Stormwater Ordinance Passes
For the second consecutive meeting of the Fort Myers Beach Town Council since the January 20 murder of Fort Myers Beach Public Library Director Dr. Leroy Hommerding, safety and security were dominant topics. Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno began the session by discussing these items, then fielded questions from the five Council members. Nine of the eleven residents during the two “Public Comment” periods addressed it, then Council expressed their opinions during “Council Member Items.”
Council member Anita Cereceda stated she recently attended a Ministerial Association of Fort Myers Beach meeting, composed of five island church pastors, who are attempting to address outreach efforts such as God’s Table for the homeless and underserved. “I was so impressed with those gentlemen; they are extraordinary. Pastor Shawn Critser of Beach Baptist said only 4% of those who utilize the Food Pantry are homeless, while 96% are the underpaid and underemployed to make ends meet to live on Fort Myers Beach, so it was surprising to listen to them, as many people who live here could not without that aid.”
Cereceda said part of the conversation concerned the exact number of homeless on Fort Myers Beach. “I have heard as few as a dozen to up to 200, but the actual figure is closer to 56. There is an absolute code among them and the reason why Lee County Sheriff deputies could not get information on the original stabbing incident, is they do not turn on each other. The Ministerial Association is conducting an ongoing effort to be more active, to deal with them not in a religious element but from a community aspect, so it was a professionally dynamic meeting. Chapel By The Sea does not sponsor God’s Table; it is only the host location, with the operation funded by the Community Cooperative. The meeting lasted 2-1/2 hours, with great suggestions for solutions.”
“Since they provide the location, perhaps they can set up rules to use that location,” suggested Vice Mayor Joanne Shamp. “Perhaps a more complete set of services beyond just the feeding, such as psychological counseling, so they do not just give away food with no expectations for improvements, as food alone does not take care of all needs for the entire human being.” Cereceda said that Community Cooperative is in charge of God’s Table “so there is a difference over what Chapel By The Sea can do and the Cooperative. The Church offers a loaf of bread, while the Community Cooperative must better serve the Town.”
“There is a difference between a ‘hand up’ and a ‘hand out,’” said Mayor Tracey Gore. “It is the homeless and vagrants who are the problem, as they are the same people who come every day, not moms with kids in the school, but the able bodied.” “I know what you are saying,” replied Cereceda, “but it is not that easy. Jan Fleming in ‘Public Comment’ suggested the Town form its own police force and I heard that 100 times in the last two weeks, to make people feel secure.”
Council member Dennis Boback related, “To me, it is real simple, as there is not a facility on this island to treat the underlying causes, such as mental health, drug addiction and alcoholism, so we need to set some limit on the number of times they can get free food and everything, until they prove they visit the facilities to get help, as just coming every day and not taking any responsibilities for themselves will never change anything. At some point, if God’s Table does not do anything to make them get help, they should not be in that business.”
Cereceda offered, “Pastor Ivan Corbin of Beach United Methodist stated that if you eliminate God’s Table and the Beach Baptist Food Pantry and think that will get rid of the homeless, you are wrong. St. Petersburg literally bussed the homeless out of town and two weeks later they and more returned, so we need to find a better way to deal with this.” Boback countered, “It is time they take responsibility for their own actions. A lot of people are one paycheck away from losing their home and maybe sleep with two kids in a car, but that is a completely different situation, because some homeless do that as a lifestyle they chose. If they do not take corrective measures, then they are shut off. Enabling them and helping them are two different things.”
Council member Bruce Butcher stated, “The Sheriff and churches are both working on solutions; let’s see where that goes!” Boback concluded, “Ten years ago, we tried to talk to Chapel By The Sea, but they didn’t want to know anything. Maybe now, with different people in charge, they will cooperate.”
Stormwater & Other Items
Under “Public Hearings,” Council unanimously passed the Final Public Hearing for the Amended Stormwater Ordinance that exempts residents with their own stormwater systems. Charlie Eck, a strong opponent of the original Ordinance who volunteered with the Town to produce the new document, stated, “This is a product of ‘dynamic tension’: over the past 41 months there were a lot of dynamics and a lot of tension, but what you have before you is an Ordinance that does the job!” While the revised Ordinance passage was basically a given, its unanimity was a surprise, as Boback over the past three years repeatedly and adamantly stated he would not support any stormwater ordinance that included exemptions, saying the Town’s Stormwater System benefits all residents in one form or another.
Council heard a Marine Resource Advisory Committee report and unanimously approved a new Red Coconut RV Park parking agreement. Under “Administrative Agenda,” Council unanimously appointed Shamp to the March 5 General Election Canvassing Board; passed a Third Amendment for the Lee County Estero Boulevard Master Plan Transportation Agreement to complete a Lazy Way outfall by June by a 3 to 2 vote with Boback and Gore Against; and unanimously approved a West Coast Inland Navigational District (WCIND) grant request for additional marine patrols.
Under “Town Manager Items,” Roger Hernstadt discussed the possible removal of the Gulf Beach Road Dinghy Dock as a Town security measure; presented potential street restorations for a Glenview Manor waterline replacement; and informed Council there is an Aberdeen Avenue Walk-Through on Friday morning, February 8, to discuss with residents Right-of-Way construction impact items including trees.
Under “Town Attorney Items,” John Herin, Jr, presented a potential settlement in the “Eddie Sierra Versus The Town” lawsuit that Council unanimously approved; suggested a “Policy on Accepting Service of Process by Town Staff” that Council unanimously approved; and provided Council with an update on current litigation, including their unanimous approval to pay up to $30,000 to the outside legal firm of Manson Balves for the South Florida Water Management District lawsuit the Town joined in on with other local municipalities to increase Lake Okeechobee dry season minimum flows. Council’s next meeting is Tuesday, February 19, at 9 a.m., one day later than usual due to Presidents’ Day.
By Gary Mooney