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Cereceda discusses Beach’s beginnings at Chamber lunch

May 16, 2018
Chuck Ballaro ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Town council member Anita Cereceda has been involved in the town of Fort Myers Beach since its incorporation, including being the town's first mayor.

Thursday, during the monthly Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce Luncheon at Charley's Boathouse, Cereceda talked about those first days in 1995, as well as about where the town stands today.

Cereceda was joined by John Gucciardo, the town's first assistant town manager as they reminisced on how the town got started as the result of work done by the civic association.

Article Photos

Council Member Anita Cereceda speaks to the Chamber about how the town began in 1995.

Cereceda said there were two sides for and against incorporation, with some in the middle who could see both sides.

"People were worried about more government, process and paperwork. They're still worried about more government, process and paperwork," Cereceda said. "That first council was an interesting mix. None of us had ever served as elected officials. The first thing I did when I was chosen mayor was a went to Barnes & Noble and bought Robert's Rules of Order."

When Cereceda met the first town manager for the first time. While Marsha Segal-George was impeccably dressed, Cereceda came out wearing a tie-Dye T-shirt and wild hair. Gerohe asked, "You're the mayor?"

As for Gucciardo, his big interview for the job happened on a bench at the Dairy Queen. The first meetings were held in churches since they didn't have a building or even a phone number.

Cereceda said those first few years was a time of tremendous change. There were many charettes and work sessions around a comprehensive plan and land development code. Over time, people starting taking pride in their new town.

Today, Cereceda sees the town as its business owners and vacationers who come every winter, not the processes. There have been ups and downs, especially Hurricane Charley which created lots of "spitefulness and meanness and fear."

"It always comes in waves, but ultimately the town survives and everything is good," Cereceda said. "The town now is in a period of tremendous growth in a physical way, but it still has that Mayberry kind of feeling."

Cottages are being replaced by McMansions and larger homes built by people in their 40s and 50s hoping to retire there one day. There is lots of redevelopment downtown. Estero Boulevard is being totally revamped. It promises to spur lots of redevelopment, Cereceda said.

As a result of all the changes, Cereceda has found herself in a position she never thought she would be in, as a dissenter on the town council.

She said despite that, she is not one to criticize a vote by the council or bash another council member publicly.

"I just have a different point of view. During incorporation, they thought I would be great on the council because I would be a dissenter, but I was a unifier," Cereceda said. "Now, I'm in this zone where I have a different view, and that has me being the no vote. That's not a bad thing. You need that to make the conversation bigger and broader."

And just as Sanibel was a tremendous help for the town during incorporation, Fort Myers Beach has been an asset to other municipalities look to do the same.

"We helped Marco Island. We helped Bonita Springs and we helped Estero. We tried to help Boca Grande but they didn't listen," Cereceda said to great laughter. "We pay back what we got."



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