Council has discussed the future of legal services for the town, but hasn’t yet chosen a direction. Town Manager Don Stilwell said council will take the issue up in August. The council could opt for an in-house attorney, at least part-time, or choose another contract arrangement. Rooney’s current arrangement calls for a monthly retainer of $7,500, with hourly charges for work outside the retainer’s scope.
Rooney began doing the town’s legal work early in 2014. He changed firms during the year, and the town council chose to have the contract follow him to his new firm, Gray/Robinson of Naples. The firm includes Burt Saunders, the former state senator who provided legal services for the Estero incorporation and who currently provides legal services for the fledgling Village of Estero.
Marsha Segal-George’s name is well-known at Fort Myers Beach and in Lee County. She spent the years 1989-91 as Lee County’s top administrator, then was hired in 1995 as the first Town Manager for Fort Myers Beach. She spent 10 years there, resigning under fire in 2005 after Hurricane Charley and its aftermath brought political upheaval to the community.
Opponents then blamed Segal-George for closing Estero Island after the storm, when National Guardsmen manned checkpoints at the closed bridges and kept residents away from their homes for five days as services were restored.
“I like Fort Myers Beach and I always have,” she said. “My connections there go way back.”
Segal-George said she feels she did some of her very best work in the wake of the storm.
“We did the best we could, and we did it with very little services,” she said.
In fact the city of Sanibel borrowed $10 million to help it recover from the storm. Fort Myers Beach borrowed nothing.
Segal-George said she remembers helping launch the new town when the Fort Myers News-Press predicted the town would be an abysmal failure.
“Until Hurricane Charley it was a good time for us on Fort Myers Beach,” she said.
Segal-George is with Fowler, O’Quinn Feeney & Sneed in Orlando. The firm specializes in government work. Segal-George would come with a $7,500 monthly retainer, with work outside the retainer priced at $200 an hour.
Dawn Perry-Lehnert was an assistant Lee County attorney for 22 years before she retired as part of a purge by County Attorney Richard Wesch earlier this year. She spent most of her time at the county as a land use attorney. She’s a Cape Coral resident who says she would work from home. She requests a $10,000 monthly retainer that would include 80 hours at $125 an hour.
Jed Schneck worked in the Lee County attorney’s office from 2005-2011. He moved to the Nason Yaeger firm from 2011-2014 before hanging his own shingle in Boca Raton earlier this year. He proposes a $3,500 monthly retainer to cover all non-litigation work, with litigation for $125 an hour.
“I applied as a contract employee, but if they wanted me to be a full-time employee I’d have to think about it,” he said.
Schneck said his experience includes land use, which he said is critical anywhere in Florida, but especially in coastal areas like Fort Myers Beach.
Council members agree.
“In light of the developmental pressures that currently exist in the town of Fort Myers Beach, it might be wise to perhaps have at least someone who is able to have office hours a few days a week,” said Mayor Anita Cereceda in a message from Spain, where she’s vacationing during the summer break. “I am open to other suggestions at this point but most important to me is intimate knowledge of our land development code and comprehensive plan.”
All the applicants have land use backgrounds.
Councilwoman Summer Stockton first broached the idea of an in-house attorney.
“It’s nothing against Derek,” she said. “I feel this is what our town needs.”
Councilwoman Rexann Hosafros said she, too, favors an in-house presence, at least part-time.
“I was not in the majority at that time,” she said.