Five candidates are vying for three seats on the Fort Myers Beach Town Council. Incumbent Anita Cereceda and Joanne Shamp, appointed in December to fill a vacancy, already sit behind the dais. Vice Mayor Rexann Hosafros is not running for re-election.
The election is Tuesday, March 7. For the issues of Feb. 15, Feb. 22 and March 1, the Observer will run a series of Q&A's with the five candidates.
1. If elected, what is your No. 1 priority, and how would you work with the other council members to accomplish it?
My top priority is improving the quality of life for all taxpayers and residents on Fort Myers Beach. The first step in accomplishing this is the expeditious completion of Estero Boulevard and the related stormwater project.
As this project trudges along our residents are stuck in traffic jams and our local restaurants, shops and businesses sit empty.
We need leadership to bring the council together, as a cohesive team, in order to move forward. Fort Myers Beach also needs to strengthen the relationship and build a better partnership with the county so we are mutually working toward our benchmarks. And, accountability measures must be put in place to ensure our goals are accomplished efficiently and on time.
It is that leadership coupled with my business experience that I am willing to bring to the dais to see these projects through to completion in a timely and cost effective manner.
Anita Cereceda (incumbent): My number one priority will be to secure the professional services of an experienced and qualified town manager. As of today, we have 33 applications. My hope is that we will find someone who has the ability to weather the constant political storms that seem to arise on Fort Myers Beach. Institutional knowledge is something that every organization values and something that our town lacks. In the past 10 years, we've had almost as many Town managers.
I am looking for someone who is a good negotiator, understands the value of collaborative work, values all members of our community and has the experience and understanding of our council / manager form of government. A strong financial background is a must. This decision that will be made jointly with all council members and is critical to the future and success of Fort Myers Beach.
Forrest "Butch" Crister:
I am running for Town Council because I feel our government is no longer effectively serving our community. Infighting and political posturing has brought town progress to a halt. We need to work together on behalf of the residents and taxpayers that we are elected to serve. For our town to succeed we must bring civility and common sense back to our government.
Completion of many of the projects we are working on requires we forge a strong working relationship with the county but to do so we, as a town, must be united in our vision and goals.
We must bring life back to the downtown portion of the island. The shuttered businesses and blight we see after crossing the bridge is an embarrassment to our town. We need to create a business-friendly environment that our residents and visitors can all be proud of and enjoy.
Joanne Shamp: Our number one priority must be to take the lead in working with the county, the state, property owners and investors to complete the boulevard project, incorporate traffic easing and pedestrian-bicycle safety design wherever possible, and revitalize our downtown.
Our community is physically torn up with construction, and blighted with construction-staging and under-used, poorly maintained property in what should be the "vibrant" welcome mat to our island. Our emotions are frayed. Our local character, quality of life and economy are suffering.
I will work with other Council members to: specify the traffic and safety improvements desired for our bridges, Times Square intersections and boulevard crosswalks; use code enforcement to enforce standards for safety, property maintenance and staging throughout the length of the project; and work with the developer to get the downtown re-development project underway in accordance with the policies established by our Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code
Ber Stevenson: My top priority is our Gulf water quality and the ultimate safety of that water for humans, animals, plants and marine life. Currently, the Lake Okeechobee releases down the Caloosahatchee River threaten this safety. Our tourism base, our "salt life", and the health of our fisheries are all impacted by these releases. Without clean and safe Gulf water, Fort Myers Beach as we know it cannot survive. I have spent much time and energy attending meetings and doing research to educate myself on this topic. I have marched in Miami with the Miccosukee Indians and stood on top of the Matanzas Pass Bridge with hundreds of others to demand action to clean and send the Lake O' water south to the Everglades. If elected, I would hope to spearhead action on Town Council to make the southern flow a reality and brown water nothing but a bad memory.
2. The term "government lite" is often used to describe the kind of governing Fort Myers Beach should have. What does that term mean to you? Do you think it is an effective method of running a municipality?
Bruce Butcher: "Government Lite" traditionally means operating government with less bureaucracy, smaller budgets and limited regulatory restrictions on individuals and businesses. In the business world, we call this running a "lean operation."
Less government generally means more for the taxpayer. More money in their pockets and more liberty in their lives. Government's primary role is to provide infrastructure and services for its residents, not pander to the requests of special interests. I am against all wasteful spending whether it is local, state or federal government.
The key to running a "lite" government starts with running a "right" government. Municipal services must be managed in an effective and efficient manner and we should always be working to improve services thru metrics and process management. If we are getting the results from government that the taxpayers and residents require in a cost-effective and transparent manner, then yes we are operating government lite and right.
Anita Cereceda: The idea behind government lite was that we could control our future as a town without increasing costs while keeping the millage rate at or below what was then the unincorporated millage rate paid to the county. The idea also contemplated outsourcing agencies to provide necessary services to the town for cost savings. Over the last 20 years the Town has recognized savings by bringing "in house" several departments that had originally been outsourced. Beach water and parking services were brought into town hall most recently and have proven to both save taxpayers money but equally as important, improve service to the public.
Forrest "Butch" Crister: Prior to incorporation Fort Myers Beach was a neighborhood community governed by Lee County. However, the desire for self-governance and to control our own destiny was the genesis of the birth of the Town of Fort Myers Beach. From the beginning, we wanted the town to stay small and simple. We adopted the government lite philosophy of a streamlined bureaucracy, limited spending, and a small government staff - as most services were outsourced.
But as the saying goes you can't stop progress and the tourism industry was vital to the community. The area was growing and so did the necessity of additional government services.
As we move forward we must make the best financial decisions for our town. Those decisions should determine whether or not those services should be brought in-house or outsourced and should be evaluated on a case-by-case scenario based on what is best for our taxpayers.
Joanne Shamp: "Government lite" planned local control and minimal overhead so local government money could be used for community services and infrastructure instead of government growth. It is supposed to be customer oriented, control spending, and limit employees by using volunteers and outsourcing. The Charter also restricted long-term financing and bonding to support "government lite".
Our town failed to control growth of its government. "Government lite" was further damaged by changes in debt management policy and by voters narrowly approving the referendum to allow long-term financing beyond 36 months. A large portion of this year's $22.2 million budget relates to debt for building our drinking water and stormwater systems and employee costs of approximately $3.4 million that far exceed the $2.5 million expected ad valorem tax revenue.
"Government lite" is effective if our leadership were dedicated to the method. A change in spending is required and I promise to steer that course.
Ber Stevenson: "Government Lite" is the philosophy of keeping the cost of government to a minimum by outsourcing services and utilizing volunteers where possible and seeking alternative revenue sources such as grants. The Town was originally based on this philosophy, which worked wonderfully for years. Somewhere along the way, however, Town Hall deviated from this path and turned to the more traditional and expensive method of government by bringing these outsourced services "in-house," creating Town jobs with high salaries and high benefit costs. I think that we should return to the government-lite way of thinking and pinpoint and transfer those jobs which can be outsourced without a loss of accountability and service to our residents. A strong volunteer base can be instrumental in keeping our millage rate down, as well as giving residents an opportunity to be involved firsthand in their Town. In my opinion, government-lite would be good for Fort Myers Beach.