The Town Council of Fort Myers Beach met on Tuesday morning, January 22, with an overflow crowd that cascaded into the lobby to discuss the amended Stormwater Ordinance. The session began on a somber note, however, with A Moment of Silence for Dr. Leroy Hommerding, the Director of the Fort Myers Beach Public Library who was murdered in the Library entrance by a homeless man on Sunday morning, January 20. Council members expressed their condolences at the start, then discussed possible safety solutions near the end, under “Council Member Items.”
“Fort Myers Beach is known as a welcoming community, without a doubt,” said Council member Anita Cereceda. “We have two churches engaged in helping homeless people with issues, but the Town has an overriding obligation to those who live and visit here to protect and provide for their safety, and this is the opportunity to have a broader discussion over what can and cannot be done relative to these issues. There are people in Times Square who just hang out there on benches all day and, even though we now have emotional and passionate hearts, we must have that discussion about how to provide for the safety of our residents, and we must include Chapel By The Sea and Beach Baptist in those conversations. I look forward to participating in those and perhaps even the creation of a task force, as this is something we cannot ignore for the sake of our community and the memory of Dr. Hommerding. We cannot, however, throw a blanket over all homeless people and blame them, as there are many different issues.”
“Everyone knows we had trouble with Chapel By The Sea and God’s Table back to 2005,” stated Council member Dennis Boback. “If you are going to attempt to stop or control the homeless issue, you must look at why these people are coming here and what makes them stay, to find ways to control this influx of invaders, and that is what I call them. I may be a curmudgeon but these people don’t even try to help themselves – they just come here for all the free stuff, then hang out around people’s houses, so it starts at the top with the folks who draw them here. Our responsibility is the safety of our community so we need to speak to Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno and not the South District Commander to take care of this. A short-term solution is to remove the dinghy-dock by Bay Oaks that attracts folks from the derelict boats, as no one uses that because of the element that hangs out down there.”
“It sounds like we need to reach out to the churches to get their dialog and thoughts,” offered Council member Bruce Butcher. “Perhaps we need a greater presence from the Sheriff, with a substation back on the island. The other day I rode the tram and trolley and there were incidents, right in front of the Library, with two motorcycles riding on the sidewalk, and Dennis told us about the person riding the golf cart on the sidewalk right in front of the deputies who did nothing, so I don’t know what they are doing. We must talk to the new Sheriff.”
Primary Responsibility & Enforcement
Vice Mayor Joanne Shamp stated that “our primary responsibility is safety, so it is imperative we discuss that with the Sheriff, to find out if our current method of coverage is effective. Perhaps we need officers dedicated specifically to us, or some sort of hybrid coverage with private officers hired by the Town like Sanibel and Naples do, or our own substation, as we have issues that go hand-in-hand with our quality of life, and must do this quickly. State and Federal regulations come into play over what we can and cannot do, and we need to interact with other communities that abut us and face the same issues, to try to find out who we can work with to solve them.”
“I did speak with Sheriff Marceno,” said Mayor Tracey Gore, “and he is pissed! Town Manager Roger Hernstadt will set up a workshop with him to address these issues with Council. We have people with bad behavior coming to the island because many parts of it look like crap and it did not look like this when I was young. This is why we have codes but when we follow them, people say we are mean and top heavy, but the code is the code and public safety has to be number one! This tragedy is fresh on our mind, but during our last Council meeting we had a stabbing nearby and last April another murder, so things are going south and we need to get ahead of it. This stuff does not happen on Sanibel because they do not have a trolley and their businesses understand that their citizens come first. The Sheriff said loitering and vagrancy on the beach are not easy to solve, but we need to call the Sheriff’s Office if you experience problems so we can get a handle on these things.”
The Town Manager explained, “We do trespass people off Town properties, as we see that as public safety and a necessity. You must take these issues as well to the other governmental bodies, like the Lee County Sheriff and Commissioners and the Beach Library Board, as successful programs are done throughout the nation in collaboration, to bring something positive out of this tragic event.”
Stormwater & Other Items
Council member Boback left the Council Meeting on an Excused Absence from 9:52 to 11:42 a.m.
Under Public Hearings: the “First Reading & Public Hearing for the Amended Stormwater Utility Ordinance,” that attracted the Council Chambers capacity crowd with an overflow of approximately 75 more people in the lobby, Council approve by a 4 to 0 vote with Boback absent an amended Stormwater Utility Ordinance that exempts from the fee, residents who have systems independent from the Town’s. Following this, loud applause broke out, then most people exited the meeting.
In other matters, Lee County Assistant County Manager Doug Meurer provided a reFRESH Estero Boulevard Projects update, emphasizing that work will be complete by 2021. Council heard Advisory Committee Reports from the Public Safety Committee and Local Planning Agency; and approved by 4 to 0 votes with Boback absent, the permit for the 61st Annual Lion’s Club Shrimp Festival; Tourist Development Council Funding Requests; and $910,300 in Impact Fees for sidewalk replacement.
Council approved a redesign and waterline replacement with DRMP, Incorporated, for Times Square by a 4 to 0 vote, with Gore abstaining because a family member works for them. Council unanimously denied a $67,200 Lien Reduction Request for 1300 Estero Boulevard; unanimously postponed to a date uncertain the Winds Parking Lot Agreement Proposal; unanimously approved a one-year Street Sweeper Extended Lease Agreement for $77,515.80; and unanimously accepted a $900 donation in memory of Kelly Leary to install two mini-reefs at the Mound House to improve water quality. Council broke for lunch at 1:17 p.m., to reconvene for the January Management & Planning Session at 2 p.m.
By Gary Mooney