Mayor Murphy Takes Charge, 6 Questions

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Periodically, The Island Sand Paper asks a community leader “6 Questions.” This edition features Ray Murphy, who again became Fort Myers Beach Mayor on Monday, April 6, joining Anita Cereceda and Dennis Boback as the only people in Town history to be Mayor two or more times. Mayor Murphy spoke to us on Friday, April 10.

Q1: This is your second time as FMB Mayor, correct?

Yes! I previously served as Mayor from 1999 to 2000, and then, just like now, I followed Anita Cereceda, so I have experience with becoming Mayor this way, so there is a definite sense of déjà vu! When the new Town Council unanimously elected me Mayor of my hometown, it filled me with gratitude and appreciation.

Q2: Your Marco Island counterparts recently attempted to reopen their beaches in a minor way and quickly heard from their own residents about what a huge mistake that would be, leading them to reverse their decision. Your thoughts?

My initial reaction to their decision to reopen their beach were words you cannot reprint in a family newspaper! I am very glad the Marco Island City Manager was able to convince their Council to reverse their decision, but in that day or so it took to do that, I received roughly a dozen calls from our residents, asking if they can do it, why can’t we, so the damage was done.

The few folks who called about opening the beach, I asked them these same questions: if you are not concerned about yourself, what about your partner or children or your parents or grandparents or your grandchildren and on and on? Of course you understand they miss the beach, but as Marco Island discovered, you can’t just open a little bit of the beach, because once word gets out, you are in trouble. You will be getting not just Fort Myers Beach residents but people from everywhere. I am familiar with Marco Island, as I spent a good part of my life in the Naples area, and many people go there from the Miami region for holidays and vacations, as that is the closest community on this side of Alligator Alley and an easy trip. I don’t care if they would barricade public parking, because those people would find a way to make their own parking anyway, and I fear that is exactly what would happen here as well.

If we reopen our beach too soon, you will have East Coast people here, and from many other places, too, and that is why we must keep everyone out, for the good of the citizens of Fort Myers Beach. As tough as it is to close the beach, we are doing it on everyone’s behalf, as I have to honesty say I do not know of anyone getting sick with coronavirus here, and that is because everyone is staying home like we asked them! A friend called me today and said there is a website where you can see the number of reported coronavirus cases per zip code. When he looked up 33931, it had less than 10, and remember our zip code includes San Carlos Island, going all the way up to Iona, so this shows that everyone is doing their best to keep our numbers down.”

Q3: What are you hearing from FMB residents and how would you categorize their overall mood; compare that to FMB businessowners and their overall mood?

Just the few people that I see walking my dog seem well, but there are not that many out, so that tells me they are paying attention to the “Stay at Home” order. They are playing by the rules and that is why I believe we have such a low incident number. Overall, I would describe the Town’s mood as mostly calm. On my walk the other day, I wore a shirt I like to wear that says, “Stay Calm; Stay Cool; Stay Home” and that seems to be exactly what our Townspeople are doing. Naturally, they wish the beach was open, as that is such a big part of their daily lives, but our citizens understand this will not be forever but it is the way it has to be now.

As for businessowners, they are anxious, to say the least and rightfully so, as this pandemic could not come at a worse time of year. March was literally to be the peak business month on Fort Myers Beach, where many businesses make the money that will carry them through the slower off-season, but that is gone out the window now, with no possibility of ever retrieving that again, so you understand that they worry. I think a great many will explore government programs to gain some financial relief, and of course they look to the Town government to keep them informed and provide guidance. How we reopen the Town will be the next big strategy, once we pass through this critical health stage.

Q4: The next two regularly scheduled Council meetings are Monday mornings, April 20 & May 4. Do you foresee any emergency meetings the rest of April?

Not at the moment, but that can change, should Governor Ron DeSantis issue a major Executive Order and the Town need to readjust some policy, but I don’t see that now.

Q5: What can you say about former Mayor Cereceda and former Council members Bruce Butcher and Joanne Shamp, whose terms ended on April 6, through the four emergency meetings over the past month?

They all did their parts and did them well! Joanne from the very beginning jumped all over the situation, made sure the Town was out front with everything, such as closing everything up as fast as we did, and she was right! Anita was of course the “Face of The Town” in all of this and seemed to be everywhere. Special thanks to her and Town Manager Roger Hernstadt who stayed in constant contact with Lee County and other leaders, and she did a great job with the media. Bruce constantly brought his own unique wisdom to the situation and contributed a wealth of information, as he always does.

Q6: What would you like to say to FMB residents?

I first want to thank everyone who voted me back onto Council last year, to put me in the position where I could serve my hometown again as Mayor. Second, this is a very trying period in our Town history, so I ask everyone to remain patient, as not only we but Lee County and State and National leaders are doing their best for all of us here, so patience is what we need everyone to practice. Our residents will do just fine, but it will be tougher on our businesspeople, so we will be there as best we can to help them get going again once we start lifting the restrictions, to crawl out of this and bring life back to Fort Myers Beach. I have every confidence that when we get back to some sense of normalcy, our restaurants, bars and hotels will rebound. We still have a bright future!