First Public Election Forum
Fort Myers Beach voters have three public forum opportunities to hear directly from the seven candidates vying for the three Town Council seats on the March 17 ballot. The Beach Ministerial Association hosted the first Candidate Forum, in a unique event entitled “Why You,” at the Beach United Methodist Church on Tuesday, February 18. Council candidates are Dan Allers, Jim Atterholt, Robert Burandt, Bruce Butcher, Forrest (Butch) Critser, David Drumm and Bill Veach.
Beach United Methodist Pastor Ivan Corbin welcomed the roughly 50 audience members, saying, “We brought the candidates here to hear why they want to be a Council member, and are happy current Mayor Anita Cereceda will moderate. After this, please stay for coffee and refreshments and spend additional time with the candidates.” Cereceda is not eligible for reelection, as she is term-limited from doing so, with Council member Joanna Shamp not seeking another term, making Butcher the only incumbent in the race.
Cereceda explained the Forum’s unusual format: “Each candidate gets eight minutes to answer a single question: ‘Why You as a Town Council Member?’ We will go alphabetically and I will start the timer.”
“It all started when I moved here, as I almost immediately got involved with the community, beginning as an Ambassador for the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce, but I never considered politics until a few years ago, when we got hit with a little thing called Hurricane Irma! We were ready to evacuate when a gentleman in his late 80s with an oxygen tank asked me to put up his hurricane shutters, and I basically barricaded he and his elderly wife in their home with no way out, with a prediction of a 12 to 15-foot storm surge, so we stayed as well, as I couldn’t get the thought out of my mind they may be stuck in their house when everything was over. Once we all made it though, we checked on them and anyone else.
“That led to a greater involvement, joining the Bay Oaks Recreational Center Advisory Board, then the Local Planning Agency. I ran for Town Council last year and got close but didn’t quite make it, so here I am again. The Town is changing and moving forward, and I love a challenge, so I want to help us move to the next step. I want to improve Town safety, street and crosswalk lighting and technology, and to be your voice, as I work for you!”
“I grew up and went to school in Wisconsin, where I married Brenda, my college sweetheart, and we had the idealistic vision to save the world so we moved to Washington DC! I served on Capitol Hill and it was an interesting and exciting experience, but we did not save the world so we moved back to Indiana to start our family, eventually having three boys. I remained active, however, serving two terms in the Indiana Assembly, then after a brief time with AT&T, became the State Insurance Commissioner for four years, led the Regulatory Commission for five, and was Chief of Staff to the Governor for 2-1/2. We began visiting Fort Myers Beach to see my uncle, Jim Steele, who later became the Interim Town Manager, and bought our place in 2012.
“I am not angry at anyone and I do not have an agenda, but I believe my experience can help the Town move forward. I have three issues: #1 is clean water, as Florida finally has a Governor who gets it. #2 is fines and Code Enforcement, as the money the Town collects from fines quadrupled in the last few years, so I prefer warnings and education. #3 is I support TPI-FMB. I am an optimist, so with limited government, common sense, professionalism and positivity, we have a bright future!”
“Public service started for me in the Detroit area, where I was a police officer, then I went to Law School while working fulltime. I first came to Fort Myers Beach on vacations in the 1970s, bought property in 1985 and moved permanently around 1999, so I not only survived Charley and Irma but the worst of them all – the ‘No Name’ Hurricane of 2001! I watched this community go from Lee County to become the Town of Fort Myers Beach and my law firm actually represented the Town for about ten years, so my involvement with it goes back to then. After that, I remained in private practice with the same firm for 35 years, so I am not one to move around.
“I have the education, background and work experience on this beach to help guide you through Town Hall, and I am upset that the Town has a $40 million budget deficit over stormwater and sewer projects, with those not yet complete so we are not done. People complain to me about Code Enforcement, but I never had any issue with Town Staff over this. I would like to monitor the budget, to determine how much money we really have, and would like to give back to the community that has been so good to me!”
“This is my third time running for Town Council and I am one-for-two! I got involved in 2013 when the Town reorganized the Public Safety Committee in response to two pedestrian deaths at the south end, and thought I could help with Estero Boulevard, as I could not understand how we can drive down it at 3-miles-per-hour and you know what I am talking about tonight! I remain concerned about Estero Boulevard lighting safety, for you can almost be in an accident with pedestrians anytime. I don’t want to be the person getting hit, or hit someone and not feel good about myself for a long, long time.
“My three main issues are Estero Boulevard, Downtown redevelopment, and Town finances, as we are now in good shape. The Town’s vision is to become the best small Town beach community that is beautiful and enjoyable and unique and that is what I want to achieve. Town Hall should be responsible, with good service that our citizens deserve, and we must fix Estero Boulevard lighting. My background in the automotive industry made problem solving a big part of my job, and I have the skills to do this on Town Council. If you like the job I am doing for you, please vote for me again; if not, we have some really good candidates up here!”
Forrest (Butch) Critser
“I came here for the first time on August 12, 2004, the day before Hurricane Charley, so that was my introduction to Fort Myers Beach! My son Shawn, who is the Pastor of Beach Baptist Church, was here so we packed up the families and headed to Alico Arena before going back home. That November, it was snowing and the kids called from here, saying they were outside fishing, and they asked ‘what are you doing in Kentucky,’ and my wife and I said ‘let’s go’ and the rest is history!
I pinch myself every time I drive over that bridge, to remind myself I really live in Paradise now for 15 years, as I love it today as much as then. The people here are so friendly and cordial, and are always there if you need them. I was a Pastor in Kentucky for 30 years, so I am a ‘people person’ and know how to listen. I ran unsuccessfully for Council in 2016, but got involved with the Town on the Community Resources Advisory Board (CRAB). Our Downtown needs a facelift – it looks like a bomb went off there – and TPI-FMB will make it attractive again. I would like as well a Veteran’s Memorial at Bayside Park. We need Government Light and great water; I love this community and I love you folks.”
“I listened to the other candidates and have something to say about all of their issues. I own my own small business on the island and live in the residential area. I love this Town, the beach and all of its people, because life here reminds me of the small New Jersey town of about 5,000 people where I grew up, in a tight community where we all looked out for one-another, like we do here.
“My family was kind-of poor and I married young, so I did not get much formal education back then, but later I went back to school, attending Fairleigh Dickinson University and became a schoolteacher for a while, then a stockbroker and in insurance, and I owned a couple of gas stations, and I ruined everything and went broke a few times, but from all of these experiences I learned a lot! The real education you get is when you tackle problems like paying for groceries and the electric bill and finding a way for your kids to grow up successfully, but I did that and now that I am close to 70, I want to give back to my community. That may sound corny but now I have the time and capability and the opportunity, so here I am. Hopefully you all recognize a little bit of you in me.”
“I was born and raised in Colorado, working my way through college debt-free, as you could then. I traveled for a few years, met my wife, became a Product Development Engineer, moved to Salt Lake City and earned a Computer Science degree, and eventually started my own company I grew from the garage to over 100 employees in five years, and three years later sold it. We moved to Wyoming to be with Mom until she passed from cancer, then came to Fort Myers Beach, watched the sunset, met great people, and fell in love with our small town vibe!
“We bought a house on the beach and I became a Florida Master Naturalist as well as a volunteer on the Town’s Marine Resources Task Force, where within two months I was the Chair, and our plastic straw ban got little Fort Myers Beach in ‘National Geographic!’ I was also on the Public Safety Committee and CRAB. My Town Council platform is pretty simple – clean water and our people. I love that this Town has volunteers and businesspeople and a great quality of life, with your beach access often the focal point of your life, and I will fight to maintain those along with Downtown redevelopment. I understand what works and will come up with creative ways to move the Town forward!”
“Here is the surprise,” said Cereceda! “One quick extra question – what one thing about your personality do you want people to remember?” Allers stated, “I am very approachable.” “I am a servant-leader, so it not about myself, because I work for you,” said Atterholt. Burandt noted, “As an attorney, I am prepared and thorough.” “I am persistent and when I believe in something, I strongly pursue it until I can’t anymore,” related Butcher. Critser explained, “I love God, my country, and fought for it in Vietnam. As a pastor, I know how to listen.” Drumm said listener as well, “because you do that when you work with people for 50 years. It is an art I do well.” Veach concluded, “I am an engineer by training but a creative person who is a problem solver – I love to solve problems!”
The next Candidate Forum is Wednesday, February 26, at St. Raphael’s Episcopal Church at 5601 Williams Drive at 6:30 p.m. Finally, the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce hosts its “Commotion By The Ocean” at the Beach Baptist Church at 130 Connecticut Street on Thursday, March 5, with a “Meet & Greet” at 6 p.m. and program from 7 to 9 p.m. For information on the March 17 election, call the Lee County Elections Office at 239-LEE-VOTE (533-8683) or see www.lee.vote.
Caption: Town Council candidates addressed attendees of the first public forum Tuesday night. (L to R): Dan Allers, Jim Atterholt, Robert Burandt, Bruce Butcher, David Drumm, Forrest (Butch) Critser, and Bill Veach.