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Commotion by the Ocean brings candidate insights

March 11, 2020
By NATHAN MAYBERG ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce's "Commotion by the Ocean" forum for the Town of Fort Myers Beach Council candidates wasn't so much a details debate as it was a chance to get to know the seven men seeking to fill three open seats on the town board for the election to be held this coming Tuesday, March 17.

The March 5 forum, held at the Beach Baptist Church, attracted a crowd of roughly 75 people during a debate moderated by Chamber of Commerce President Jacki Liszak and reporter Meagan Miller.

Bill Veach, who grew up in Colorado, spoke about hitchhiking in Australia before becoming an engineer inspecting petroleum pipelines. The 2018 Fort Myers Beach Citizen of the Year eventually started a business and sold it before moving to Fort Myers Beach and getting involved in environmental causes and community organizations..

Article Photos

The Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce sponsored the “Commotion by the Ocean” forum for town council candidates at Beach Baptist Church on March 5.


David Drumm, a native of New Jersey, talked about raising a family from a young age as a teacher, working in construction, as a stockbroker, owning gas stations and to his current business of running Reflow Plumbing.

Forrest Critser, a Vietnam veteran who moved to Fort Myers Beach from Kentucky, has worked as a Baptist minister, run a cleaning business and worked for Sears.

Bruce Butcher, the incumbent council member, spoke about growing up in the midwest and attending the University of Cincinnati. He worked for about 40 years with a company that made truck frames.

Robert Burandt, an attorney who has represented Fort Myers Beach and the City of Fort Myers, grew up in Michigan. He worked as a police officer before going into law.

Jim Atterholt, a former Indiana state legislator, was chief of staff to former Governor of Indiana and current Vice President Mike Pence. He was also state insurance commissioner and chair of the utility regulatory commission in Indiana. He serves on the Local Planning Agency.

Dan Allers spoke about growing up in Minnesota and working in construction. He is an ambassador to the Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce and serves on the Local Planning Agency.

As opposed to a previous forum at St. Raphael's Espiscopal Church, there were more yes or no questions. One question was on whether the town should dredge its canals. While some of the candidates supported dredging, Veach asked "who is going to pay for it?" The canals, he said, "don't benefit the whole town." Butcher said the key to clean water was stopping "pollution at the source."

As for priorities, Burandt said he wants to "see where the money is going." He questioned why he receives an $85 water readiness bill. "I've never heard of such a thing," he said. "All they do is keep sending me bills." He questioned why it's taken so long for council to get new lights.

Allers said his priorites would be clean water and getting people off the sidewalk, in a reference to homelessness. Later, during a question about homelessness, Allers said he was without a home as a child.

Critser said that Choice Market at Beach Baptist Church feeds 248 mouths each week, with about 6 percent of them individuals who are homeless.

"We feed your restaurant people, your bartenders in the offseason because they can't afford to eat," he said. "The homeless are going to be with us for now on," he said. "Many of them are veterans."

Veach said homelessness is an issue because "housing is expensive."

Atterholt and Veach cited clean water as priorities while Critser mentioned a war memorial. Butcher and Drumm said lighting on Estero Boulevard would be their priority.

The town's new sound system in its chambers became a target of criticism for its unclear broadcasts of town meetings. In November, the town council approved a new sound system with wireless microphones at a cost of $31,538.88.

Some questions were submitted by fifth grade students at Beach Elementary. One of the questions was how the town could attract new people, with the majority answering there were too many people on the island already. Critser said the question may have been influenced by the school's declining population. Drumm said the town would not be attracting young families due to the cost of homes on the island.

As to how they would help and attract business, Atterholt said "government has got to get out of the way."

Burandt said "our government here seems to be getting in the way." He said the government should be doing more to help people and businesses, not creating "more red tape." Code enforcement, he said, "should not be a revenue-generating process."

Critser said the town has "not been visitor friendly. We have tried every way we can to get a dollar out of them." Critser said the town should make it easier for people to park their cars and shop.

Veach said the town should make the visitor experience better. "Everybody likes the town being funky," he said. A dedicated trolley lane could help stop people from sitting in traffic. "People walking helps businesses," he said.

Allers encouraged people to shop local.



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