The purpose of this commentary is to provide a statement of actual facts about the Town of Fort Myers Beach in contrast to rampant errors and distortions being touted by political candidate Charlie Whitehead. Let us be very direct up front. He has made claims of failures against his opponent, former Beach Mayor Larry Kiker holding him personally responsible for alleged failures. The problem is that these false claims serve to also diminish the stature of our Town and ignore the excellent record the Town and its Council has established over the past several years.
We are not sure how Mr. Whitehead arrived at the conclusion that malicious and untrue attacks upon the Town of Fort Myers Beach would be a productive course of action in his run for a countywide office. Frankly, the wisdom of that decision escapes rational thought. But since he has chosen that path, we are left with no alternative but to present the truth.
In public forums and on his campaign website the following statements are made.
There is a claim that after six years, the flooding problem has not been fixed. First, the flooding problem is not a new issue and has existed for decades. This council is the first to initiate and complete a project that achieved a fix for a significant portion of the island with North Estero Boulevard reconstruction. It not only resolved the storm water issues in that are but also served as a model of what the remainder of Estero Boulevard should be. No doubt, more work must be done and the Storm Water Master Plan provides a path further resolution.
Another claim says that the Town failed to accomplish the Beach re-nourishment project. Part of that project was completed on the North end of the island with spectacular results. As to the remainder, we suggest Mr. Whitehead take the time to learn this was a joint project of both the Town and Lee County. The County demanded that beach vegetation rules apply and a number of residents on the Beach opposed those rules and the easements required for the work.
Yet another claim is that the Town's property tax rate was raised four times in the past six years and added a new tax, the Public Service Tax on electric bills. What he failed to say is that the council honored a pledge to reduce ad valorem taxes by an amount equal to that collected through the PST. Though it was a new tax, it did not result in additional dollars. What he did not tell you is that for the past four years, the ad valorem taxes collected to support the budget in FMB have been less each year.
He faults the Town for not rebuilding Estero Boulevard and providing sidewalks and bicycle paths. What he fails to say is that Estero is a County roadway and is the responsibility of Lee County. It languished for decades in need of reconstruction. This Town Council found a way to work together with Lee County to obtain a commitment to get that project started. It is now underway with an ROW study completed and preliminary design almost done. Its initial phases are funded and included on the County's Capital Improvement Plan.
There is a claim that the Mound House is not open to the public. Wrong. The Mound House site is a multi-tiered project that includes period specific landscaping, an underground exhibit, a historic home intended as a museum and an educational/observation marine deck. Landscaping is complete and the underground exhibit is open to the public. Guided tours are presented at the site three days each week. Efforts of the Town enabled the receipt of a State of Florida grant in the amount of $445,000 to enable the completion of the house restoration. The contract for that work is now on the street.
Another claim is that the number of employees has doubled. While the number of full-time equivalent employees has increased, he avoids informing you that the greater part of that by far comes from the Town having to take over what was once Lee County's Parks and Recreation in the Town. The Town was given no alternative from the county but to take on that role or those services would have disappeared on the Beach.
He claims the Town Council voted to "allow the consumption of alcohol along our bathing beaches." He further claims the council did this despite opposition from the public. First, this statement seems carefully crafted to leave the impression the council approved the consumption of alcohol anywhere along the beach. Wrong. Said consumption can only take place on the sandy portion of privately owned land that is part of a restaurant or bar abutting the beach and that is properly licensed by the State of Florida. And while some members of the public did oppose it, many supported it as well.
Finally, he makes the claim that our Town Manager is paid $176,000 per year. Where on earth did he get that information? Not only is it wrong, it is grossly wrong. The Town Manager's salary is $120,000 per year. Even including retirement contributions, car allowance and health benefit payments, his total compensation package does not add up to that amount.
We are puzzled as to why Mr. Whitehead has chosen to slander the reputation of our Town and our Town Council. However, he certainly could have exercised a bit more wisdom when he chose to rely on one biased source in making his claims. Here is a really simple and rational suggestion. Next time, come to the Town and make any public records request you feel necessary to verify whether what you wish to claim is true before you set out to trash the reputation of this community. It seems more than a little counterproductive to bash and trash a local municipality he must represent if he does manage to get elected. By the way, Mr. Whitehead is not a resident of the Town of Fort Myers Beach and apparently knows very little about our community.