Changing of The Council Guard

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Murphy Mayor; Hosafros Vice Mayor

For the first time in over three weeks, the Fort Myers Beach Town Council met in a regularly-scheduled meeting rather than in emergency session, though this was a virtual gathering as well, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The meeting began with outgoing Mayor Anita Cereceda and council members Bruce Butcher and Joanne Shamp joining Vice Mayor Ray Murphy and Council member Rexann Hosafros. Council members-Elect Dan Allers, Jim Atterholt and Bill Veach were also present via the Zoom virtual meeting app from their homes, with Town Manager Roger Hernstadt and Town Clerk Michelle Mayher from their Town Hall offices and Town Attorney John Herin, Jr., from his home.

“I want to thank everyone in this community,” said Shamp. “Many of you are suffering financially, but we will overcome this, as ‘We Are FMB!’ We leave the Town in good financial standing with many exciting things on the doorstep! I have great confidence in our new Council members and know when the time is right, you will invigorate our island.” “I echo Joanne,” Butcher added. “I enjoyed my time on Council and am proud of what we accomplished, though I wish we got a few more projects done before I leave. The Town is in good hands with the new people.”

Cereceda, the Town’s first Mayor in 1995 and its only three-time Mayor, said, “Joanne, thank you, because you were the swing votes in both stormwater and Margaritaville, and Bruce, I will never say the word ‘data” without thinking of you! Thank you to everyone who participated over the past six years and I know you will participate in supporting the new council as we move forward.” Then, tearing up, she concluded: “It has been an honor to be your Mayor over these past three weeks during this crisis, and that is a privilege I will never forget!”

The outgoing council then unanimously certified the March 17 Town election results, ratifying that Atterholt, Allers & Veach won the three open seats, along with the two Charter Amendment referendum questions that move Town elections from March to November and lengthen Council terms from 3 to 4 years.

New Town Council

The Town Clerk swore in Allers, Atterholt and Veach, with Cereceda intoning, “That finishes our job,” and the three outgoing members signed off. The new panel under the “Reorganization of Council” elected a new Mayor & Vice Mayor. Allers nominated Ray Murphy for Mayor, with Veach nominating Atterholt. “I respectfully decline,” said Atterholt, “though it is much appreciated!” Council then unanimously elected Murphy as Mayor, marking it the second time he’s held the position of Town Mayor. “This is an honor,” he said, “to be Mayor of my hometown!” Atterholt then nominated Hosafros as Vice Mayor and she received unanimous election, making it her second time as well to be Vice Mayor. She said to Murphy, “I hope to be of assistance to you in any way I can!”

Under “Public Hearings,” Council unanimously approved the “2nd & Final Reading of the Text Amendment Waterbody Setbacks” to set a uniform setback baseline; and the “Second Reading of Amended Vessel Control & Water Safety” to begin to restore some of the Back Bay No Wake Zones recently revised by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission as they replaced signs damaged by 2017’s Hurricane Irma.

Under “Town Manager Items,” Council authorized the Hernstadt to extend leases for boaters currently in the Town’s Mooring Field, but not to accept any new boats, along with protective measures for Town Staff who service those boats as well as land-based resources like the dinghy dock, showers and laundry. Council briefly discussed changing meetings from the 1st and 3rd Monday of the month to Tuesdays, as well as moving Management & Planning Sessions from the 1st Thursday to later in each month, but opted to retain the current schedule for the immediate future. Council, however, cancelled their April 9 M&P Session.

Island map showing locations of marine fuel and vessel launch areas within the town.

Hernstadt stated, “I have very good news. Due to the hard work of our staff and community members, inspectors for the ‘Community Rating System’ (CRS) affirmed that the Town has the potential to lower our insurance costs from Class 7 to Class 5! This can save the community $2.284 million and our citizens an average of $364! The bad news is we lose some of the criteria by accepting this now, so it may go up again in two years, but in our current crisis, this tax credit for our taxpayers is worth taking.” The CRS is a voluntary incentive-based community program that recognizes, encourages, and rewards local floodplain management activities that exceed the National Flood Insurance Program minimum standards.

Under “Reorganization of Liaisons to Town Advisory Boards,” Murphy will serve as liaison with the Audit Committee; Hosafros the Anchorage Advisory Committee; Allers the Bay Oaks Recreational Center Advisory Board and Public Safety Committee; Atterholt the Cultural & Environmental Learning Center Advisory Board and Veach the Community Resources Advisory Board and Marine Resources Task Force. Council as a whole will advise the Air Intrusion Relief Group as needed.

On outside committees, Murphy will be work with the Beach Elementary School Youth Council, Allers with the Horizon Council; Murphy with the Metropolitan Planning Organization with Atterholt the alternate, and Council unanimously recommended Hosafros for the Tourist Development Council that Lee County Commissioners must approve. Hosafros will serve as well on the Lee Human Services Council.

Under “Council member Items,” Veach suggested that the Town investigate allowing its Advisory Committees, now on hiatus, to meet virtually, asked for daily coronavirus updates, and that the Town now formulate “its strategy to reopen our businesses when possible.” Murphy agreed, but noted, “we still must hunker down, to get through this stretch.” Hosafros received clarifications on approvals to allow beach rakings and “Turtle Time” patrols, before Murphy concluded by congratulating “the new Council members, though I am sorry you come aboard under these conditions! We are all on the same team, to get the best things done for the Town, and I know you all feel the same!”