Cereceda Talks COVID-19 Steps

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“We’ll Get Through This Together”

Fort Myers Beach Mayor Anita Cereceda spoke with The Island Sand Paper on Monday, March 16, at roughly 4 p.m. As you read her comments, keep in mind that the COVID-19 pandemic is a rapidly-changing scenario, so some of her comments may already be dated.

Q: What are you hearing from the Lee County Commissioners and your fellow Lee County Mayors about immediate precautions and potential future steps?

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Lee County Commissioners, Lee County elected officials, and my fellow Mayors are recommending that everyone get your medical information directly from organizations like the Center for Disease Control and Lee Health at www.LeeHealth.org and www.FloridaHealth.gov. We are however prepared to make individual decisions for our respective communities should the need arise.

Q: Town Council on Friday, March 13, authorized staff to review all Permits for gatherings of 250 or more people through Monday, April 13, with the directive to cancel those. Now that the CDC recommends canceling events of 50 or more people for the next 8 weeks, and President Donald Trump just minutes ago lowered that to 10 people or less, will the Town amend its guidelines?

Council directed Town Manager Roger Hernstadt last Friday to regulated groups of 250 people or more. Had we made that same decision on Thursday, the suggested figure from health experts was 1,000 people or less, and by last night it was down to 50 and now we hear the President say ten! As of this morning, the Town Manager suspended all permits for beach vendor activities like parasailing, jet skis, and beach chairs that tend to be the hub of activities that can draw a crowd and be potentially harmful to the public. The businessowners are understandably disappointed but are cooperating fully.

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Mayor Anita Cereceda. Photo provided.

Secondly, in Times Square, because that is another crowd-driving location over which the Town has permit control, the Times Square Merchants Association under the leadership of John Lallo from Pete’s Time Out is voluntarily reducing their outdoor seating capacities. For Pete’s Time Out, they normally have roughly 80 outdoor seats, but they reconfigured those to now under 50. The Town Manager is asking all island businesses to do the same, in a long-term outlook, to keep Fort Myers Beach businesses open as much as possible, in a responsible way, but as you can imagine, this is very difficult to do but not yet impossible, with almost every owner being extremely cooperative.

Q: At least six states, as well as Florida cities like Miami and Fort Lauderdale, are closing their bars and restaurants. Is that action under consideration?

I have not been party to any such discussion, however everything remains on the table. This is an extraordinarily fluid situation, with “fluid” being a weird word to use when you are talking about a virus! We cannot promise that bars and restaurant will remain open, as we must do our absolute best to keep people out of harm’s way, and will follow the recommendations for best practices from local, state and federal healthcare agencies.

Q: The Mound House is closed and canceling events until further notice. Is the Town contemplating this action to the Bay Oaks Recreational Center?

The Mound House Museum is closed. As of right now is still conducing kayak tours and boat tours to Mound Key. Newton Park Beach Walks, that attract small groups, are still being offered every Tuesday and Thursday at 9am. While the Town did close the Bay Oak gymnasium and Senior programs, some activities like the pickleball courts remain open. The outdoor facilities at Bay Oaks remain available  from 7:30am – 6pm each day. Childcare programs and Spring Break Camp are being held, but only for Fort Myers Beach families, with all activities outdoors. Residents can call Bay Oaks with any questions. (239-465-4222)

Q: Despite cancelling the Shrimp Festival, it appeared that there was not one single person less here over the weekend, and those who jammed the beach seemed completely unconcerned about the coronavirus virus! Your reaction?

I don’t have a good reaction to that! Fort Myers Beach has always been Lee County’s playground, and that is especially true this time of year, when we can have crowds of 40,000 to 60,000. As other Florida communities close their bars and restaurants, it is possible those people will migrate here and swell that number even more. We do have one major island business that continues to act in an irresponsible manner and we must hold that location accountable, or the outcome for those thousands who congregate there could potentially be devastating, so I am quite concerned about that.

Q: Do you have any message to the Cincinnati Firefighters and Araba Shriners who continue to put on their shows at the Lani Kai Island Resort?

The Town suspended the permit for the Cincinnati Firefighters and it would be nice to think that those gentlemen, who supposedly devote their lives and careers to public safety and protecting human life, would react in a responsible manner, recognize the dangers, and employ appropriate precautions, as their actions are dangerous and against everything they say they stand for. They are lucky I will not be on Town Council next year if they return and attempt to do this again, as I believe their uncaring actions this year should jeopardize any future Town permits at that location, as I don’t care now whether these shows raise $25,000 for charity or not. We must act now for the long-term interest rather than short-term gains, and the Cincinnati Firemen and Shriners are doing this rather than acting with kindness and consideration for Fort Myers Beach residents and visitors who are in the middle of a worldwide health pandemic crisis; what they are doing at the Lani Kai is an insult to the general public!

In your Council statement last Friday in explaining your Shrimp Festival vote, you referenced a conversation with FMB Fire Chief Matthew Love who commented to you that, ‘sometimes you must make the decision for people to protect them!’ Are we close to being there?

Yes! Everything is on the table to protect people, and we will do what we need to do!

Q: Lee County and the State of Florida are continuing the Match 17 election? If they had postponed it, what would that mean to the Town?

In light of everything what is going on locally, statewide, nationally, and throughout the world, I pray our citizens chose our next three Town Council Members wisely, so if you have yet to vote, please vote for candidates who you are confident will govern our community wisely, with confidence and compassion. As to the two Referendum questions, I am voting to pass both, as they will provide the Town with continuity and much-needed institutional knowledge. In my conference call with the area Mayors earlier today, one mentioned, ”You guys switch it up out there all the time,” and that is true when you have two elections every three years. By moving our elections to November and extending terms to four years, we will not only match up with Lee County, State and National cycles, but those of other Fort Myers Beach governments like the Fire Department and Library Board.

The current Council remains in charge until we swear in the new Council members on Monday, April 6.

Q: After Friday’s Council Meeting, Town Manager Roger Hernstadt suggested the Town buy $7,000 of shrimp from the Lions Club, with the stipulation they donate them to the Harry Chapin Food Band. That seemed to receive approval, even though some Council members already exited. What is your recollection?

Council member Joanne Shamp expressed her concern to me and others that she already left Council Chambers before that and did not vote to approve the Town Manager’s suggestion, and the truth is that Council did not approve it! The Town Manager was speaking with Jacki Liszak, the Executive Director of the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce, and turned and called out his suggestion, and I said that was a great idea! It is in his authority to do so, as he can approve any transaction worth $25,000 or less without Council approval. I agree it was a confusing moment, but I applaud Roger, as it was incredibly generous and a great gesture!

Q: What would you like to say to FMB residents and guests?

We want everybody to be conscious of their interactions with each other and pay attention to the medical experts and not politicians like me or anyone else over how they should conduct themselves at this unprecedented time. I find myself often thinking of the famous words of President John F. Kennedy who said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” I would amend that to, “Ask not what your Town can do for you, but what you can do for your town and neighbors and the entire community!” If we all do that, we will get through this together!