Change Comes to Town Hall
The face of Town Council is about to
change. Despite a rather anemic turnout of just 1,386 voters or
26.99% of registered voters, last Tuesday's election made history for
the 18-year-old Town of Fort Myers Beach as voters elected three
women - Anita Cereceda, Rexann Hosafros and Summer Stockton – to
seats on the dais. Prior to this week, only three women - Terry Cain,
Cereceda and outgoing Councilwoman Jo List - have served on council
since incorporation in 1995. And that wasn't the only record set -
Stockton,30, has become the youngest person ever elected to Town
Hall. After allowing them to catch their breath for a few hours, we
sat down with the new council members-elect on Wednesday morning to
find out how they felt about their victories and what Town issues
they planned on tackling first.
Anita Cereceda received the most votes
with 978. After growing up on Fort Myers Beach helping her parents
run their retail stores in Time Square, she voted in favor of
incorporation in 1995 and then found herself running for the first
council and serving for 5 years, including three as the newborn
town's first mayor. She decided to run again this year because she
felt the Town could use her unique perspective and wanted to help out
during a time when so many crucial projects are being worked on.
"The biggest thing that is different
to me from the last time I was elected is that this time it doesn't
feel like it was all about me - not so much that I'd won but that
they'd won,” she said. "I was in my house with a bunch of people
when the results came in, and I was just overwhelmed by how many kept
yelling 'We won'. The outreach of all these people that believe in me
has been incredible, it really felt like the victory was theirs. I
just hope I live up to their expectations!”
Anita told us that what she intends to
tackle on a daily basis from the moment she takes office is to help
people reconnect with Town Hall.
"I want to improve the reputation of
the Town and help to rebuild a comfort level of trust between
residents and government,” she said. "I think that will go a long
way towards achieving the many projects on our list. When people feel
a disconnection to the process it limits your success.”
Cereceda also told us that she plans
to spend the next few days getting up to speed on the Town's current
projects so she can hit the ground running next week.
"It's such a thrill to be part of
this again and I want to thank everyone for coming out to vote,”
she said. "Especially those folks who, after finding out their
polling place had been moved from Church of the Ascension to St.
Peter's decided to brave the traffic to make sure their voices got
heard. I absolutely love this community.”
Another life-long islander, Summer
Stockton, took the second highest amount of votes with 878. After
attending a leadership conference hosted by the Community Resources
Advisory Board last year, she decided to get involved and joined the
Bay Oaks Recreational Center Advisory Board (BORCAB) to help ensure
island kids enjoy their childhood as much as she did. That is also
what ultimately led her to run for council.
"When I first heard the results, I
didn't believe it for about 20 minutes,” she said. "I kept
telling my friend to hit 'refresh' on her iPhone. I was - and still
am - shocked and elated. I'm so happy and so impressed. Here I
thought the age thing would work against me and now I think it worked
in my favor - this shows me how great the people on this island
Stockton told us that she intends to
work hard to make sure that local kids have as great an experience
growing up on the island as she did.
"I want them to have everything I
did and more,” she said. "And that includes clean water - I want
to join forces with other communities to put pressure on Tallahassee
to solve the problem with the Lake Okeechobee releases.”
Summer also agreed with Anita that
residents need to feel they can trust their government.
"I want to bring it back to where
people and Town Hall can work together as a team,” she said. "Once
you lose peoples' trust, you can never fully get it back.”
Some people say 'it's the quiet ones
you have to watch out for'. Throughout the entire election season,
Columbus, Ohio native Hosafros has been campaigning the old fashioned
way: going door to door and hitting the streets to meet people. And
it worked - Hosafros earned her seat with 767 votes. A former family
court magistrate, Hosafros has always loved being involved in her
community and has spent the last three years working at the Beach
Library and then on the Public Safety Committee. She decided to make
a run for council because she wanted to do more.
"I'm so very grateful to all the
people who helped me in so many ways,” she told us. "I was
actually completely shocked to find out I'd won - I had not allowed
myself to think it was going to happen. I am so thrilled to be able
to work with Summer and Anita.”
Hosafros said she allowed herself a
little time to celebrate before going home and 'scooping the cat
box'. "I wanted to remind myself that - at the end of the day - the
litter box still needs to be cleaned and the garbage taken out,”
she said, laughing.
Rexann told us she's aware she has a
lot to learn about being on council and plans to take a class offered
by the Florida League of Cities for new council members.
"I also want to spend time with
various members of Town staff and find out what they do,” she said.
"I can't wait to spend an afternoon riding around with (Town
maintenance worker) Mark 'Tunes' LaFave.”
Hosafros also wants to impress upon
people how important it is that the potable water replacement project
continues to move forward quickly.
"Our system has deteriorated so bad
that if we had several breaks at once, the island could be without
water,” she said. "I'm very concerned about that. Also, on a fun
note, I would like to explore the possibility of getting free Wi-Fi
for the entire island.”
Additional candidates Chuck Bodenhafer
received 626 votes and Incumbent Joe Kosinski received 552 in the
election that saw 179 vote-by-mail ballots returned and 1207 go to
the polls at one of three precincts on the island.
Cereceda, Hosafros and Stockton will
officially be sworn in at the next Town Council meeting on Tuesday,
March 18th. Congratulations and good luck to our new town leaders!
Keri Hendry Weeg