Fort Myers Beach’s town election took place just over a month after Hurricane Ian made landfall, leaving brand-new leaders to handle the immense task of the town’s recovery.
Those new leaders say they’re doing it by listening to the people they represent. Life in Fort Myers Beach has been far from perfect since the storm, but the new town council has had to go forward one way or another.
The first town meeting after Ian, on Oct. 20, was rough. Not only were the dozens of people present facing homelessness, destroyed homes, and displaced lives, but four of the five council members were also homeless themselves.
Just two weeks later, two new members were elected to the council: John King and Karen Woodson. They suddenly found themselves leading Fort Myers Beach through the most critical time in the town’s history.
“It’s been it’s been an interesting experience,” King said. “It’s been an energizing experience.”
“It wasn’t so much about the election as it was about how to make a difference and how to build back and how to give back to the community that I love so much,” Woodson said. “And that was what kept me going.”
The town was and remains inundated with permit requests.
“A lot of people think we are harsh with permitting or this and that,” Woodson said. “Permitting is not our strong suit. We still don’t have the cleaning process that we want. It’s better than it was, but a lot of these restrictions are not town restrictions—these are government, FEMA, national restrictions that we have to abide by.”
Looking toward the next six months, much more work is left to be done.
“We still need to find a full-time town manager,” King said. “As I’m a little biased, I like the guy we have in there right now, and I hope he’s willing to stay. But, if not, we’ll work through that. We may be looking at getting a new representation as a town attorney; looking to bring that more local.”
If anything keeps the council going, it’s the people who rely on them.
“The good people that I’m working with on the town council, on our committees, and the good people of Fort Myers Beach,” King said. “I’ve only lived here going on two years April 1, and to be welcomed so nicely by this community… it’s just been uplifting for me and my wife.”
Despite the mounting challenges, they are excited by what the town’s future looks like.
“I think it’s going to be a construction zone,” Woodson said. “I mean, I can’t say it’s going to be beautiful or anything like that. But I think what you’ll see is progress and rebuilding. And I hope it’s a construction zone. That’s what we’re going for: Get this moving as quickly as possible.”
Since King, Woodson, Bill Veach, Jim Atterholt, and Mayor Dan Allers were sworn into office, their town council meetings have gone from inside a hot white tent to a conference room at the Diamondhead Hotel.
Fortunately, while some of the council members are living in temporary homes, none of them are homeless anymore.