The Town Council of Fort Myers Beach met before roughly 20 people on Monday, May 20, beginning at 9 a.m. Council handled a fairly pedestrian agenda in a brisk 1 hour and 47 minutes.
Under “Advisory Committee Items,” Katherine Light, Chair of the “Anchorage Advisory Committee (AAC),” stated that her volunteer group encourages the Town to continue to work with Mark Kincaid of Coastal Engineering Consultants, Inc., to attain the “Special Anchorage Area Designation” through the United States Coast Guard. The Town began to work on this in 2007, but ensuing Town Councils did not prioritize it.
The AAC was not enthusiastic about Kincaid’s suggestion that the Town should expand its Mooring Field or construct and operate its own Harbor Master Office with related amenities such as showers and restrooms. “We have not reached a consensus about expanding the Mooring Field,” said Light. “We get monthly occupancy reports and over the past few years we have been between 92 to 94 percent capacity, so we are not completely full with the exception of only a couple of days here and there. At this point, we have two bathroom and shower facilities at Matanzas On The Bay and we agree the dinghy dock needs help and is overcrowded. As for future planning, we think you should look at this for 5 to 10 years down the road, as it can take that long for the permitting and planning process, so that Town Council can do this in the future, but that takes time. We know your Harbor Master contract with Matanzas On The Bay is up for renewal but we urge you to not rush into anything, so that is our recommendation.”
In other matters, Council presented the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary a Proclamation declaring May 21 to 27 as “Safe Boating Week in the Town of Fort Myers Beach.” Under “Consent Agenda,” Council unanimously ratified an agreement for Thomas W. Franchino to serve as the Town’s Special Magistrate when the primary Town Magistrate, Myrnabelle Roche, is unavailable; approved a Resolution requested by Council member Joanne Shamp to support the Town’s Air Intrusion Relief (AIR) group to decrease the number of unnecessary low aircraft overflights over the Town, increase the altitude of aircraft when arriving over the Town, and make Runway 24 at Southwest Florida International Airport the preferred nighttime runway; and appointed Tom Gressman to the Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Citizens Advisory Committee.
Two Mulholland Award Winners
Under “Administrative Agenda,” Council decided four items. The Marine Resources Task Force brought forward two recommendations for the 2019 Mulholland Stewardship Award, named in honor of the late former Fort Myers Beach Mayor John Mulholland: Tom Myers for his 40 years of service as President of the Friends of Matanzas Pass Preserve before retiring last February; and the late Dr. Leroy Hommerding for the green features he implemented while Director of the Fort Myers Beach Public Library before his death earlier this year.
Vice Mayor Ray Murphy made the motion “that we approve both these gentlemen.” Mayor Anita Cereceda stated that should the Motion pass, “this would be the first time we will have two Mulholland Stewardship Award recipients but both are extraordinary and well-deserving.” After providing its unanimous approval to designate the two men, Council will schedule a date to make the public presentations, with perhaps representatives of Dr. Hommerding’s family from Minnesota able to attend.
Council unanimously approved the Newton Beach Park Strategic Plan, though several members had differing viewpoints on a potential name change. Council member Bruce Butcher stated, “If changing the park’s name increases its visitation, I am all for that.” Shamp however said she has received telephone calls against that, while Cereceda said, “I like the idea of a sign with the Newton name along with the ‘Seven Seas Cottage’ as that has an allure. People may not know who in the heck Newton was, but if we keep the park in his name, they can learn about him, so it is important to retain the name.”
Under “Surplus of Radios,” the Bonita Springs Fire Control & Rescue District requested the Town donate ten surplus radios and chargers to them, to communicate with their Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) volunteers, as the Town is upgrading away from that equipment. Shamp suggested the Town first check with the Fort Myers Beach Fire Department about possibly reinstating CERT and if they can use the equipment, saying, “If it does not fit into their program, then that is cool – let them go!” Butcher and Murphy agreed, with Shamp saying she would have that conversation with the FMB Fire Department within the next week, and made a motion to table the matter until the June 3 Council meeting. The Motion passed 4 to 1, with Council member Rexann Hosafros against.
Council unanimously approved a “Special Event Permit for a Memorial Weekend Kickoff Concert” at Bayfront Park, adjacent to Nervous Nellies Restaurant, with five entertainers playing on Friday, May 24, from 5 to 10 p.m. Proceeds benefit The Tabarrini Children’s Music Outreach Foundation that provides lessons and guitars to local kids. Council approval is contingent, however, on the concert sponsors receiving approval from the FMB Fire Department as well as paying the Town for electricity usage.
Dock Permit & Town Contractors
Town Manager Roger Hernstadt informed Council that “the Town experienced more Red Drift Algae on the beach than we could pick up with staff, so we used our contract company for that and the Tourist Development Council will reimburse us that expense. I also attended the Legislative Review Session with Florida State Senators Kathleen Passidomo and Lizbeth Benacquisto and told them how much Council appreciates their hard work on our behalf.”
Under Town Attorney Items, John Herin, Jr., stated that a local business owner had already brought two suits against the Town from Council’s May 6 decision to release the Stop Work Order for a “Dock & Shore Permit” for 152 Crescent Street, claiming that Council took inappropriate action. Staff originally granted the Crescent Street owner a work permit, then learned through rumor that the rear of this property was filled in. This raised questions about other properties that share the canal, leading to the Stop Work Order that brought the case before Council.
In a separate matter, Butcher reiterated his view “that any contractor responsible for a lack of following through with the Town’s permitting process should be subject to some penalty. Do other municipalities have rules for fining contractors for not following through with the process?” Hernstadt stated that local contractor qualifying boards can take action against its registered members if they do not adhere to State requirements. “Lee County handles that activity for us and Fort Myers Beach citizens can file complaints with those boards.”
Election Dates & Council Terms
Under Council Member Items, Murphy said he is still unsure over Council’s direction on whether or not to pursue moving the Town’s current electoral cycle from March to November, as recommended by the Lee County Elections Supervisor Tommy Doyle. “I was under the impression we were changing the election date,” replied Cereceda. “We would need other discussions about changing the lengths of Council terms, as that would require a Referendum, but we can change the election date with a Resolution.” “John Herin will provide us several different options to study the issue,” added Hosafros. “You will have that for your consideration at your June 3 Council Meeting,” said Herin.
Shamp however is concerned about changing the election date to November, and that a decision like that should go before the voters in a Referendum, reminding her colleagues that “this was on the 2016 ballot and lost by 67% of the vote, so we need to hear the voice of the people.” Cereceda only received one negative comment to date on shifting the voting to November, and felt the 2016 ballot initiative to alter Council terms from three to four years failed because it was one of 18 issues that year. Shamp countered that “a November election loses its vibrancy. It is hurricane season and no one is here.” Murphy said that voters would now approve the issue because “every time you turn around, it seems like the Town has another election!” Hosafros agreed with Murphy, while Butcher stated, “Joanne raises a good point.”
Several Council members expressed concerns over their recent Long-Range Planning Session with Lorna Kibbey of Leadership Solutions, and they will invite her to attend the Management & Planning Session on Thursday, June 6, for follow-up, with that beginning at 8 a.m. Council’s next meeting will be Monday, June 3, at 9 a.m. Council will host an Air Issues Roundtable and PowerPoint presentation with Federal Aviation Administration administrator Michael O’Hara in Town Hall on Thursday, May 30, from 9 to 11 a.m., though without public input or comment. Council adjourned at 10:47 a.m.
By Gary Mooney