “Certification of Election Results Resolution” that the outgoing Council unanimously approved. This recognized that Murphy and Hosafros won the two March 5, 2019, Council seats with 1,145 and 929 votes respectively, defeating Boback, who ran for reelection, and first-time candidate Dan Allers; Gore did not seek another term.
Boback then Gore received commemorative gifts and standing ovations for their service, with Boback, also a former two-time Mayor, saying “it has been an honor and privilege to serve you my second time around on Council, and I hope this new Council will do as well in the future as we did!” Gore reflected that “my Aunt Shirley, who passed away when I ran for Council, said if someone like me who cares so much about the Town does not run, nothing will ever change. It has been an honor to serve the Town and to work with all of you, as we accomplished a lot, and in going forward, I hope this next Council will continue to do that, so thanks to everybody!”
Town Attorney John Herin, Jr., then administered the Oath of Office to Hosafros, while still another former FMB Mayor, Dan Hughes, did so for Murphy, who had his hand on a bible held by his significant other, Cheryl Locke. The meeting then took a brief recess for refreshments, to thank and welcome the outgoing and incoming council members.
Following that, Shamp, still the Vice Mayor, reconvened the meeting for the “Reorganization of Council,” with Hosafros nominating Cereceda for Mayor who received unanimous Council approval. She then nominated Murphy for Vice Mayor, again with unanimous support. Cereceda and Murphy served on the first Town Council in 1995, with Cereceda the initial Mayor and Murphy soon becoming Vice Mayor, causing Murphy to reflect that “this is déjà vu all over again; this very scenario happened 24 years ago, almost to the day!” It was obvious from the meeting’s earliest moments that Cereceda was struggling with laryngitis, with Murphy quipping, “I suppose you want to pass the meeting right off to me, with that voice!” Cereceda gurgled out a good-natured response: “Absolutely not, Ray – when I need your help, I will ask for it!”
Keep Light Low, Shielded & Long
The newly-reconstituted Council unanimously approve the “Consent Agenda” to dispose of surplus items through government auction, and to join the AlertLee mass public notification system at no cost to the Town. Council unanimously appointed Barbara Hill to the Bay Oaks Recreational Center Advisory Board (BORCAB); Sheena Brook Stockton to the Community Resource Advisory Board (CRAB); and Heidi Jungwirth to the Public Safety Committee by a 3 to 2 vote over Leah Gregg. Under “Public Hearings,” Council unanimously approved the “Second & Final Reading of the Town Towing Ordinance,” to parallel Town rates to those of Lee County.
Under “Administrative Agenda,” Tonya Long, the Imperiled Species Manager for the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), provided Council a detailed presentation on “Sea Turtles & Lights,” as nesting sea turtle season on Fort Myers Beach is annually from April 15 through October 31. “Remember the three ‘Golden Rules of Turtle Lighting,’” she encouraged: “‘Keep It Low,’ meaning to keep mounted lights low to minimize light trespassing; ‘Keep It Shielded,’ to eliminate the point source of light; and ‘Keep It Long,’ meaning ‘wavelength,’ so only use amber, red or orange LED lights. Forty percent of all loggerhead turtles nest in Florida, making this their #1 place in the world, so unless we protect them here, there will be repercussions all over the earth. Hatchlings return here to nest, so these are your turtles!” To find FWC-approved turtle-friendly lighting, see www.myfwc.com/seaturtle.
Rae Burns, the Town Environmental & Stormwater Technician, stated that “the Town is taking a different outreach approach this year for homeowners, with sea turtle night inspections on Wednesdays, to address issues right out in the field.” “We want to make this as easy as possible for people,” added Town Manager Roger Hernstadt. “We ordered turtle-friendly bulbs to have right here at Town Hall, to have them available for the public for the same price the Town pays, to be proactive.” Burns explained that the Town will mail the information about the Wednesday field inspections directly to residents, so call or email her to set an appointment at 239-765-0202, extension #1312, or at Rae@fmbgov.com. Cereceda wondered if Burns could take those bulbs with her on the inspections.
Long stated that the FWC is currently updating its Model Sea Turtle Code for communities, with the new one in place by the 2020 nesting season; “when that is in place,” said the Town Manager, “we will review the Town’s for any proposed changes.”
Parking Study & Election Day
Council unanimously approved authorization for the Town Manager to apply for a “Boating Infrastructure Grant” for improvements at Bayside/Fountain Park (located at the bay end of Old San Carlos Blvd.), including a shade structure, drinking fountain, dock, and benches; a “lease-to-own” contract for $49,486 to Wesco Turf for a Toro Sand Pro and Toro Groundsmaster for the Bay Oaks Recreational Center athletic fields; and initiate a “Scope of Work for the Town’s Parking Study Consultant” to Walker Consultants, through a piggyback contact with the City of Clearwater, to collect parking data to assist Council in developing a comprehensive public parking policy for $16,500. This will commence yet this season, with work to be complete by Easter and the report to Council most likely in May. Butcher wanted to add an app component so visitors can locate available parking spaces, but the Town Manager suggested that would be for the second phase of the program.
Under “Council Representation on Outside Committees,” it unanimously authorized Burns to represent the Town on the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program and Coastal Advisory Council; Cereceda on the Fort Myers Beach Elementary School Youth Council; Butcher on the Horizon Council and Metropolitan Planning Organization; Murphy on the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council; and Cereceda for the first year on the Tourist Development Council, with Hosafros to serve the second year. Hosafros will also represent the Town on the Lee County Human Services Council.
Under “Reorganization of Liaisons to Town Advisory Committees,” Hosafros will work with the Anchorage Advisory Committee; Murphy on the Audit Committee; Shamp with BORCAB, CRAB, Marine Resources Task Force, and the Air Intrusion Relief Committee; Cereceda with the Cultural & Environmental Learning Center Advisory Board; and Butcher the Public Safety Committee.
Under Town Manager’s Items,” Hernstadt reported that Tommy Doyle, the Lee County Supervisor of Elections, recommends that the Town shift its election cycle from March to the November National & State Election Day to substantially reduce election costs, as Council can do via an Ordinance. Cereceda stated that Town citizens often ask her this, saying it would be easier to vote in November rather than during the height of the season in March, and suggested Doyle attend an upcoming Council meeting to explain options. The Town Manager reminded Council that if they shift to November, this would necessitate increasing a Council term from three to four years.
The Town Manager reported that the Local Planning Agency would like its next joint meeting with Council on Tuesday, April 9, after its scheduled LPA meeting, with Council agreeing to do so at roughly 10:30 a.m. He informed Council that since the Town switched banking institutions 6 months ago, the expected $40,000 saving is now approximately $120,000! Finally, the Town paid for the additional officer guiding traffic recently at Old San Carlos and Estero Boulevards, with Council agreeing to fund additional traffic enhancements yet this season.
Under “Town Attorney Items,” Herin stated that the Division of Administrative Hearings ruled against Fort Myers Beach and several other Southwest Florida municipalities in their lawsuit against the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to increase minimum Lake Okeechobee low flows during dry season, saying that “the Law Judge ruled we failed to demonstrate a clear and convincing argument. I will consult with the other jurisdictions on how to proceed, as an appeal in these cases is rarely successful, but this may now all be moot as there is now a new SFWMD Governing Board.”
Under “Council Member Items,” Hosafros suggested that the Town return to a previous practice of alternating morning and evening Council meetings. Cereceda and Murphy are open to that, with Shamp suggesting that Council may do so “for Hot Button Issues, as occurred with TPI-FMB.” Council adjourn at 12:41 p.m.; their next meeting is Monday, April 1, at 9 a.m.
By Gary Mooney