Public Works employees – our readers see them everyday, cleaning out storm drains, hauling away trash, riding around in their golf carts or collecting payment for water bills at Town Hall. But who are they? As it turns out, the 31 staff members of the Town of Fort Myers Beach Public Works Department, which now includes Beach Water and the Beach & Street Enforcement staff, are some pretty interesting folks, with backgrounds as varied as the sands on our beach. Over the next few weeks, we are going to be introducing these friendly faces to our readers.
Scott Baker – Public Works Director
We decided we’d start at the top. Scott has been at the helm of Public Works since 2014, following Cathie Lewis’ departure. A former public works director in Dearborn, Michigan, Scott moved to southwest Florida in the late 1980’s, following his parents to Naples. He got his first job with the Town in a way some of our visitors no doubt dream of – while vacationing at the Best Western.
“I love this beach, just love it,” he said. “So my wife and I were spending a week here when I went online and saw there was an opening for a special project coordinator for the North Estero Boulevard project. I went in and got hired the next day.”
Scott told us that he loves what he does and the people he works with, taking obvious delight in calling each staff member in to interview with us.
“I also love to lift really heavy things,” he said. “Most people may not know this, but my wife and I are at the gym every morning by 4am. We are power lifters, and she is the best workout partner I know. Other than that, we are always – always at the beach.”
Chelsea O’Riley – Administrative Specialist
Chelsea is the Administrative Specialist in Public Works, often seen at Scott’s side. She is a ‘beach rat’ (a term formerly used by mainland kids as an insult, but now an affectionate nickname), having grown up on Fort Myers Beach after her parents moved here when she was 10 years old. She grew up working for the Town too – having started at Bay Oaks when she was only 16.
“I grew up on Bay Mar where I lived with my grandparents,” she told us. “After I worked at Bay Oaks, I worked at the pool, then I was at the Mound House when Scott brought me into full time work,” she said. “I have a degree in marketing from Stetson University, where I spent a semester in Austria.”
Chelsea says she enjoys all the fun things most people in their 20’s do, especially her big chocolate lab she named ‘Hoss’.
“I love doing anything outside, seriously, I love the Florida heat that everyone complains about,” she said. “And I like to go to the shooting range.”
Rae Blake – Environmental & Stormwater Technician
Rae’s job used to be its own department under Keith Laakkonen, but when Keith left to take the top job at Rookery Bay, then-Town Manager Don Stilwell folded her position into Public Works. Rae, who has now been at her post long enough to stop being referred to as ‘the new Keith’, came to the Town last November from the east coast of Florida where she grew up in the tiny town of Juno Beach – a childhood that forever endeared her to the plight of sea turtles.
“My first experience with sea turtles happened when I was five years old,” she said. “My dad took me out to the beach one night and I saw a turtle lay her eggs. I was so completely enthralled that (laughs) I had my next three birthday parties at the Marinelife Center in my hometown. I have literally been surrounded by sea turtles and nesting birds my whole life.”
Rae spends most of her life on the water. When she’s not walking the beach checking turtle sites and nesting birds, she loves to snorkel with her dad and work on teaching others about our natural wonders.
Kevin Przybyszewski – Beach and Street Enforcement (B.A.S.E.)
Like most members of B.A.S.E., Kevin is a retired police officer. He left his wild hometown in New Jersey in 2010 and found himself working for the Town in a way similar to his boss, Baker.
“I was on the beach and walked into a 7/11 and met B.A.S.E. Team Leader Chuck Gallagher and asked him where he worked,” Kevin told us. “When I found out he was a retired cop too, I knew this was the place for me.”
Kevin has lived on the beach ever since, and in his free time he loves to carve decoy ducks with his grandson. He is in the unique position of being both dad and granddad – his first-born son is a 32-year-old police officer and his other son is only 3 but already snorkels on his own.
“I love to travel with my family – I spend all of my free time with them,” he said.
Christy Cory – Water Utilities Supervisor
Christy was born and raised in Naples and moved to Immokalee as a teenager, where she graduated high school. She’s been with Beach Water for 11 years, having started there when it was called Woodard and Curren before the Town took it over. She is a certified Water Distribution Operator with two kids at home and two in college – one at the University of South Florida and the other at the University of Florida.
“I live in Cape Coral with my four dogs, and my husband I love doing things on the water,” she said. “Every chance we get, we’re on our boat fishing. We really love going up by Matlacha.”
Chris Rowe – Maintenance Worker
Chris is another Florida native, having been born in Bradenton and moved to Fort Myers when he was six years old. He and another maintenance employee – Dan Sigler – came to the Town as part of a labor contract and were hired for full time when Baker saw how hard they worked.
“I’ve been here with the Town now 3 years full-time, 4 ½ total,” Chris told us. “I work a lot of hours here and I also work at PierSide Grill. When I’m not working, I spend time with my two kids. We like doing all the normal stuff you do having grown up on the beach, but our favorite things are playing video games and camping when we can get away.”
Dan Sigler – Maintenance Worker
Dan was hired at the same time as Chris and, though he’s not married with kids, he does have another full time gig to make him happy – his heavy metal band, Fate’s Creation.
“We’ve been together since 2010, and I’m the lead guitarist,” Dan told us. “We do old school metal tunes with our own twist on them, and we work real hard – we’re about to release our next CD.”
When not practicing with his band mates, Sigler spends time with his girlfriend in Cape Coral – a place he has called home for 29 years.
Pat Harper – Water Utility Customer Service Clerk
Pat is the smiling face most islanders see when they go to pay their water bill. Like Christy, she came onboard when the Town took over from Woodard & Curran, where she worked for 8 years.
“I’ve lived on Fort Myers Beach for 35 years, down on the south end,” Pat told us. “I have a grown daughter and she and her family live on the beach too.”
In fact, Pat’s daughter as been the subject of Sand Paper stories in the past because she is a professional volleyball player.
“Jean Matthew wrote about her several years ago, as did Mark List,” Pat told us. “We have a lot of fun together. When I’m not with them, I relax and read.”
Randy Alexander – Water Utility Technician
Randy came to our emerald shores from Iowa, and also came to the Town from Woodard & Curran and, like, Christy, holds a certification as a Water Distribution Operator.
“Before that, I worked as a foreman for Conidaris Builders,” he told us. “All of this after I ‘retired’. When I’m not working, I love to go fishing with my grandson.”
Chuck Gallagher – Beach and Street Enforcement Team Leader
Chuck grew up in Pittsburgh, and he brought his love of all Pittsburgh sports when he moved here in 2006.
“I’m a retired police officer, firefighter, bartender and bar manager,” Chuck told us. “I have friends that live here and I used to come down every year for their Super Bowl party and then one year I decided not to leave.”
Chuck recently got married and moved to Naples, though he spends a lot of time in airports as his three daughters, five grandkids and one great-grandchild refused to follow him to Florida.
“My wife and I also like to hang out – we do cook-outs a lot,” he said. “We have fun!”
Taylor Matuska – Administrative Specialist for Beach Water
Taylor is originally from Lincoln, Nebraska, and moved to southwest Florida in 2009.
“My husband – he was my boyfriend at the time – he lived in the Cape so I moved here to marry him,” Taylor told us. “I saw on the Town’s website they had an administration position open, so I got hired initially for the Town Clerk’s office, then moved to water.”
Taylor told us she is an avid bowler with an average of 178 and a lifetime high score of 248, and that she and her husband also like to go to the beach and watch hockey – especially the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“No kids yet,” she said with a twinkle in her eye, “But we do have two dogs we love.”
Join us next week to meet more people in Public Works!
Keri Hendry Weeg