The Town of Fort Myers Beach Council, early in a marathon session that exceeded four-and-a-half hours, is once again complete, unanimously naming Joanne Shamp to finish the final three months of the term of former Vice Mayor Summer Stockton, who resigned for personal reasons effective Wednesday, November 30. Following Shamp’s selection, they again unanimously chose council member Rexann Hosafros as the new vice mayor. These occurred before a full chamber of approximately 80 residents.
Prior to selecting its newest member, Council heard brief presentations from Shamp and her five competitors – Bruce Butcher, Beth Cherry, Forrest “Butch” Critzer, Ber Stephenson, and Lorrie Wolf. Shamp, a member of the Local Planning Agency (LPA), Historic Preservation Board, Historic Advisory Committee, and the Citizens Emergency Response Team, as well as a declared candidate for the March 2017 Council election, became emotional during her remarks.
Joanne described “how I fell in love with this island at first sight!” She calls herself “an environmental naturalist, artist, historic preservationist, and LPA member who is a firm believer in our Town’s Comp Plan. I know that scares people but it identifies all our communities, from beach to bay, business to resident, historic preservation to future construction. I want to keep Fort Myers Beach as a healthy small town, not regressive or stagnant but vital that seamlessly blends new with old to reflect the charm of its people – polite, honest, and welcoming!” Following the candidate remarks, it took all of one ballot to unanimously select Shamp.
Council then chose a vice mayor. Mayor Dennis Boback nominated council member Tracey Gore, while council member Anita Cereceda placed Hosafros’ name in nomination. Gore graciously stepped aside for Hosafros, accepting her thanks, with Council voting 5 -0 to name Hosafros the new Vice Mayor.
A Thousand Cupcakes
Prior to these elections, the four original council members heard Public Comments, including several who made pitches for the prospective new member. Joanna Campbell and Betty Simpson, however, carried the banner for a crucial subject – cupcakes!
Joanna and Betty recently learned the Town intends to transfer its birthday celebration on December 31 from Times Square to the Bay Oaks Recreation Center, including its annual complimentary distribution of 1,000 cupcakes that afternoon. They represent the roughly 10 women who have hosted this for the past 21 years and feel this will disappoint visitors and residents at Times Square, who will not travel to Bay Oaks.
“People love the cupcakes,” Betty said enthusiastically. “Tourists cannot believe the cupcakes are free. I am behind Bay Oaks 100% and favor a new Town celebration there, but it should be totally separate from the cupcakes. We hope you allow us to continue to host this in Times Square.” Council determined at the end of its session that there is not enough time to implement to new Bay Oaks program in 2016, and this should wait until next year, when the new Parks & Recreation director is in place.
John Heim stated the Southwest Florida Clean Water Movement will once again protest area water conditions from atop the Matanzas Pass Bridge beginning New Year’s Day “every day, throughout the season and year if necessary,” to inform the general public on water quality issues, saying that “we want to work with you, not against you.”
Town Council addressed the Red Coconut RV Park setbacks under the first reading of the Land Development Code Amendment Ordinance 16-09, with two hearings necessary to amend it. This will reduce the setback to five feet from the paved right-of-way on the bay side along Donora Road, and five feet from the right-of-way on Estero Boulevard on the Gulf Side. Council approved the first hearing by a 4 to 1 vote, with Gore against, and set the second hearing for its December 19, 2016 meeting.
Many Many Months
Under the Administrative Agenda, public works director Scott Baker provided Town Council a thorough review of the Estero Boulevard ReFRESH Project to explain the current issue involving stormwater outfalls for roadway and island drainage, to approve an Interlocal agreement with Lee County to help fund 20 additional outfalls for $2.9 million, with the county paying up to $400,000. Scott explained that if the Town does not approve the Interlocal Agreement, Lee County may bring the Estero Boulevard project to a temporary close for “many, many months,” eliciting a loud murmur from the crowd.
Hosafros said these technical issues are beyond an ordinary person, “as I don’t have the expertise to call all of our experts wrong. I have to trust that our staff hired honest people who are moving forward to the best of their abilities.” Gore feels that Lee County is asking the Town to pay too much, and “I am not comfortable moving forward without knowing how much debt we will subject the Town – how are we going to pay for this?”
Cereceda urged her colleagues to move forward “for the sake of the next generation and the future of our community. We need to send a message to the Lee County Commissioners that we are team players, and the Estero project is as important to us as it is to them.” Baker summarized that Lee County is contributing over $50 million, not only to Estero Boulevard reconstruction, but for new sidewalks and bicycle trails, with the additional charge to the Town as little as $200,000: “We are getting a great deal!”
Cereceda acknowledged that “this is a lot of money, but Estero Boulevard is so important to the Town; to throw this back is a great error.” Hosafros said “stopping this project at this time is a horrendous disservice to our residents and businesses.” Mayor Boback countered that “no one wants to stop the project, but Lee County is looking out for the best interests of its citizens and we need to look out for ours.”
Best Deal Available
Interim Town Manager James Steele stated that he strongly encourages Town Council to proceed regardless of the number of outfalls and cost. Cereceda said the Town brought on the Interim Town Manager because of his expertise with stormwater and budget issues, so if he feels this is the best deal available, they should take his word.
Shamp stated that she will “step forward to break this impasse because the Town hired the Interim Town Manager for his expertise at this moment in time, and I will support you out of my respect for you.” Gore added to Steele that “I respect you too, but in this case cannot support you.” Council approved the Interlocal with Lee County for the Estero Boulevard Project for additional stormwater outfalls by a 3 to 2 vote, with Mayor Boback and Gore against.
Under supplemental task authorization with Terra Tech, Inc., for additional outfalls along Phase II of the Estero Boulevard Project, Council passed this by a 4 to 1 vote, with Gore against. Under discussion of the proposed amendments to the Code of Ordinance Chapter 30, regarding stormwater utility provisions, Council passed this by a 3 to 2 vote, with the Mayor and Gore against.
In Closing Comments, Shamp said to her fellow council members that “I admire each of you. The citizens elected you and I appreciate the confidence you have in me – I am sure I will please you sometimes and disappoint you on others.”