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Community Leaders Meet

06/10/2014 at 6:27pm

Council RetreatCommunity Leaders Meet
For Day Long Planning Session

On Monday, members of Town Council, Town Manager Don Stilwell, representatives from the Town's advisory committees, Town staff and residents - including three former mayors and the President of the Beach Chamber of Commerce - attended an all day Strategic Planning retreat. Held in the new Beach Library's generously proportioned community room, the retreat was facilitated by former city manager and current Florida Gulf Coast University Professor of Public Finance and Budgeting Bob Lee.

Lee began by asking all advisory board members, council and Town staff to disperse themselves throughout the room, resulting in eight tables of four to six people each. We ended up sitting with Marine Resources Task Force Chair Bill Veach, Town Manager Don Stilwell, Vice-Mayor Dan Andre and Paula Kiker, wife of Lee County Commission Chair and island resident Larry Kiker.

"Folks should consider what's going on today, and then think of what will happen in many years," Lee said, as he gave the groups ten to twelve minutes to focus on issues relating to the Town and to list the most important ones both internally (inside government) and externally (economic, technological, social and politically). These lists were then voted on to determine which were the most important issues to everyone in the room.

The first topic - Town strengths and assets - saw little differences amongst the groups, with most agreeing on internal strengths being the diversity amongst Council and the advisory committees and external the economic impact of our local environment.

The groups were then asked to determine the Town's weaknesses and liabilities - both internal and external. This resulted in a much wider spread of votes, with staff turnover, the processing of Town services and relationships amongst Town Council, staff and residents being seen as the most important internal liabilities and funding for storm water and other infrastructure as well as conflicting priorities amongst islanders the most important external weaknesses.

Other liabilities listed were (external): lack of clout when dealing with Lake Okeechobee water releases and airline noise; inequitable allocation of tax dollars; the spread of misinformation and rumors and FEMA insurance issues. Other internal issues included the lack of proactive code enforcement and lack of confidence in Town staff.

After lunch, the groups (now down to six) focused on the Town's opportunities - both internal and external. For those, the favorites were, Internal: improve organization and policy direction for Town staff, improve the Town's codes. External: a public/private partnership for the Seafarer property;clarify Town priorities and 'just do it'.

Finally, the groups were asked to look at internal and external threats and constraints, which resulted in a consensus that the overwhelming constraint our Town faces

is the lack of funding for projects. Others included competing priorities, FEMA flood regulations, water releases from Lake Okeechobee and lack of political clout. Lee then asked the dwindling groups to focus on creating vision and mission statements for the Town, which will be ultimately decided on by Council.

"Now that we've done all of that, how are we going to define the core values and mission statement of the Town?" he asked. "A vision statement is what you want people to think of when they think of your Town."

These statements ran from the short and concise to the more explanatory, with the groups selecting two as favorites: "Create a safe, responsible and environmentally conscious community that promotes a diversity of experiences and opportunities for residents and visitors", and, "A small town with a tourist vibe".

Councilman Alan Mandel suggested using the second statement for the Vision Statement and the first as the Mission Statement. Others liked a third statement, saying that the first sounded too much like a 't-shirt slogan'. The remaining groups finally settled on the following as a vision statement:

"Fort Myers Beach is a barrier island community dedicated to promoting a safe, vibrant 'small town' and preserving our natural and cultural environments".

The groups then set about completing a mission statement to support the vision statement. Carla Mandel pointed out that the Town has changed since the Comprehensive Plan was created at the Town's birth in 1995.

"There are lots of people who have come here since then who want to be part of this community, and our mission statement needs to include them as well as continue to incorporate our core values," she said.

The groups debated the mission statement extensively, with different opinions as to how to cover everyone's interests. Some felt that their opposition to overbuilding should be included, while others didn't think the issue important enough to list in the mission statement. What finally emerged encompassed all their ideas:

"The Town shall work cooperatively and collaboratively with its citizens, businesses, organizations, and other governments to increase public safety, preserve and enhance our natural environment, cultural amenities and provide exceptional service in a professional and fiscally responsible manner and consistent with all regulations."

Finally, the groups set goals to accompany their vision and mission statements. Everyone liked all the goals suggested, and asked Lee to combine them all and eliminate the duplicates. Since it was nearing the end of a long day, consensus was reached to ask Councilwoman Rexann Hosafros to compile this list and return to Council with the list following the July break.

These goals included: Develop a 'world class' town staff and processes, maintain a healthy beach, focus on improving a sustainable natural environment, mitigate traffic congestion, keep up with infrastructure, keep the theme of the community unique and look at Town regulations.

Keri Hendry Weeg