Fort Myers Beach Mayor Larry Kiker has been involved in Town government for seven years now. This Monday morning will be his final official meeting as a Town council member and the following Friday will be his last day in office.
Kiker, who will face San Carlos Island resident Charlie Whitehead in the General Election for Lee County Commission seat #3 on Nov. 6, reflected on his past years as an elected official and offered personal insight on the Council's future. He served one year on the Local Planning Agency and then six years on Council, which included the first year as vice mayor and five years as mayor.
When asked to list some of the more noteworthy accomplishments during his Council tenure, he chose quite a few that have been completed or are near completion: North Estero Boulevard Drainage Improvement Project; reaching the five-year plan for Estero Boulevard to be on the Lee County Capital Improvement Plan; Crescent Beach Family Park; modified approach to dunes and vegetation after Beach re-nourishment; the sign ordinance; Town Hall's fate; the Beach water system; codification; storm water system; Mound House; Newton Park; Bay Oaks acquisition; and hiring a new Town manager
FMB Mayor Larry Kiker, a businessman by trade, stands barefoot on the beachfront in front of Junkanoos on the Beach. His final day in office is Oct. 5.
"Look at the shelf-life of projects that this Council has managed and tackled. If you add those up, that's 130 years worth," he said. "How many times did Town staff work on those projects? How many man hours? How many times did we get public comment? All of that has gone away. That cleans the slate and gives us the freedom to reallocate newer priorities with the same amount of research."
Keeping reserves intact during budgetary cycles is another worthy achievement of the Council under Kiker's reign. During a recent budget workshop, it was reported only 10 municipal tax districts have a lower tax rate than the Town of Fort Myers Beach.
"Since this last hearing, my guess is that we have dropped further," he said. "The trick is balancing all the numbers, and the end result is this is one of the cheapest places in Florida to live from taxes. Throw that with a great beach, some sun and our best resource, which is the people, and you get my definition of paradise."
When he came into office, Kiker was instrumental in changing the voting process for town council from majority to plurality to prevent runoffs and disallow someone from running unopposed.
"That was one of my big deals to put that on referendum. The plurality way allows the highest vote getters to get in. I believe it got a lot of dissention out of our election system," he said.
When asked what he would like the next Council and its members to accomplish or set as a priority, Kiker stated "keeping the synergy" that has been developed.
"I hope they keep their focus and continue to accept a generous portion of public input. They should keep being the same great people they are right now," he said. 'On a scale of one to 10, I give them an 11. I think this town is well off because that group is there."
Vice Mayor Bob Raymond takes over mayor duties effective midnight on Oct. 5. Kiker believes the man nicknamed "the grumpy old man" is ready for the challenge.
"Even at his ripe old, young age, I think that we are going to watch him grow and develop some more," said Kiker. "I think he is going to be a great leader and that everybody is ready to work with him."
Councilman Alan Mandel will fill Raymond's role as vice mayor.
"Quite possibly, he is one of the hardest working council members that I've ever met. He is involved with so many things," said Kiker. "His leadership with his focused professionalism in economic development and marketing strategies has been a missing link for this Town for a long time."
On Town Manager Terry Stewart, Kiker called Town officials "lucky" to have someone of his experience and expertise.
"He came along at the right time. We needed someone who was going to offer not only stability, but also some one who would place arms around our environment," he said. "Staff has completely settled down, and everybody seems to be really happy. I'm jealous. I think he knows more people in this Town than I do now. He takes time to listen to people."
Agenda items during Kiker's final meeting will include appointing Beach residents for Town advisory committees and two variances for signs. He stated the two main reasons for picking Oct. 5 as his final official day in office were to complete the budget process for fiscal year 2012-13, and allow time for whoever is appointed to adjust to the role of interim council member before the next regular election in March 2013.
Kiker believes and urges potential Council candidates should serve time on the Town LPA. Councilman Joe Kosinski was the latest such example.
"What happened was he was able to jump right in the middle of a meeting by knowing what was going on, what was expected of him and how to conduct himself," said Kiker. "The people who don't have that experience have a tougher time to get started."
Regarding his legacy in Town government, Kiker was short and to the point.
"I think this town has grown leaps and bounds in the last six years," he said. "And, I think I have too."
Town seeks new council member
According to the Town Charter, vacancies on the council, except for the position of mayor, can be filled by appointment by majority vote of the council members remaining. The appointment to fill Kiker's seat will be effective until a successor is chosen at the next regular election in March 2013. Until then, the vacancy will be filled by an interim appointment under the provisions of the charter.
Candidates for Town Council need to be a resident of Fort Myers Beach for one year prior to appointment and a registered voter.