Approves Brand, Bayside Design
The Fort Myers Beach Town Council began a historic seven-and-a-half-hour meeting of Friday, March 13, by cancelling the 62nd Annual Shrimp Festival and 22nd Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and ended it with equally momentous decisions to declare a Town State of Emergency and direct the Town Staff to cancel almost all Special Event Permits through Monday, April 13, all due to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic crisis. In the middle six hours, however, it was business as usual!
As has been its trend since late 2019, the panel once again had a long and ambitious agenda, with this version of Council attempting to settle as many issues as possible prior to the Town Election on Tuesday, March 17, when as many as three of the five seats may turn over. While Council member Bruce Butcher is seeking re-election, facing off against six other candidates for the three seats, term limits prevent Mayor Anita Cereceda from another try, while Council member Joann Shamp chose not to run again. While the March 13 session is this Council’s final regularly-scheduled meeting, they may need to assemble again if emergency conditions dictate, prior to the new Council taking office on Monday, April 6.
Town Manager Review
Perhaps the most intriguing topic on the 19-item agenda that did not even include the emergency decisions was the final one: the Annual Review of Town Manager Roger Hernstadt, including a possible pay increase. It resulted in a 3 to 2 split decision, but despite the divide, the normally endlessly-debating panel decided in just a few minutes.
The Town hired Hernstadt on April 25, 2017, meaning he is completing his third year as Town Manager. At the final meeting of the previous Council on March 4, 2019, they orchestrated a controversial pay raise and contract revision for Hernstadt under his annual Performance Evaluation. With Butcher absent, then-Vice Mayor Shamp initiated the discussion, and though then-Council member Cereceda objected and voted against the proposal, it passed 3 to 1, with former Mayor Tracey Gore and former Council member Dennis Boback joining Shamp. Hernstadt received a 5% increase to $170,870 along with Council agreeing to his request to work remotely for 15 days annually from June 1 to July 15. The main caveat, however, was removing the decrease in severance pay provision over the life of his contract if the Town terminated him without cause.
At Friday’s meeting, Cereceda asked Hernstadt if he would like to make a statement, to which Hernstadt simply said, It’s been a pleasure to work with you all,” with Cereceda jokingly responding, “How could you not say that!” Vice Mayor Ray Murphy wanted confirmation that Hernstadt currently earned $170,870 annually, with Town Attorney John Herin, Jr, stating that is correct. Council member Rexann Hosafros noted that the various Councils since Hernstadt’s hiring keep amending his original contract, “and I don’t want to keep doing that, regardless of our decision today; it is time to start with something fresh,” with her colleagues agreeing. “Having said that,” Hosafros continued, “I say we keep things just as they are.” Murphy quickly added, “I am fine with that, Rexann.”
Shamp disagreed, stating “I am not fine with that! Roger has been active in this Town, so I favor a 3 to 5 percent Cost of Living increase. We have a Town Manager with extensive expertise; how many previous Town Managers bought a house on the island and who you can talk to and see all the time, at fundraisers and in Publix? I see him at fundraisers where I know he paid several hundred dollars to attend, so not to give him an increase in salary would be improper.”
Hosafros countered, “The Town Manager got a double increase last year and I did not like the way that went through, including allowing him to work remotely so that he does not have to use his vacation time, as when he eventually leaves, the Town will have to pay him for all unused vacation time. Roger is doing a good job but there are other circumstances.” Butcher, however, sided with Shamp: “He deserves a raise as he has done an excellent job. I look around at what other places pay their people with much less experience so an increase would not be out of line, with the experience he brings that benefits this Town.”
That made Cereceda the deciding vote. “With all due respect to Roger,” the Mayor began, “I agree with Rexann and Ray. You all will remember that last year, I was not at all happy with the way it went down. With our current uncertain economic circumstances, it is prudent that we keep everything intact. If the next Town Council decides they want to change this, they have that prerogative.” Hosafros added, “We recently evaluated the Town Attorney and did not give him a raise,” to which Cereceda replied, “That is also true; there really is not anything else to do here. Three of us wish to leave the contract intact, so we thank Roger for his continued work and move on.”
Shamp interjected, “A minimum of 3% for Cost of Living is reasonable, especially for someone who manages a $21 million budget.” Cereceda replied, The people of this community may suffer financially this year, so I will not ask for it.” “Then why ask to redesign Times Square if you cannot afford it,” responded Shamp. Cereceda replied, “because we budgeted for that this year, or we can do nothing and remain stagnant and create a horrible self-fulfilling prophecy if we do! Roger is a professional and in the last two years, he received very substantial increases.” Shamp stated to the Town Manager, “I hope you do not feel that this is a slight and it has been an honor to work with you!” Cereceda concluded, “this is not a slight!”
FMBeach & Bayfront Park
Under “Administrative Agenda: Marketing: Final Design,” Sharon McCormick and Lorena Ledesma of Redevelopment Management Associates (RMA) presented Council with their three final Town Rebranding Marketing Design options, including combining those with “Estero Island” or “On Estero Island,” then asked Council for their design choice. Council liked combinations of Options #2 and #3, especially spelling out the word “Beach” to distinguish the island from Fort Myers. Cereceda added, “I really like ‘Fort Myers Beach on Estero Island!’ That is classy and I love it!” Council unanimously approved the designs and instructed the Town Attorney to get trademarks.
Paul Benvie, PE, of DRMP, Inc., provided Council with an updated design for Bayside Park based on their March 2 Council Meeting comments. The concept included an elevated 30×40 building including elevator, restrooms, showers, and two offices to enhance the Town mooring field, with a performance area underneath the structure and a rain garden, shade trees and Veteran’s Tribute. Cereceda opined, “You gave us exactly what we asked for,” with Murphy adding, “Congratulations – you nailed it!” Hosafros however, cautioned, “While I love the overall concept, it will change one hundred times before we construct it!” Council unanimously authorized the 30, 60 and 90 percent design plans, with Hernstadt noting, “The public will have many more opportunities to comment on this.”
Under “Advisory Committee Reports,” Marine Resources Task Force Chair Bill Veach reminded Council that now is the time for 2020 Mulholland Stewardship Award nominations, then requested funds for six additional beach access informational signs. Under “Consent Agenda,” Council unanimously approved the “Disposition of Surplus Items;” and authorized Hernstadt to enter into agreements with six firms for “Ongoing Professional Services for Environmental Assessments & Marine Engineering.”
Under “Public Hearings,” Council unanimously passed the “Resolution for Vacations of Portions of Canal Street, Town Right-of-Way and Portions of Crescent Park Plat”; unanimously denied without Prejudice the “Second Reading & Final Public Hearing to Rezone 200 Pearl Street from RC to RPD”; approved 3 to 1 with conditions the “Resolution for Permanent Shared Parking Lot for 1046 Estero Boulevard,” with Hosafros against and Cereceda abstaining; unanimously approved the “First Reading & Ordinance for Amended Vessel Control & Water Safety” to its Second Reading; and postponed the “Second Reading & Final Public Hearing for the LDC Text Amendment for Waterbody Setbacks.”
Under “Administrative Agenda,” Council unanimously overturned the “Administrative Action Appeal of the Nonconformity Determination of the Banana Boat BFVP Permit”; unanimously passed the “Resolution of North Estero Boulevard Phase 2 Part 2 Water Main & Storm Improvements” to Mitchell & Stark for $5,897,938; passed 4 to 1 with Shamp against the “Stormwater Maintenance & Repair Contract” to four recommended firms, not to exceed $300,000 in General Fund moneys; unanimously approved $19,500 to GovRates for a “Water & Stormwater Utility Rate Study”; unanimously approved $203,950 to DRMP, Inc., for the “Times Square Redevelopment Design”; heard options for the “Text Amendment to Land Development Code for Building Height and Visual Aids”; and unanimously denied the “Neutrogena Spring Break Event.”