One week after Election Day on Fort Myers Beach, Town officials and island residents witnessed a historical inauguration at Town Hall.
Three women were sworn into the Beach Council Tuesday evening by receiving the Oath of Office by Town attorney Derek Rooney. Former Beach Mayor Anita Cereceda, Summer Stockton and Rexann Hosafros formally began their three-year terms last night after they amassed the most votes in the recently reported official municipal election race on March 11. The election was certified Friday when provisional ballots came in from the three Beach precincts.
This is the first time three women will serve on Council in the nearly 19-year history of the town, which incorporated in 1995. In fact, no two women have ever served on the Council together and there have been only three women to serve on Council ever- Cereceda, Terry Cain and Jo List.
Newly voted-in FMB Town Council members Anita Cereceda, Rexann Hosafros and Summer Stockton join in on St. Patrick's Day festivities —a day before being sworn into office— by being in the Beach parade together.
"It's interesting, but it shouldn't make a difference if they are qualified," Beach Mayor Alan Mandel said about the fact of having three women on Council prior to the inauguration. "Anita was mayor and Summer and Rexann were both on committees. Congratulations to all three."
Mandel stated he reached out to all three winners on the night of the election, spoke to Cereceda and Stockton and left a message for Hosafros.
At the polls, registered voters on the Beach decided a different direction would be needed to face concerns and issues within Town government. Results showed they passed on former Vice Mayor Joe Kosinski, the incumbent who has more than 30 years in engineering experience, and Local Planning Agency member Chuck Bodenhafer, a man with more than 36 years of business experience.
Cereceda was an inaugural Beach council member that served as mayor for three years when the Town first incorporated in 1995. She has a "keen understanding" of the Town Charter, Comprehensive Land Use Plan and Land Development Code. The successful small businesswoman on the Beach and native Southwest Floridian believes there is a new energy on the island and wants to "preserve the small town feeling and the special character of the island" amongst other things.
"People told me they were voting for me because they trusted me. I think that (trust) has been lacking," Cereceda said minutes after the results were in. "I hope that this time next year or -at a minimum- three years from now, the majority of people won't feel that way, Hopefully, they will feel reconnected, reenergized and reengaged and have a strong faith in their town. When someone comes over that bridge, I want them to be proud that they live here like I do."
Stockton, at age 30, is the youngest Council member in Beach history. She served as a Bay Oaks Recreation Campus Advisory Board member, is a local business owner and Beach home owner who has lived on the island since 1989. She has experience as a Juvenile Probation Officer in the State of Florida Department of Juvenile Justice system and believes Council should apply for restoration projects funds, modify the Town building department, have the Town charter reviewed and re-evaluate public information services.
"I want to tackle the Lake O discharges and really want to improve the relationships between the Townspeople and Town Hall, so that everyone can work together as a team," Stockton said shortly after the election results. "I also want to clear up all these building issues."
Hosafros had previously served as the Town Public Safety Committee vice chairperson. She is recently retired from practicing law in various capacities, including 19 years of work as a family court magistrate, and a prior stint as a teacher at the high school level. She is proud to announce she worked full time throughout law school and wants to apply that work ethic by reading pertinent Council material carefully to be prepared mentally for each issue.
"I plan on working really hard and want to accomplish the projects that have been started but haven't gotten off the ground like the water system, storm water and Estero Boulevard," Hosafros said when the election results became final.
There is a sense of camaraderie between the ladies, says Hosafros.
"I think we will be able to accomplish great things. We complement each other as far as our skills are concerned," she said. "I have the law background, Summer has the youth and enthusiasm, and Anita has the history of the Town in her head."
Three Council members exit the dais
While three new Council members have begun a new era, three former Council members have left office. All three will be missed, says Mandel.
Former Vice Mayor Joe Kosinski was of great service with his experience as an engineer.
"I called Joe the night of the election and thanked him for his service," Mandel said. "It was very helpful having his engineering background during all the discussions we had on potable water projects, storm water projects and Estero Boulevard. I also thanked Chuck (Bodenhafer) for running as well and asked that he continue on the LPA."
Bob Raymond and Jo List will not be representing the Town of Fort Myers Beach for at least a year. They both served for two terms on Council and are applauded for their service to the Town.
"Both served for many, many years on Council, and I appreciate and thank them for all their contributions to the Town," said Mandel.
While List was praised for her efforts as Council liaison of Beach Elementary by school students at the March 3 meeting, Mandel did point out Raymond dutifully served on LPA for a number of years prior to Council and as chair and member of the Metropolitan Planning Organization in addition to his years on Council.
The plurality election featured the top three vote getters being elected without the need of a runoff. At those voting sites on March 11, 1,386 out of 5,136 registered voters cast ballots for a low 26.99 percent turnout.
Cereceda was the top vote-getter with 978 votes or 25.73 percent of the vote, while Stockton collected 878 votes or 23.10 percent of the tallies, and Hosafros received 767 votes or 20.18 percent of the vote. Bodenhafer received 626 votes and only 16.47 percent of the vote, while Kosinski tallied 552 votes and only 14.52 percent of the vote.
The Beach Council not only has a new look to it, it faces new officers. Due to press time, Council's majority vote to select a mayor and vice mayor during its reorganization process Tuesday evening is not in print but can be viewed online as breaking news at www.fortmyersbeachtalk.com in a short story. The selection of Council representatives to outside committees and liaisons to Town advisory boards will also be featured.