Glyphosate Ban & Elections
“Welcome to the best show on Fort Myers Beach,” exclaimed Vice Mayor Ray Murphy in opening the Town Council Meeting before roughly 50 people on Monday morning, August 5, for its first session since early June. Murphy chaired the forum in place of Mayor Anita Cereceda, who was on an excused absence. Council covered a broad spectrum of topics over more than 3-1/2 hours, including several public presentations.
Council debated four Public Hearings: As they prepared to discuss the First Reading & Public Hearing for the “Prohibition of Glyphosate Ordinance,” Town Attorney John Herin, Jr., stated, “This past Friday, the Town received communication from the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services with the belief that State Law preempts this Ordinance as currently drafted, particularly the provision that talks about the regulating and sale of Glyphosate and products containing Glyphosate, so we do not have the authority to adopt it as currently written.”
“I wish our Home Rule was not superseded in these matters,” said Council member Joanne Shamp. “We live on a barrier island and this is critical to our water quality. It is stunning and we need as a Council and community to complain to those above us. It looks as though our hands are tied, as I would pass this in a minute! Is there anything we can do?”
“This is an area the State has preempted for some time,” replied Herin. “Personally and professionally I am a strong proponent of Home Rule but my experience is it is very rarely successful. Glyphosate is not a pesticide but a weed killer, so if we remove all references in the Ordinance to pesticides, we would not run afoul of the State statute.” “Then that is what I would like to do,” responded Shamp. Council unanimously moved the amended Ordinance for its Second Reading & Final Hearing to its September 9 Meeting, to give Herin time to receive the State’s opinion on the revised document.
Other Florida municipalities that have glyphosate bans, such as Key West, Miami Beach and Satellite Beach have banned the use of the chemical on city-owned property.
Under the First Reading & Public Hearing for the “Mound House Rezoning Ordinance,” contract Community Development Director Jason Green said, “The objective is to bring the Schedule of Uses up to what the Mound House regularly does. It must obey its day-to-day functions as outlined in its Operations Manual.” Town Manager Roger Hernstadt noted that a major change would be the hours of operation, from 8 a.m. to a half hour past sunset to sunrise to 9 p.m., “in accordance with how people utilize the Mound House property. Any uses outside those hours would require Council approval.”
“I am very close to the neighbors,” said Mound House Director Alison Giesen. “They all have my contact information so we do not disturb the integrity and stay within the limits of our neighborhood.” “I received three letters on this,” Shamp told Giesen, “and all are in support, so that goes to your credit for the management of the property.” In the following Public Comment, four people spoke, all in favor of the rezoning. Council unanimously moved the “Mound House Rezoning Ordinance” for a Final Hearing at its August 19 Meeting.
Under the Final Public Hearing of the “Street Performer Ordinance,” Council pointed out that Mayor Cereceda brought forward this topic, serving as the point person, so they deferred any final action until she will be present at the August 19 meeting. Since Council opened the Hearing, however, they took Public Comment from three Times Square Street Performers: Noah Prechtel, Michael Quinn and Brittany Sparkles. This led to the clarification that the draft Ordinance no longer limits Times Square permits to just eight performer licenses. An article on Times Square Street Performers appears separately in this edition of The Island Sand Paper.
Two Votes or One?
Under the Final Public Hearing on “Town Election Dates & Terms,” Council reviewed the proposed Ordinance to shift Town elections from March to November, to coincide with National & State elections, resulting in a cost savings to the Town, as it will no longer solely finance March elections through the Lee County Supervisor of Elections, as well as possibly increasing voter turnout. A second component increases Fort Myers Beach Council terms from three to four years. As currently written, both would appear as one proposed Amendment to the Town Charter on the March 2020 ballot.
Council member Rexann Hosafros said, “These must be one question, because if they are separate and our citizens vote one up and one down, that will lead to chaos,” with Council member Bruce Butcher in initial agreement. Shamp however stated that, “I think they should be separate votes. I am not in favor of either, but our people need to decide these, as that is what I am all about. I think these are very separate issues in the minds of the voters, so lumping them together is not the way to go; we will do better in splitting them.” Butcher wanted to confirm that Council can move the election date on its own but voters must approve Council terms changes, with Herin replying that is correct.
Shamp said, “The real question is, does the community like the active campaign season of March, when a lot of people are here and non-voting, tax-paying property owners can participate? Any money we spend on March elections is a fraction of what we spend on the Fourth of July Fireworks.” Hosafros countered, “More than 50% of people now vote by mail – go to any election campaign event and you only see the same 20 people over and again.” Murphy stated, “I see the arguments on both sides.” Hosafros added, “If changing the terms issue fails, I would not be in favor of changing the election date, as it does not make sense to change the election date unless you change the terms.” “It looks like we heading to a 2 to 2 vote,” commented Shamp, with Butcher quickly interjecting, “not necessarily!” “Interesting!” said Shamp.
Council took a brief break to allow Herin to revise the Ordinance, splitting the two issues into separate public votes that passed 3 to 1 in a Roll Call Vote, with Hosafros Against.
Council decided five Administrative Agenda items: It unanimously approved the Audit Committee’s recommendation to authorize the Town Manager to execute an agreement with Mauldin & Jenkins for the Town’s next Audit contract. Council unanimously approved the Adoption of a Water Rates Resolution to alert residents through their upcoming utility bill of a potential 7% water rate adjustment recommended by Raftelis Financial Consultants to fund ongoing water improvements along Estero Boulevard and adjacent sidestreets, with its possible acceptance at the September 23 Town Budget Hearing. Butcher noted that the Raftelis plan in now roughly five years old and suggested the Town consider commissioning an updated water study based on current finances and conditions.
Council unanimously approved a $72,000 Estero Boulevard Phase 3 Sidestreet Change Order for pipe straps and inlet cores along Dakota Avenue, Palmetto Street and Lazy Way; approved up to $100,000 to Shenandoah Construction Company for Stormwater Maintenance & Repair Work including video inspection and cleaning existing stormwater pipes; and authorized $202,627 to Kelly Brothers, Inc., to replace the Matanzas Pass Dinghy Dock, though Town Staff noted it can shift $73,327 to this project remaining from the Bayside Seawall repair, along with a $64,000 Grant to help pay for this project.
In other matters, Council presented 2019 Mulholland Stewardship Awards to well-known local businessman Tom Myers and the late Dr. Leroy Hommerding, the former Director of the Fort Myers Beach Library. In presenting the award to Myers, Murphy noted that Myers recently stepped down after 40 years as President of “The Friends of The Matanzas Pass Preserve,” quipping that “some people just can’t hold a job!” When he gave the second Mulholland Award to the FMB Library Board & Staff, who accepted it on behalf of Dr. Hommerding, Murphy reminded all that both gentlemen will have their names on the commemorative tree plaque in Council Chambers, stating that “Dr. Hommerding will not only be memorialized at the Library, especially over the environmental features he championed, he will also be memorialized forever here at Town Hall.”
Under “Public Comment,” Gayle Mason reported that Lee County Commissioners seem receptive to reconstructing the historic stone archway that was the former entry to Fort Myers Beach at Crescent Beach Family Park in tribute to late Commissioner Larry Kiker, the former Fort Myers Beach Mayor and Council member who passed away in April. To achieve its goal to raise $100,000, the “Restore Fort Myers Beach Arches, Inc.,” volunteer group will soon inaugurate a “Buy a Brick” fundraising campaign and asked Council to consider a location for the memorial bricks, suggesting “Newton Beach Park, Town Hall, or Fountain Square that overlooks the original arch location. The arches must be somewhere beside on the wall behind Town Council!”
Council received Advisory Committee Reports from Marine Resources Task Force on updating the Town Fertilizer Ordinance, and from Jim Rodwell of the Audit Committee who concluded, “The Town appears to be in a very good financial condition at the moment.” Council presented Proclamations for the October 29 “Red Ribbon Week” as well as August’s “Children’s Vision & Learning Month.” Under its “Consent Agenda,” Council unanimously approved the Disposition of Surplus Items; distribution of the $188,768 Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant; and a 2019-20 Interlocal Agreement with Lee County for Stray Animal Control Services for $8,518.
Under “Town Manager’s Items,” Hernstadt discussed how the Town would cooperate with Bonita Springs, Sanibel and the Department of Health on water quality hazards; that the Town now received in excess of $5.5 million in Grant Dollars, mostly for Stormwater; that the Town recently received over $400,000 in reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency from Hurricane Irma; and a possible Town cosponsorship program with residents to attempt to eradicate the growing iguana population. Under “Town Attorney Items,” Herin stated, “The Town is still waiting the Writ of Certiorari conclusion for the Margaritaville Resort; as soon as that comes out, I will let you know.”
Liens, Arches & Manatees
Under “Council Member Items,” Shamp raised a concern that the Town is missing out on hundreds of thousands of dollar in uncollected property liens that could easily offset any potential increases to the Town’s Tax Millage, with the Town Manager & Attorney to investigate remedies. Shamp felt the Town needs a new Ordinance to protect residents and visitors from credit card skimmers, with the Town Manager replying that Council will receive an initial draft at its August 19 Meeting.
Hosafros said she would like to help with the “Restore The Arches” group’s request, and inquired if the Town Manager had an update on the Town cohosting with Lee County a “Hazardous Waste Disposal Day.” The Town Manager replied that Lee County agreed to that request and he is working out the exact dates and details. Hosafros noted that a Town resident recently related her concern over Lee County’s high rate of manatee deaths and was disappointed that she was not at this meeting to provide her input; the Town Manager added that “the Town will welcome any assistance to promote manatee protection.”
Butcher stated that the Lee County Horizon’s Group that promotes affordable housing will tour Fort Myers Beach on Tuesday, September 24, from 8:30 a.m. to roughly 1:30 p.m. He and Jacki Liszak, the Executive Director of the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce, will accompany them.
Murphy announced that the Town’s next Strategic Planning Session is Wednesday August 14; its Management & Planning Session is Thursday, August 15; and its next Town Council Meeting is Monday, August 19; all in Town Hall at 9 a.m. Council adjourned at 12:47 p.m.
By Gary Mooney