Manager, Attorney Rules Discussed
After swearing in two new members, along with electing a new Mayor and Vice Mayor at its March 18 meeting, the revamped Fort Myers Beach Town Council held its first Management & Planning Session on Thursday morning, March 21.
Assistant Lee County Manager Doug Meurer provided an Estero Boulevard Projects Update, beginning with, “This one is not very exciting, as fortunately everything is going well! Major construction continues on Segment 2, we are almost ready to approve contracts for Segments 3 and 4 that we will do at the same time, and concurrent Segments 5 and 6, to the end of Fort Myers Beach, are in their 30% design review, to meet the 2021 completion date. We have 40 to 60 construction workers on the job on any given day, with another 10 to 12 project managers and engineers, and now work Saturdays, in addition to the Town’s work on its water projects.” Council asked about brick pavers, unlevel road areas, landscaping, public relations work, construction detours and related items.
Under Review of Town Council Policies & Procedures Manual, Council discussed memorializing a policy to choose future Town Managers and Town Attorneys, based upon recommendations by Council member Joanne Shamp in the recent selection of current Town Attorney John Herin, Jr. Town Manager Roger Hernstadt clarified, “the entire document is not for review – only the part about the Town Manager and Town Attorney hiring process.”
“I like what this says,” Council member Rexann Hosafros said, “but we need to clarify the difference in job preferences over requirements, with Council only voting for candidates who meet the qualifications. I prefer the term, ‘requirements,’ so either you have something or you don’t and the manual should say that in black-&-white so this does not happen again.”
Hosafros was referring to the botched attempt by the previous Council to select a new Town Attorney in August 2018, when it initially chose Thomas Thanas. When Council was to take his confirmation vote at its September 10, 2018 meeting, then-Council member, now Mayor Anita Cereceda stated that “several people brought up to me that in our Request For Proposal, this applicant may not meet the qualifications, specifically his lack of five years’ experience practicing law in Florida.” Council member Bruce Butcher agreed, but the other three Council members, including Shamp, stated that even though the 5 years’ experience was a preference and not a requirement, Thanas, who recently relocated from Illinois, met the qualifications and hired him on a 3 to 2 vote, with Butcher and Cereceda against. Just before the September 13, 2018 Management & Planning Session, however, Thanas informed the Town he would not accept over the lack of unanimous Council support.
Performance & Contract Reviews
In a related item, Butcher asked where the Town Manager review and contract adjustment information should be, with Cereceda suggesting “under the review process; what should we say about that?” Butcher suggested that Council “review the Town Manager at one time, then his contract at another,” with Shamp adding, “I am fine with putting something like that in there, if that is what everyone wants.”
This concerned the outgoing Council’s action on March 4, the day before the March 5 election, approving Shamp’s suggestion that the Town, despite not advertising the proposed action in advance, award the Town Manager a 5% pay increase, five-year contract extension, and remove the language that provided a decreasing severance pay over the life of the contract should he be terminated without cause by a future Council, among other additional benefits, despite having two years remaining on his original contact. This controversial move passed by a 3 to 1 vote, with Cereceda against and Butcher on an excused absence.
Under International Property Management Code (IPMC), Council discussed which aspects of the IPMC are adequate for the Town, which it can delete, and what it should add. “What we are trying to accomplish,” explained Hernstadt, “is to make the entire IPMC comparable to the Town, except for any specific sections you exclude, to stay consistent and avoid any conflicts with the Land Development Code (LDC) and the Southwest Florida Building Code. When a conflict does exist, the LDC will take precedence. We want to follow the IMPC wherever possible except where you firmly state it is not applicable, and that is our ultimate goal. When you first form a Town, you scramble to get stuff into place, then 20 or so years later, after you have grown and changed, you revisit everything to see if the process is still working and that is where we are right now.”
“You create these as living documents subject to review and it is 24 years later so it is time to look at them,” said Vice Mayor Ray Murphy. “Maybe we need Comprehensive Plan and LDC Review Committees and the best person to coordinate those is the original author, Bill Spikowski, to change and update them.” Cereceda agreed, saying “that would be better than us circling around this, trying to do it in bits and pieces.” Shamp would like a price estimate for the work, “to have a conversation on how we would pay for that.”
New FMB Branding
Under Departmental Report, Council heard updates from Community Development, Cultural Resources, Finance, Parks & Recreation, Public Works and the Utility Department. Shamp clarified that the Ocean Habitat Ibis/Egret Streets artificial mini-reef pilot project is just for that location and, “moving forward, other Town property owners must pay for their own mini-reefs to be part of that water quality project; it is not on a first-come, first-serve basis but dedicated only to that canal.” Hernstadt confirmed this and stated, “If people want to step up to have one at their own cost, they can contact the Town and we will put them in touch with the installer.”
Council members asked about the three options for new Fort Myers Beach entry signs at the island’s north and south ends. “We are in the process of developing a branding effort for the Town,” explained Hernstadt, “especially to spruce up signage that in my opinion is a little flat. We share these with you and already received feedback from the Local Planning Agency.” Council provided input on the designs and colors, concluding that none of the concepts, as Cereceda summarized, “are Fort Myers Beach!” Butcher suggested that “what I would like to do is to wait until after the Strategic Plan Review session on April 11, to get a better concept of what the brand should be for Fort Myers Beach, as right now our brand is in the clouds; I have no idea what it is!” Shamp stated that “we need something unique and lovely!”
The Management & Planning Session adjourned at 11:20 a.m. Council reconvened for a joint session with the Anchorage Advisory Committee at 1 p.m., then for a joint session with the Marine Resources Task Force at 2:30 p.m. The next Council Meeting is Monday, April 1, with the next Management & Planning Session on Thursday, April 4, both in Council Chambers at 9 a.m.
By Gary Mooney