Commotion By The Ocean
For the second time in three days, the four candidates vying for the two seats in the upcoming March 5 Town Council election met in a public forum, this time at the “Commotion By The Ocean” hosted by the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce, featuring first-time candidate Dan Allers, Council member Dennis Boback who is seeking re-election, former Town Vice Mayor Rexanne Hosafros and former Mayor Ray Murphy. Cristina Mendez of NBC2 moderated on Wednesday evening, February 13 before roughly 100 people in the Propeller Lounge at Santini Marina Plaza.
The FMB Chamber took questions on-line, received some from Beach Elementary School students, and accepted others from the audience. Candidates had 3 minutes for Opening Statements, one minute each to answer questions in a round-robin format, then 3 minutes for Closing Comments.
“I decided to run right after Hurricane Irma,” recalled Allers. “There were people all over the community who needed help and the Town was lacking leadership. This island is undergoing a lot of changes so we need a fresh perspective and vision, as together we can make a difference. I will be a voice for the entire community.”
Boback stated that “I ran for Council three years ago because the Town was in dire financial straits, could not pay its bills, owed $3.2 million to its contractors, and borrowed money. Now our budget is fully funded, with a reserve and a Capital Improvements budget, and I want to see those good things continue and be a part of that.”
“I grew up in Columbus and worked in my father’s filling station,” smiled Hosafros. “I was a high school teacher and went to law school, working fulltime to pay my own way to night school. I worked for the Legal Aid Society, became an Assistant Ohio Attorney General, and served on the Court of Common Pleas for 19 years, so I have a long history of bringing two sides together, with the knowledge, experience and integrity to make Fort Myers Beach an even better place.”
Murphy said, “I did not just pull my platform out of the air; it came from speaking to island residents, so these are your concerns. I disagree with Dennis that the Town is now in its greatest financial condition, because we had millions in reserves when I left office after the first two Town Councils. The reason I run, however, is simple – water! It was disgusting what happened to our water last summer, and the Town response was half-hearted, weak and must be much better, so I will be your big mouth in Tallahassee and Washington DC to make sure money comes here to fix our water!”
“Commotion By The Ocean” featured 13 questions, including two from Beach Elementary School children, with one the most poignant. Several were similar to those asked at the EITA “Meet the Candidates” event two evenings earlier, as reported in a different article in this edition of The Island Sand Paper, including those involving ethics, Short-Term Rentals, the beach’s #1 problem, and if Fort Myers Beach should have its own police department. When asked about parking issues, all four were receptive to parking garages, either on or just off the island. None thought the Town should raise or lower its current 0.87 millage rate. All felt the Town should not personally persecute its citizens through government intrusion or be heavy-handed in a “Big Brother” type of governance.
The first Beach Elementary School question concerned how the Town could control Fort Myers Beach pollution. “It starts in our own backyard,” said Allers. “We must pay attention to what we put in the water, then educate our neighbors and visitors to fix the bigger problem.” “The Town eliminated plastic straws,” said Boback, “and we tried to do the same with plastic bags, but a State Ordinance prevents that. We are examining strengthening our Fertilizer Ordinance and joined other municipalities to sue the South Florida Water Management District over releases that cause Red Tide and Blue-Green Algae, and they are doing slightly better.” “Greater advocacy at every government level,” said Hosafros. “I propose a radical idea,” said Murphy: “Eliminate all fertilizer use on Fort Myers Beach – None! Pass that law then go up and down the coast to get other municipalities to do that as well!”
The most moving moment came from another Beach Elementary School student, who stated in their question that a homeless person scared them by trying to kidnap them, fearing they would never again see their family, so what could be done about the homeless so that would not happen again.
“I meet with the Beach Ministerial Association,” explained Hosafros. “The pastors are working to make things better, including working with law enforcement, to come to grips with this.” “We need to tackle this on a regional basis,” said Murphy, “with a facility somewhere that we all pay into, perhaps through a tax to take care of the homeless, as we are not doing them any favors until they take care of themselves.” Allers stated, “This question scares me, as I have a 16-year-old daughter. There was a time when my family was homeless, and no one likes to go hungry, but we need to stop any enabling, as it is the professional homeless we need to worry about. There are already thousands of places in Lee County to offer help, so we must place our safety over anything else.” “There are different kinds of homeless,” said Boback. “It is the vagrant homeless who do not want to help themselves and we do not have that type of facility here, so give them a deadline to prove they are taking steps to help themselves or cut off their services so they leave.”
In his Closing Statement, Boback stated, “When I ran for Council three years ago, I made several promises and kept every one! This Council initiated a Town Strategic Plan and I want to finish that. Change is coming to this island, like it or not, so the key is how we manage that change, to manage our future.”
“We answered several questions tonight on controversial issues,” said Hosafros, “but 99% of local government is really boring, like ordinances, and I spent practically my entire professional life being really good at boring stuff as a ‘civic geek!’ You need someone like me on Council who is not all about drama, who will work hard for you in a smart and efficient manner.”
Murphy said, “It is really all about water! That is my motivation and why I am running. I don’t believe the Town is doing all it can and I will be a strong advocate for that. Without clean water, Fort Myers Beach might just as well be another town in Kansas!”
“Fort Myers Beach is changing,” said Allers, “and that is why I run, as we must take the Town forward. There are many changes coming, including Estero Boulevard and Times Square and TPI-FMB, so we must learn the lessons of our past to protect our future. We can make a big difference moving forward if we work together!”
By Gary Mooney