Council Seeks Larger Answers


The Big Picture

The Council of the Town of Fort Myers Beach held its first Management & Planning Session on Tuesday morning, April 25, fresh with a new Town Manager and new approaches to big topic items. Formerly known as the twice-monthly work sessions, the council agreed to replace those meetings with a monthly “Management & Planning” meeting on the first Thursday of the month, though they rescheduled the first meeting to April 25th. Roger Hernstadt, who minutes earlier, signed his approved contract, joined the session as his first official duty as the 11th Town Manager in the 21-year history of Fort Myers Beach.

In examining a new fee schedule for the Parks & Recreation Department, director Sean DePalma said that “I deem it necessary to modify the overall fee schedule in certain areas, but we need to go back to the membership definition and I am still working on that structure. Council needs this analysis to ensure you know the cost of memberships, so you can decide if you want to charge that as a real price, or how much to supplement from my budget.” Council member Anita Cereceda called that approach “an excellent idea. No council to date knows that huge piece of information.” Mayor Dennis Boback thought this crucial, “as the Bay Oaks Recreation Center is the single biggest line item in our budget, accounting for over one-third of our tax dollars.” Vice Mayor Tracey Gore remarked that “if you spend one Saturday there, watching Little League, you know it is worth every penny.”

Council member Joanne Shamp said that Sean “brings a professionalism to this, and that is a benefit to the entire community when you balance income versus expenses, and how to adjust that to make it financially more sound.” Mayor Boback concurred, saying “there is never any discussion to close Bay Oaks, but how much more can the Town contribute to it.” Sean agreed, “We need a better mechanism in place to use our tax dollars to the fullest and offer a better product to the public, and that is what we are working on at this time.”

Council member Bruce Butcher said that DePalma “has a lot of good ideas and he should be telling us his plan rather than asking us what to do.” Cereceda agreed, saying “come back to us with gusto, saying here is what you need, as you are the expert and I have not a clue.” Shamp said, “This is all great, thank you,” with Gore adding, “You are such an asset! Your experience is very obvious and things just keep getting better and better and better.”


What They Can Do For Us

Under Town Advisory Committees, Council went from discussing each one’s individual assignments to taking a long-range overview of their responsibilities, including the necessity of having council members on the advisory panels.

Cereceda said, “We need a big picture discussion on strategic planning,” with Gore asking, “Do they advise us or do we give them direction?” Shamp thought Council “should ask the advisory committees for their opinions of their charges to the Town,” with Butcher adding, “We should ask what they can do for us, rather than us telling them what to do.” The Mayor suggested that perhaps council members should no longer attend Advisory Committee meetings: “Let them do their work without the influence of a council member; sometimes they make decisions just to please just that person.”

Asked his opinion, the Town Manager said, “The committees should develop what they want to work on, and have the Chair make their presentation to Council with periodic updates. I generally attend 90% of the committee meetings so not only will we have a staff liaison, but I can bring those ideas to Council. They are doing the work of the Town so put them in a position to develop their own charge based on their passions.” Cereceda said, “This was the direction when we began the Town, and it morphed into a top-down rather than bottom-up philosophy, and it will be more productive if we allow the committees to bring issues to us.” Gore added, “This is all a part of the government-lite philosophy – I like it!”

The Town Manager will ask each Advisory Committee to review its mission, including if it is still relevant to the Town. He will ask them to return a set of ranked priorities and have Committee Chairs report directly to Council rather than having council members go to individual sessions, though they remain welcome to attend.


Take Out The Trash

In other items, Council determined that island trash pickup should return to the mandated time of 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., unless it directly affects neighborhoods in the reFRESH Estero Boulevard projects, when, to avoid conflicts with the large construction equipment, it can begin at 4 a.m. Shamp said she wants the noise ordinance to have a repetitive clause with correspondingly increasing penalties, rather than each being a separate complaint, with Gore providing an enthusiastic “Yes!”

Council discussed purchasing uniform newspaper distribution units, to provide a more consistent and cleaner look to area streets. Local publications would pay for the usage through a permit fee, with the Town providing maintenance. They briefly discussed if they have the authority to prevent advertising on bus stop benches, and if it can regulate free newspaper deliveries that litter neighborhood driveways. “I love the eclectic look of our Town that people describe it as ‘funky,’” said Shamp, “but funky can go to ‘junky’ real quick!”

Council discussed Code Lien Reductions, along with recommendations to the Lee County Fair Housing Commission concerning lack of affordable housing for food service and tourism accommodation employees, with Cereceda saying, “I don’t know where we fit into this. This is the section of our community we want to serve, to save the charm of the Town, but it is more difficult than ever for them to stay.” They discussed procedures to fill future Town Staff and Advisory Committee openings, including an application process, and procedures for future agenda management items. In view of this, Town Council will have the first two of a three-part Strategic Planning Session on Monday, June 5, and Tuesday, June 20, at 9 a.m.

The next Town Council Management & Planning session is scheduled for Thursday, May 4 at 9am at Town Hall.


Gary Mooney