First Lady of FMB – Former Mayor Anita Cereceda!
Tuesday, March 17, was to hold several milestones for the Town of Fort Myers Beach. Bars and restaurants expected big crowds celebrating St. Patrick’s Day and the start of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. It was Town election day as well, and Dan Allers, Jim Atterholt, and Bill Veach would win the three open Town Council seats. Another planned event had Lee County Commissioners, at their regular morning meeting, present soon-to-be-former Fort Myers Beach Mayor Anita Cereceda with a formal Resolution recognizing her service to the Town!
While the election still occurred, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Town to declare a Local State of Emergency on Friday, March 13, that effectively put the kibosh to the St. Patrick’s Day and NCAA revelry, as did the Lee County Commissioners with their presentation to Cereceda. Without knowing when people would be able to attend their sessions in person again, County Commissioners publicly released their Resolution to Anita on Thursday, April 9.
The Resolution acknowledges her service to the Town that began nearly 25 years ago and her participation in Town Council, the Local Planning Agency and the Tourist Development Council. It concludes with:
Whereas, Anita Cereceda imparts knowledge and wisdom to those she mentors, kindness and selflessness to those in need, and inspiration and encouragement to those she leads; and whereas, Mayor Cereceda has dedicated herself to the highest standards of professionalism and excellence in her unwavering commitment to the residents of Fort Myers Beach and to the betterment of the community as a whole.
Now, therefore, be it resolved that the Board of County Commissioners of Lee County, Florida, does hereby acknowledge and extend warmest congratulations to Anita Cereceda, and thank her for her service and dedication to the community and its citizens.
Gratitude in My Heart
“When I first heard the Lee County Commissioners wanted to present me with the Resolution,” Anita recalled, “I was extremely flattered and honored, but I almost immediately thought, ‘Am I finished; have I now done all I can do?’ so it was one of those moments! I never imagined they would bestow this upon me, so I appreciate their gesture with all the gratitude in my heart.”
Anita first served on the Fort Myers Beach Town Council from December 1995 to 1999; then again from March 2014 through this past April 6, including being the Town’s first three-time Mayor, for its first four years, then in 2014 and 2019-20. “There are a few major differences between the two times I left Council,” she reflected. “The first time, I was in my 30s and left by my own choice to run for a seat on the Lee County Commissioner Board and lost, and running and losing each ended up being wonderful experiences, as you learn a lot about yourself from your defeats. Almost immediately, I threw myself back into the Town through a Local Planning Agency seat, where I ultimately became Chair, and a hot topic then as now was Short Term Rentals. With 20 years’ hindsight, there are some things I wish I could change.
“This time, however, I feel like everything I could do for the Town, I did, and a large part of that is because of all the momentous decisions related to the coronavirus pandemic. Our final month in office was very focused and stressful and intense, yet satisfying! I look back on these last 6 years and there were a lot of issues jammed into that time, so I finished this time with a sense of deep accomplishment. As Mayor this past year, I felt like, ‘OK, this was my job and I did it as well as I possibly could.’ Life, though, has a funny way of reminding you that you are not in charge, even when you are in a position that leaves you in charge!”
Anita hopes at some point that she has the opportunity to meet with the Lee County Commissioners and personally thank them for the Resolution. “I especially want to thank Chairman Brian Hamman and District 3 Commissioner Raymond Sandelli, as their recognition means a lot to me. You don’t get into public service for the awards, but when you do receive an acknowledgement and it comes from others in public service, that strikes a special chord.”
The First Lady of FMB
Commissioner Sandelli noted, “One of my disappointments from the ‘Stay at Home’ order we ultimately implemented was that the County Commissioners could not honor Anita in person, as it was to be my privilege to read the Resolution to her. When we achieve normalcy again, we hope to bring her in to personally recognize her! I feel a close connection to Fort Myers Beach, and while an important aspect of that comes from my succeeding the late Larry Kiker into office and getting to know his wife Paula, a large part is from my friendship with Anita! She has been with the Town in some capacity since its formation, so this was a small way for the County Commissioners to say ‘thank you’ to her. She exemplifies an outstanding community leader who listens to all sides of an issue, wrestles with the particulars, then – realizing you cannot please everyone – makes the best possible decision for her citizens, and that is an invaluable lesson for us all in the public arena.”
Over the past few weeks, Commissioner Sandelli added, “she made huge decisions, like shutting down the Shrimp Festival and St. Patrick’s Day Parade, as these are Fort Myers Beach institutions. I know she struggled with these before ultimately making the correct call for public safety. We got together for breakfast, before everything shut down, and you could see the strain in her face, but I told her I was proud of her and I loved her; she is truly ‘The First Lady of Fort Myers Beach!’”
Anita, however, gladly shares the credit. “This may sound like a cliché, but we do not operate in a vacuum and that is especially true for myself, as I am a very collaborative person by nature, so any accolades that come my way don’t belong just to me. At all times, I served with four other Council members who were as important as I, along with many people on the Town Staff who work hard every single day. Equally as important is the public, who lend their voices in support or opposition to every issue, so any decision or action or Resolution or Ordinance or Proclamation under my name carries the influence of a hundred or more people, so it is important to me to recognize their contributions. I have no success without them, as they stood by me every step of the way, and that made all the difference in the world!”