Cape Coral attorney pegged for Fort Myers Beach legal service
Fort Myers Beach Town Council has selected Cape Coral resident and attorney Dawn Perry-Lehnert to take over legal services for the municipality.
The motion, which passed 3-2, directs Town Manager Don Stilwell to begin contract negotiations, which are now under way.
Councilwoman Rexann Hosafros stated she was impressed with Perry-Lehnert due to her local background and practice. That is why the former assistant Lee County attorney was Hosafros’ leading candidate.
Perry-Lenhert is a Florida board certified city and county local government attorney with 22 years experience in Southwest Florida. Her letter of interest stated her years as County legal counsel helped her develop a “unique skill set” that includes land development, real estate transactions, comprehensive planning, regulatory compliance, Government in the Sunshine, procurement, negotiations, drafting of contracts, ordinances, interlocal agreements and other types of documents.
“She has extensive land use experience. She is from the area. She has contacts in Lee County,” Hosafros said. “I believe she would serve us very well.”
Perry-Lehnert also has ties to Fort Myers Beach. During her public interview, she expressed she would be able to help Town officials with creative ways.
“I have grown up with Lee County and the Town of Fort Myers Beach. My dad owns property on Bay Beach (Lane),” she said. “I have watched a lot of the transitions over the years. I recognize that the Beach is maturing and there are a lot of development issues. My experience will allow me to help you, and I enjoy the land use issues and working with a single client that I can get to know so that I can help you do the best that you can for your community.”
The other candidates were current Town Attorney Derek Rooney, who has an office in Fort Myers; Jed Schneck, whose office is in Boca Raton; and former FMB Town Manager Marsha Segal-George, whose office is in Orlando.
On Thursday, Stilwell stated he began negotiations with Perry-Lehnert and would bring back any contract stipulations to Council for final approval if need be. He said the Cape attorney may start work soon if contract talks are fruitful.
The choice capped off a long day for Town officials. After a workshop that began at 10 a.m., Council members met individually with the four candidates for private interviews in the early afternoon, then held public interviews as a group at 4:30 p.m. The decision on legal services was the final agenda item of a long meeting that ran until 10 p.m.
When the discussion began, Vice Mayor Dan Andre quickly motioned to retain Rooney and provide a mandate for him as he was working on a monthly basis. Councilman Alan Mandel seconded the motion, but the vote failed 3-2.
“My big concern is getting someone up to speed,” said Andre, before the vote was cast. “Of all four of them, Derek is the only one that is board certified in land planning.”
Mandel, who had been adamant about shortening the list to the two local candidates, cited traveling costs and stability as reasons for choosing Rooney.
“We, as a town, have had constant turnover in town managers and town attorneys. We all need some continuity for a while,” he said. “I don’t really want to entertain down the road that someone is going to attend our meetings electronically. And, I would choose a firm over a single person.”
Cereceda remarked that she told Rooney during the private sessions that she sought a change and would choose one of the other applicants. Her candidate of choice was Segal-George, whom she worked with when the town incorporated in 1995. Cereceda was the inaugural mayor, and Segal-George was the inaugural town manager.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the best person to do the job for the Town of Fort Myers Beach is Marsha Segal-George,” Cereceda said. “She is a bold, independent woman.
“I said to Marsha today that I wanted this election to be unanimous and, if I don’t see support for you Marsha, I am going to go with the majority of the Council.”
Cereceda then disclosed that her second pick was Perry-Lehnert.
Hosafros applauded Segal-George as a “very highly qualified attorney,” but stated she couldn’t vote for her based on public input.
“I feel like I can’t vote for her because she would be always climbing up that hill in order to accomplish anything,” she said.
During public comment at the public interviews, former Beach Mayor Dennis Boback was critical of Segal-George. He cited the aftermath of Hurricane Charley and the town’s ill-prepared handling of what happened after the storm when Beach residents were not allowed to re-enter the island.
Cereceda stated that Segal-George took the fall for the incident. She blamed the sitting Council for post-storm actions.