Council Plans Manager Review
This current version of the Fort Myers Beach Town Council held its final Management & Planning Session before a handful of people on Thursday, March 5. The meeting added one more bizarre chapter to its on-going struggle to obtain additional information on streetlighting alternatives to improve Estero Boulevard lighting intensity, to combine enhanced public and pedestrian safety in conjunction with turtle-friendly amber LED lights. In addition to streetlights, Council discussed parameters for the annual review of Town Manager Roger Hernstadt, among several other topics, in a meeting that lasted less than 3 hours, in sharp contrast to its six previous assemblages that covered six or more hours.
The Management & Planning Session preceded this Council’s last meeting on Friday, March 13, at 9 a.m., with the panel agreeing on that date to avoid a conflict with the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Monday, March 16. The Parade was moved to that day to avoid another conflict, with the Town Election Day of Tuesday, March 17, where seven candidates are vying for three seats. Council member Bruce Butcher is running for re-election, while term limits prevent Mayor Anita Cereceda from seeking another term and Council member Joanne Shamp opted against it. The three winners will join Vice Mayor Ray Murphy & Council member Rexann Hosafros on the new Town Council panel on Monday, April 6.
In hopes to bring clarity to their ongoing discussion over potentially new Estero Boulevard lighting, Council received a PowerPoint from William Pino, PE, the President and Operations Manager of MainStreet Engineer from Miami. One day later, however, Hernstadt informed Pino that since MainStreet Engineering withheld information concerning an incident with Broward County in 2012, “this raises serious questions regarding any recommendations you brought forth. Therefore, the Town of Fort Myers Beach has no alternative but to cancel immediately and invoke our Termination of Agreement, pursuant to Section 8 of the Service Provider Agreement.”
In February 2015, Pino received a one-year and one-day prison sentence, one-year probation, 300 hours of community service, and $25,000 fine for pleading guilty to agreeing to bribe a public official. According to the release from the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, Pino was active with a number of companies that were in the business of installing, repairing and maintaining street lights, signals and traffic systems and the sale of products necessary for such installations and repairs, such as light poles.
From roughly April through June 27, 2012, Pino met with a confidential informant about upcoming work projects in Broward County for traffic systems and signs, streetlights, and street poles. The informant advised Pino that Pino would need to “take care of” the public official and he agreed to do so. In late May 2012, the public official informed Pino that he had a purchase order for Pino’s company for $100,000 in light poles in exchange for a $5,000 payment to the public official. On June 27, Pino and the public official exchanged the $100,000 purchase order for the $5,000 bribe, leading to Pino’s arrest and subsequent conviction.
Estero Blvd. Lighting Options
At the March 5 Management & Planning Session, Pino stated that, “I have been an engineer who dedicated my life to streetlight enhancements over the past 40 years. The Town retained me to address this problem and come up with solutions. I am looking for as much feedback from you as possible, while understanding that this is a fast project, with options to you in the next 45 days. The island has six sectors: the north end, its core area, civic complexes, quiet center, high-rise resorts, and south end, and we may not recommend the same solution for each section.”
Pino noted that a primary problem is that Estero Boulevard lighting involves four jurisdictions: Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Lee County and the Town. “Each has their own regulations and the trick is to satisfy them all. FDOT rules tend to be straight-forward and that is it! Lee County seems easy to meet their requirements, and the Town is similar to FDOT. FWC is the problem and challenge, as they have subjective criteria. We will seek the solution that satisfies all four.”
MainStreet Engineering planned to reach out to private vendors as well as public utilities like Florida Power & Light (FPL) and Duke Energy over the next two weeks to research lighting options, then summarize those to Council two weeks later. Mainstreet Engineering would then provide Council with mock-ups and potential pilot programs to proceed with the final lighting study, “to allow you to secure the program, pursue grants, and go to bid,” concluded Pino.
“You answered all my questions,” said Butcher, Council’s leading proponent for the brightest possible white lights for roadway and pedestrian safety. Shamp asked for examples of other communities where MainStreet Engineering provided successful lighting results, with Pino answering, “the Florida Keys, Hollywood with A1A, Fort Lauderdale with A1A, and Key Biscayne.” Murphy asked if Pino were a part of the Fort Lauderdale design with lights that switch from bright white to amber LED for turtle nesting season. “Yes, I was,” Pino noted, with Murphy opining, “that is what we want!” Shamp inquired about crosswalk safety lighting, with Pino suggesting a red-light option, noting “when drivers see red blinking lights, psychologically they stop.”
With the cancellation of the MainStreet contract, the Town Council will be seeing the topic on a future agenda.
Town Manager Review Process
Council will conduct the annual review of the Town Manager at its March 13 Meeting, including a possible pay increase. Hernstadt, who the Town hired on April 25, 2017, is completing his third year as Town Manager.
The previous Council, at their final meeting on March 4, 2019, 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% pay 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 to severance pay provision over the life of the contract if the Town terminated him without cause.
Hosafros noted that “this comes before us rather than the upcoming Council because we worked with Roger over the past year, while it will take them several months to determine his value to them.” Murphy wanted to ensure that “this is properly advertised, as opposed to how it was supposedly done last time.” Cereceda suggested that each Council member set up a private interview with Hernstadt prior to March 13, with the Town supplying Review Forms. Shamp wanted the review “to relate to the Town Charter on an objective basis, and not, ‘hey, I like this guy,’ though I do like this guy and think he is great!”
Cereceda suggested Council memorialize on March 13 the Town Manager and Town Attorney Review procedures in the Town’s “Policy & Procedures Manuel.” She stated that part of the Town Manager review should include “how he treats other employees.” Murphy wanting to add communication skills, and Shamp stressed, “The agenda item should state we will discuss a prospective pay increase, so people understand that.” Butcher concluded, “The new Council should set the Town Manager priorities for the next year, while this Council evaluates the past year,” though Cereceda intoned, “I will make my opinions known on what those should be!”
Setbacks, Estero & Churches
In other items, Council considered the “Text Amendment to the Land Development Code Regarding Height and Setback Regulations.” Council asked Staff about single versus two-story porches, stoops, balconies, rear and side setbacks, “Carrot versus Stick” compromises, property percentage setbacks, roof design styles, living stories, vegetation, measurement and height restrictions, and privacy fences among other items. Shamp concluded, “I like what you have done here; this is a positive step,” with Cereceda adding, “perhaps our houses will not look so homogenous and start looking like houses again!” Butcher, Hosafros, and Murphy all offered, “I like this!” Council will walk the updated Text Amendment onto the crowded March 13 Agenda.
While not on the M&P Agenda, Council heard a brief report from Rob Phelan, PE, Project Manager for the reFRESH Estero Boulevard Projects. “The crews are moving fast,” he said, “and that is why I woke with a smile on my face this morning!” “They sure are,” agreed Cereceda, with Shamp noting, “things are speeding up and that is appreciated!” Hosafros added, “I am receiving far fewer complaints, so that is a good sign, but I am receiving consistent complaints about flaggers not being consistent in stopping cars.” Cereceda and Shamp thanked Phelan for his work over the past four years and he wished them well in their future endeavors.
Under “Uses: Places of Worship & Religious Facilities,” Council is discussing amending the “Places of Worship & Religious Facilities” Ordinance, with Town Staff offering examples from Marathon and Sarasota. Hosafros noted, “I came to you with the idea of merging these two categories into one, and I see Sarasota already did that; Sarasota’s is good and straight to the point!”
Butcher and Murphy agreed, with Shamp adding, “Every single Fort Myers Beach church has residential around them, so we must ensure that residents can opine on what we allow religious facilities to do by Special Exception before Council on a case-by-case basis. Churches have a lot of parking, so we should explore shared parking revenue for the advantages of the church and community.”
Cereceda admitted, “I was not aware many of our parishes suffer financially, so anything we can do to increase their options for services to the community and churches is very important,” with Shamp interjecting, “as long as we respect the residential all around them.” Butcher stated, “I have a great one for you – my son’s church in California sells medical marijuana!” Cereceda replied, “we don’t have that problem on the beach,” with Butcher replying, “not yet!”