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Two return, one steps up to Fort Myers Beach Town Council

The new council's next meeting is Monday, March 20.

March 15, 2017
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

If there's one thing the three newly-elected Fort Myers Beach council members can agree on, it's this: the town is facing a lot of tough decisions, and it's time to get to work.

Incumbent Anita Cereceda returns victorious; Joanne Shamp secured her position after being appointed in December. The newcomer, Bruce Butcher, isn't nervous at all for his first meeting.

Butcher led the race with 1,306 votes, followed by Cereceda with 1,257 and Shamp with 1,235 at the March 7 election.

After months of unrest on the board, residents have been calling for civility and unity amongst their elected representatives through letters to the editor and questions at candidate forums.

Butcher's solution is simple: take emotion out of the equation.

"I'm very analytical," he said. "You let data speak. The data should get you on the right path to an intelligent decision."

Saying things like "I think this," "I believe that," or "Someone told me," don't fly with Bruce: he wants to see the data. The course of decision making needs to be based on facts and evidence, not opinions and feelings.

"You've got to relax a little, understand the stances, and get good data to make a decision," he said.

In a similar fashion, Shamp is a planner. She said she wants to come to meetings prepared and knowledgeable about an issue so she can make an informed decision. She's disagreed with her fellow council members in the past, but she said she always tries to maintain a professional and calm demeanor.

And if she's not certain about an issue, she has a steadfast source of information: the comprehensive plan. It's her go-to guide for decision making, and she has professed that she grew to love the document through her years on the Local Planning Agency.

"You can't love the Comprehensive Plan and not love all the sections of our community," she said.

During the campaign she was labeled as anti-business or development, but she said it's not an accurate assumption - she looks to the comp plan to guide her decisions.

"I deal with that by treating everyone fairly," she said. "That's why you have the comp plan and the LDC (land development code)."

Cereceda's no newcomer to dealing with different personalities on the board - she's served several times since the town's inception.

Cereceda said she felt this was the most important election the town's since its first ever, because the town council has so many important and impactful issues coming before it now and in the next year.

"There are some many things going on, it will take cool heads to move methodically through this next year," she said. "I think this new council will set a new tone. Hopefully a spirit of cooperation to bring the community together."

Butcher hopes he can get the council talking about the budget sooner, rather than later, so its members can be prepared and informed instead of entering a ring of bloodshed before the budget is passed, he said.

He thinks breaking down the budget will help both council and residents understand more about how money is being spent - clearly showing restricted versus unrestricted funds, discretionary and mandatory spending and prices and rates.

"Some things you don't have a choice, you have to spend the money," he said. "If you have a house, you have to pay the rent or mortgage. But when you get groceries, you don't have to get prime steak, you can get hamburger instead."

The comprehensive plan has many goals for the town to accomplish - so Butcher thinks the council should hone in on what the town hasn't yet done. He hopes to focus especially on downtown revitalization and completing the Estero Boulevard project, the latter of which Shamp also listed as her top priority.

"Right now the county has been rolling to their tune-which is a good tune-but we need to make sure it's a benefit for everyone on the island," he said.

Cereceda said during the campaign that her immediate priority is getting a new town manager to replace interim Town Manager Jim Steele. The town has already received 77 applications from around the state and nation, and will soon begin to whittle them down.

"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," she said in a previous interview. "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 managers."

A total of 5,175 votes were cast in the beach's three precincts. Forrest "Butch" Critser received 849 votes and Ber Stevenson secured 528. The charter amendment on the ballot also passed by 88 percent.



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