Council Retains Town Attorney

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Herin Survives 3 – 2 Vote

The Town Council of Fort Myers Beach held its final 2019 Meeting on Monday morning, December 9, before roughly 30 people. In its final official calendar year action, the panel, in a split 3 to 2 vote, retained Town Attorney John Herin, Jr, granting him a contract extension through October 2020.

There was little Council discussion prior to the vote, as most of the five members made their preference known at the recent December 5 Management & Planning Session. At that time, Council member Rexann Hosafros reiterated her opinion that the Town needed a fulltime attorney in Town Hall, to basically be part of Town staff and available at all times, with Mayor Anita Cereceda in agreement. Herin, however, is a partner with Fox Rothschild from the Miami area, though his principal client is the Town. As such, he commutes to Fort Myers Beach for Council and Local Planning Agency meetings as well as all other necessary legal obligations.

In speaking in his support at the Management & Planning Session, Council member Joanne Shamp noted that the previous Town Council selected Herin because broad legal issues occur while managing a Town and a large firm brings wide-ranging experience in many areas. She stated that anytime she needs to speak with Herin when he is not in Town Hall, he either immediately answers his telephone or quickly returns her call, including evenings and weekends. Council member Bruce Butcher said that he voted against hiring Herin last year, as he agreed with Cereceda and Hosafros for an in-house attorney, but now that he’s worked with Herin, he finds him an excellent counselor who rapidly replies anytime Butcher has an issue, question or concern. That basically left Vice Mayor Ray Murphy as the deciding vote, and he admitted, “I see both sides of this issue!”

At the December 9 Meeting, just prior to Council’s brief discussion then vote, Herin stated, “I have had individual discussions with you five regarding extending our service agreement, as well as your expectations and suggestions on how I can improve. It is my strong desire to extend our agreement and I am certain I will meet and exceed the expectations of each one of you.”

Murphy quickly ended any suspense, saying, “As we do not have any better options at this time, I am in favor of renewing John Herin’s contract.” Shamp simply stated, “I agree with Ray.” Hosafros noted, “I retain my current position,” with Cereceda adding, “So do I, but Ray wants to extend the current agreement. I reached out to the gentlemen who are currently running for Town Council, as this will affect the new people here. John, your contract essentially is an ‘at-will’ agreement, with three new people coming who may have a different opinion.” Murphy quickly added, “This is true of anything,” with Butcher offering no comments. Council then extended Herin’s contract until Fall 2020 by a 3 – 2 vote, with Cereceda and Hosafros Against.

Water Testing and Mooring

Under “Local Achievements & Awards,” Murphy introduced Captain Casey Streeter, who is a commercial fisherman and co-founder of the Florida Commercial Watermen’s Conservation (FCWC). This is a science-based water quality testing group begun and operated by commercial fishermen from Key West to the Panhandle, to help the scientific community to gain a better understanding of water quality issues and Red Tide events through real time testing from its citizen-scientists, to find scientific-driven solutions to water quality issues. The FCWC works with the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to achieve this. Council members presented Captain Streeter with a check to purchase testing equipment that a local Fort Myers Beach boat captain will use to collect offshore water samples.

Under “Advisory Committee Reports,” Katherine Light, Chair of the Anchorage Advisory Committee (AAC), stated, “Matanzas Inn is our Uplands Service Provider and we are very happy with their service, but our guests tell us they have just two shower facilities. Our mooring field has 70 balls so that can be 140 or more people, and we are examining adding 19 more, so we would like to expand by 4 to 6 additional shower units. At our last AAC meeting, we voted to request the Town to look for potential sites where we can build facilities for an in-house service. We wanted to bring this to your attention, to allow Town Staff to identify prospective sites.”

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Town Council members present a check to Captain Casey Streeter of the Florida Commercial Fishermen’s Conservation for water testing equipment for FMB waters.

Under “Consent Agenda,” Council unanimously approved appointing Karen Woodson to the Bay Oaks Recreational Campus Advisory Board (BORCAB); authorized Town Manager Roger Hernstadt to execute documents for the New Year’s Eve Fireworks Display, though the business-led Firework Fund Committee will pay for the actual fireworks; and granted a Special Event Permit to allow open containers in Times Square on New Year’s Eve from Noon to 1 a.m.

Public Hearings

 Council held three “Public Hearings.” It unanimously approved a Special Exemption Variance in the Residential Medium-Density Zoning District for the Mango Street Inn Bed & Breakfast at 126 Mango Street, along with refunding its $3,800 application fee. Council unanimously forwarded the Land Development Code Amendment for “Fences, Walls, & Entrance Gates” to its January 21, 2020 Meeting, after providing Staff input.

It held the first Public Hearing for the Publix Supermarket Request to add a new liquor store at 4791 Estero Boulevard, Publix representatives provided favorable responses to the five previous Council concerns. They agreed to a potential new pharmacy as a future option, will discourage single-use plastic bags, explained that the Fort Myers Beach grocery has slightly higher-than-average prices because its employees make 10% more than most Publix stores, noted that store lights are already turtle-friendly, and Publix will add a lane for exiting vehicles to turn right onto Estero Boulevard.

Cereceda noted that while she encounters little public opposition to the liquor store, “98% of those folks would prefer you add another pharmacy, as the only other one on Fort Myers Beach does not accept Blue Cross/Blue Shield, so a pharmacy would be a tremendous benefit!” Though the co-owner and manager of “Skipper’s Liquor” spoke against the proposed liquor store as an unfair advantage to small business, Council unanimously forwarded the Ordinance to its Second Reading on January 21, 2020.

Ballots, Liens & a New PIO

Under “Administrative Agenda,” Council unanimously approved updated ballot language for the two Town Referendums on the March 2020 ballot: to shift March elections to November to match Federal & State election cycles, and extend Council terms from three to four years. Council, however, did not authorize a $79,000 to $94,000 contract with Raftelis to perform a Water, Stormwater, and Impact Fees rate study. Hosafros suggested bidding out the contract that received 4 to 1 approval, with Shamp against.

Council unanimously approved a $102,300 contract to EvolvTec Systems to protect the Town’s information technology system. They unanimously approved the final year option of the “Professional Services Agreement” with Matanzas Inn to continue the “Upland Mooring Field Services” for the Town. Council unanimously approved the “Connecticut Street Sidewalk Maintenance Agreement with the Florida Department of Transportation,” with the Town Manager saying, “In this type of agreement, the State builds the sidewalk but you maintain it.”

Council addressed four lien reduction requests from 205 Sterling Avenue. Since the property owner previously received a reduction from the Town on two, but did not pay them within the 30-day time frame, Council unanimously refused the lower the $6,800 and $3,400 amounts, with Hosafros saying “That would be a horrendous precedent.” Council granted a one-third reduction for the remaining two, to $17,922.50 and $28,542.

Under “Town Attorney Items,” Council unanimously instructed Herin to update and simplify the Town’s “Vacation of Plats & Right-of-Way” Code. Under “Council Member Items,” Butcher reiterated his belief from Thursday’s Management & Planning Session that Council should immediately install white lights with necessary protective shielding on Estero Boulevard: “There are incidents that harm turtles and incidents that harm people, and those that harm people are more exponential, so we must look out after and advocate for the protection of people, and I think that white lights will do that, and that is my prepared statement!”

Cereceda inquired when the Town’s new Public Information Officer will start, with the Town Manager replying that the interview process is underway, with the hope of having that person on-board in January. Cereceda said that she would like to see the Town branding effort complete and presented to Council before the current panel disbands following the March 2020 election, as Butcher, Shamp, and she are not up for new terms. The Town Manager felt the study may be ready by late February, “depending on input we receive and Council is happy with what they produce.” The Mayor concluded by “wishing everyone a joyous Holiday season. A big ‘Thank You’ to our volunteers and staff, and we hope to see everyone in 2020!”