Loud, but unheard?
Town Hall’s council chambers were packed on Monday when John Heim demanded the resignation of Mayor Anita Cereceda.
The overflow crowd was there regarding stormwater fees, not Heim’s ongoing clean-water crusade, and then went back about its business after Heim blamed Cereceda for a lack of action on water quality, the town’s traffic, and the proposed seawall being sought by the Grand Resorts development.
He publicly pointed to Cereceda’s inability to install QR codes at beach access points, where smartphones could pick up water-quality reports, as his biggest reason for her need to step down.
“Funny, but I’m the one who told Mr. Heim about QR codes,”Cereceda said afterward. “He wanted us to provide people with printed brochures. I’m surprised an environmentalist would want something like that.”
On Tuesday morning, Heim also initiated an online petition calling for Cereceda’s resignation.
When reached Tuesday, Heim was asked if he’s taking things too far.
“No, not when you’re doing it for the right reasons,” he said. “It’s a call to action and we’ll see what kind of traction it gets. Now we’ll see what her community thinks of her leadership.”
Calling Heim’s insistence for her resignation another “stunt” and something “I don’t appreciate,” Cereceda said his antics are growing old.
“First of all, I’m not going anywhere,” said Cereceda, in her second year of a three-year term of her second stint as mayor. “I’m not a quitter I finish what I start.
“Secondly, there are people around here who care about water quality more than anything else, and that includes myself and the council, and past councils, but they don’t just talk about things, they actually do things. They don’t need a megaphone and signs to make a point. Mr. Heim is just looking for the spotlight.”
Heim, who protests discharges from Lake Okeechobee and says he is the lead organizer of a group called the Southwest Florida Clean Water Movement, had been posting on Facebook for weeks his plans to hold a “save Fort Myers Beach” rally at the public pier, which took place Sunday. In his posts he noted his opposition to the Grand Resorts seawall and called for the resignation of Cereceda and Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker.
About 20 people showed up, eight of whom were there to protest Grand Resorts. The rest were people in Heim’s water-quality group, including several children who were asked to hold “meet our amputee” signs identifying a child who Heim says lost a limb due to infection from unclean water.
“I’m disappointed,” said local resident Daniel Scholtz, who carried a sign stating “4 storey (sic) max” in his protest to Grand Resorts’ request to exceed the town’s height restrictions for one of its hotels. “I thought this was going to be more about Grand Resorts.”
Was Cereceda surprised by the low turnout?
“No, not at all,” she said. “People here know better.”
Former mayor Dennis Boback, who is running for Town Council, was at the rally, but stated he was there only to “see what folks are thinking.” He did not join Heim in his march from Times Square to Crescent Family Beach, where he led his group in chants along Estero Boulevard of “Whose Beach? Our beach.”
Boback said he was against the Grand Resorts plan in its current form, noting it was too much in intensity, density and height.
“It’s too big for our small town,” he said.
Write-in council candidate Ber Stevenson was also on hand and participated in the rally, joining in on the clean-water chants.
Regarding Grand Resorts, he said he was against it, saying it was “like trying to stuff 100 pounds of potatoes into a 10-pound sack.”
Heim said his rally was “a shared deal,” and that the Grand Resorts seawall was on his radar because it disrupts the natural flow of water.
“It pushes the water to the north and south, where it becomes someone else’s problem,” he said. “Seawalls don’t protect beaches, they protect investment.”
Also on hand were residents Dan and Colleen Hendrickson, who said they were not part of the rally but there to hand out business cards for their new organization called the Fort Myers Beach Community Coalition. They said they were not anti-development, but wanted to see Grand Resorts’ plans stay within the town’s codes.
Heim’s rally comes on the heels of him spending what he says was one hour on the Sky Bridge last fall every day for 60 straight days, holding signs. He said in November he’d be doing the same things beginning Jan. 1 on the Sanibel causeway “through season, if need be, for however long it takes” but said Sunday he no longer planned to or needed to because the Sanibel mayor “is working with us.”
He said Cereceda hasn’t been cooperative to his requests to meet regularly, even cutting off email contact.
“Mr. Heim thinks people are supposed to drop whatever they’re doing and adhere to his demands,” Cereceda said in November.