Council Amends Restrictions
On Friday, April 3, the Fort Myers Beach Town Council held its 4th Emergency Meeting since March 18 related to the coronavirus pandemic. Council primarily amended its two Declarations of Emergency Regulations from its March 30 Emergency Meeting, to coincide with the “Safer At Home” guidelines issued by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in two confusing Executive Orders issued on April 1, along with an additional statement DeSantis uttered on April 2 that further muddled the intent of his directives.
Governor DeSantis on the morning of April 1 issued a broad-ranging “Safer At Home” Executive Order, but then that evening, with no announcement, quietly signed a second order that seemed to indicate his policy overruled stricter ones issued by local municipalities, such as the Declaration of Emergency Regulations No. 2 passed by Fort Myers Beach Town Council on Monday, March 30, to regulate transient rentals. The Governor then made a verbal statement on Thursday, April 2, explaining that was not the purpose of his second Executive Order and local municipalities could in fact adopt stricter measures, leading to confusion and the Town’s April 3 Emergency Meeting.
Mayor Anita Cereceda explained that the purpose of the April 3 meeting was “to discuss a Declaration of Emergency Regulations No. 4, so ours from March 30 on vacation rentals and accommodations are more consistent with the Governor’s order.” The Emergency Meeting began roughly one hour later than its scheduled start of 10:30 a.m., due to technical broadcast difficulties with the virtual meeting, with the five Council Members and Town Attorney John Herin, Jr., in their respective homes, with Town Manager Roger Hernstadt and Town Clerk Michelle Mayher in their Town Hall offices.
Council member Rexann Hosafros wanted assurance that the revised Declaration #4 was written after both Executive Orders from Wednesday as well as the Governor’s statement from 6:30 April 2. The Town Attorney replied, “This is current from up to 10 minutes prior to the start of this meeting!” Hosafros noted, “The Governor talked about this Order last night, explaining that it doesn’t mean what it seems to say, and that is definitely very strange! The Order’s wording should be what it says it is, so I am struggling with this.” Cereceda reaffirmed, “The Governor said that local governments may enact stricter rules than his order, and we confirmed this through several sources, like the Florida League of Cities and State Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto.” “The Executive Orders,” affirmed the Town Attorney, “are, using the Governor’s own words, the floor and not the ceiling, and in fact local jurisdictions can implement more restrictive measures as they relate to essential services.”
June 26 Expiration
The Town’s Emergency Declaration No. 2 went into effect at midnight on Tuesday, March 31, for 90 days or until Council rescinds it. Transient renters in their accommodations prior to March 31 can remain for their original reservation, but cannot extend it. Rental facilities that do not cancel reservations from March 31 forward are subject to a $5,000 fine. Property owners can remain in their units, and it would not apply to those in law enforcement or the medical profession.
Following their April 3 deliberations, Council unanimously approved Emergency Declaration #4 to expand exemptions for individuals combating the coronavirus in the healthcare profession, first responders, National Guard, law enforcement officers, Federal, State & Town employees, residents who must reside in hotels due to living arrangements such as necessary relocations from housing sales and closings and essential service providers and contractors. Emergency Declaration #4 expires on Friday, June 26, so hoteliers and renters can accept guests for The Fourth of July Holiday Week, unless the incoming Town Council amends it. Before their unanimous vote, Council attempted to take Public Comment, but further technical difficulties prevented them from hearing from anyone except for one person.
The Fort Myers Beach Declaration of Emergency Regulations No. 4 – Amending Declaration of Emergency Regulations No.2 can be seen below.
In related matters, the Town will virtually swear-in its three new Council members: Dan Allers, Jim Atterholt and Bill Veach, at the scheduled Town Council meeting on Monday morning, April 6, which will be held virtually. The new Council will decide on whether Town residents who reside full-time in the Mooring Field can remain or must vacate the site. Council will allow professional beach raking companies to continue to groom private Fort Myers Beach properties to prevent weeds that may later require chemical use for removal. The panel will authorize “Turtle Time” volunteers with appropriate identification, in conjunction with Town Staff, to patrol Fort Myers Beach once turtle nesting season begins on Wednesday, April 15. Council will request that the Special Magistrate, in cases where appropriate, suspend the accumulation of daily fines during the Town’s State of Emergency.
Finally, Council unanimously revoked its Emergency Declaration #3, passed on March 30, urging social distancing and related safety measures, as the April 1 Executive Order from Governor DeSantis is more restrictive. Council adjourned at 12:57 p.m., with Shamp intoning, “Stay Home and Stay Well!”
Monday, April 6 Council Meeting
The virtual Town Council Meeting on Monday, April 6, can be viewed on Comcast Channel 98 or live through YouTube.com on the Town of Fort Myers Beach channel. Those who wish their comments to be read into the record may send comments to PublicComment@fmbgov.com by 8:30am April 6. To comment via The Zoom.com app, log on to Meeting ID 411-846-268 or call 301-715-8592. Once you enter the meeting ID, press # to be placed on hold until public comments are taken. You will be placed in a “waiting room” and be unable to see or hear the meeting through Zoom until called upon. For more information see the meeting agenda at fmbgov.com