Record Time With Rancor, Cranky Council Goes Long Again  

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    Statistics show over 80% of all New Year’s Resolutions go by the wayside by the end of January. If the Town of Fort Myers Beach Council made one to run shorter meetings like its crisp 96-minute morning Workshop, that died in the afternoon and evening, as the Town Council session ran a new record of 4 hours and 17 minutes, eclipsing its previous mark of 4:04 from December 19, 2016.

    As is usually true of tired people, the longer the meeting went, the more cranky Council became with one-another, while mostly disagreeing on a variety of community topics.

    Under the sub-receipt agreement with Lee County for Community Block Grant Funding to meet federal guidelines to assist Town-sponsored youth programs from October 1, 2016, to September 30, 2017, Council member Joanne Shamp stated that of the $172,000 cost for these programs at the Bay Oaks Recreation Center, membership offsets only $7,000 and grants $32,000 so Town tax dollars pay the balance for afterschool and summer camp activities.

    She noted the Town is “running in the red with taxpayer dollars for these programs and the gap is huge. I cannot pass this in good conscience knowing this is all we receive in return. I love Bay Oaks and no one loves children more than I, but we cannot continue this type of financial management, so I am glad we now have the director present to work on this.” Shamp said as well that many of the kids are not island residents. Council member Anita Cereceda admitted she had no idea of the Town’s total financial obligation until Shamp’s report. Mayor Dennis Boback agreed that this required further study from the new Bay Oaks director Sean De Palma.

    Despite its misgivings, Council unanimously approved the sub-agreement.

    Sandy Line

    Council next discussed the Supplemental Task Authorization, to approve Tetra Tech to complete 100% of water main design and 30% of preliminary stormwater plans for the remaining Estero Island side streets for $1,287,360.

    Council member Tracey Gore said she would not approve this and wanted separate cost breakdowns for potable water and stormwater, as “things always keep changing on this. Stormwater remains a huge issue with first drinking water and now stormwater involving State revolving loans, and now we mix the two. Council has the right to approve these separately.” Public Works Director Scott Baker said if Council does them jointly, it will save roughly $120,000. Gore countered that “this is getting away from us. When it happens like this, we can no longer dictate what streets we will do, but others will tell us what streets they will do.”

    Shamp said she wanted the projects separate as well, saying, “I fully support the water portion but not stormwater and I personally have no intention of paying for designs we will never use. We are at the point where we as a council need to stop spending money on this, so this is where I draw my line in this sandy island of ours.”

    This elicited a long loud sign from Cereceda, who after a lengthy silence finally said, “we do a lousy job of not telling our story correctly. Residents still think we are funding the ‘Cadillac’ option but that is not on the table. I am sorry we continue to misunderstand stormwater; I will continue to support the stormwater project because its environmental impact is hugely important to the future of Fort Myers Beach. I will vote Yes on each.”

    Council defeated the Tetra Tech authorization 3 to 2 with Boback, Gore and Shamp Against.

    Cereceda commented that Council will now spend an extra $120,000 it does not need to allocate. Shamp countered that “the Town will save money over time if we take our time with this. At some point you have to stop spending money on stormwater and for me that stopping point is today, with all due respect to prior Council decisions.” The Town Attorney commented that if Council does not obtain “the 30% stormwater plans then you will not have the information necessary to make all future decisions in a way to move forward that will make sense.” Council determined to return stormwater to a future Workshop by a 3 to 2 vote, with Gore and Shamp Against.

    Gore commented that “this has been done wrong a long time,” with Cereceda insinuating that Gore misunderstood her comments, and “we are not here to rewrite history,” then requested the Mayor provide a brief break.

    Held Hostage

    Upon their return, Mound House Museum director Alison Giesen reviewed the Tourism Development Fund (TDF) proposal. Cereceda made a motion to approve the list, with an amendment to remove the Bay Oaks kayak launch, as there are others close enough to that location. Gore wants to remove the Palm Avenue beach access restroom replacement, and Shamp agreed as she said the Comp Plan does not support that location.

    Council defeated the original motion by Cereceda 3 to 2, with Boback, Gore and Shamp Against. Shamp made a motion to submit the TDF plan with the removal of the Bay Oaks kayak launch and Palm Avenue restroom replacement and this Passed 3 to 2 with Cereceda and Hosafros Against.

    Under Interim Legal Services, the Interim Town Attorney will continue her service until the Town names her replacement for $10,000 per month, an increase over her current $8,500. Shamp said she believed the Town would not get another interim Counsel for a better rate and preferred to maintain an uninterrupted service, and Cereceda said she appreciates the continuity as well. Gore said a former Town Attorney would temporarily return for $7,000 per month, and Boback added that he felt that the Interim Attorney was holding the Town hostage. The Motion Passed 3 to 2 with Boback and Gore Against.

    Under the Mango Street Temporary Parking agenda item, Town Principal Planner Matt Noble is working with the lot manager but not the property owner to continue its operation on a temporary permit basis while they take steps to file the permanent paperwork. Council approved this in a rare unanimous vote.

    Addressing Advisory Committee vacancies, Council named Megan Heil to the open Local Planning Agency Appointment by a 4 to 1 vote, with Gore against, and unanimously added Shannon Mapes to the Marina Resources Task Force.

    Disagreements abounded during discussion of the Town Manager Transition, with Council reversing its December discussion to allow the Interim Town Manager and a committee of his choice to select finalists for the Town Manager position; now Town Council will lead the search and interview all candidates. The pay scale is from $120,000 to $150,000 with the Town benefits package, and the new person must live within 25 miles of Town Hall.

    Hosafros, in a Point of Order, stressed that changing the hiring process is “not on our agenda today; we already agreed and voted on the way we will do this. We only asked for clarifications in the salary range and work mile distance,” but the Boback, Gore, and Shamp disagreed, saying it is appropriate to reexamine this.

    Inappropriate?

    Gore brought forward an offer from a professional search firm to conduct the entire search process for a Town Manager for $24,500. The Town Attorney noted that it was extremely inappropriate for a Town Council member to solicit this service on her own. Gore took exception, asking, “was it inappropriate the way we brought in Jim Steele?” with Cereceda and Hosafros loudly responding “YES!” The Town Attorney stated that “as one of the five people who will vote on this, you cannot get quotes. I am just trying to keep you out of trouble.”

    Hosafros said “we gave instruction to our staff last month and now we are backing away.” Gore indicted that she was uncomfortable “letting staff make this crucial decision to the importance of the future of the Town,” with Boback agreeing. Hosafros said these actions just reinforce the public opinion that “this council always changes its mind – we bring something up at one meeting then change it at the next, then change it again at another. We started the process, rewrote the document, asked staff to implement changes and they made them, and now we start all over again,” to which the Boback replied, “that is all a part of the democratic process.”

    The search for a new Town Manager will commence after the March 2017 election that will choose three Council seats so those new members can choose their own Town Manager. Gore disagreed, saying “we have a job to do, why wait until the election?” Shamp replied, “You and Dennis will be here two more years; but none of us have a clue who will fill the other three seats before March 7. It is very important that council establish a relationship with the candidates and select whoever they feel will most benefit the people of this Town.”

    The motion to eliminate the Town Manager screening committee and have Council manage the process following the March election Passed 4 to 1, with Hosafros Against.

    Town Council by unanimous vote named Gretchen Johnson its 2017 Citizen of Distinction for her numerous community contributions including her efforts on behalf of Town Incorporation, the Beach Civic Association and Fort Myers Beach Art Association among many activities, and will so honor her at its February 6 meeting.

    After 4 hours and 17 minutes, Council adjourned at 6:17 p.m.

     

    Gary Mooney