Fort Myers Beach Town Attorney John Herin’s days are numbered. He’s a remnant from the Roger Hernstadt/Ray Murphy days which ruled the community by fear, kept residents in the dark, and failed the people in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Ian.
Voters showed Murphy the door one month later and the new Town Council made Hernstadt walk the plank as its first piece of business. The only reason Herin is still around now is because a majority of the new council didn’t want to deal with having to find a new Town Manager and a new Town Attorney at the same time they were dealing with a near Cat. 5 hurricane that devastated their community.
The process to replace Herin is now in full swing; however, for some on the council, it’s not happening fast enough. An outside law firm is helping the council look at possible candidates for the job and present the council with finalists. That could happen as early as next month.
Before the 2022 election, when Mayor Dan Allers was a councilman, he was first to stand up and say Herin’s contract should not be renewed. That fell on deaf ears with the previous council. On this week’s Mondays With The Mayor program, Allers wouldn’t say whether he believed Fort Myers Beach taxpayers were getting their money’s worth with Herin.
Councilwoman Karen Woodson is not waffling on that question. Here’s what she said at Monday’s Town Council meeting. “I just want to go on record again and voice my concern, disappointment, disapproval with the performance of our town attorney. I don’t see a sense of urgency. There’s a lack of deliverables, late deliverables, lack of communication”.
One of the many issues Woodson is unhappy about with Herin is a proposed settlement agreement with local business owner Terry Persaud. Persaud, who owns the Sunset Grill property in Times Square, has been mired in litigation with the town for years. The town has cited Persaud for allegedly renting beach chairs without a license and operating an illegal parking lot next to the restaurant. Eventually the town put liens on Persaud’s property and followed that up with a foreclosure filing.
Last month Persaud came before the council with a proposed settlement. With his restaurant now completely gone due to the Hurricane, Persaud said he wanted to move forward, settle disagreements, and work with the town to rebuild Times Square. Persaud’s proposal was followed by a closed door meeting in which the council gave Herin direction to make Persaud a counter-proposal, according to Woodson. “We gave direction over a month ago to put forth a counter-proposal and there’s still no agreement.”
Councilman John King is also unhappy with Herin’s performance. His reasoning had to do with the way Herin treated the town staff and both Interim Town Manager Keith Wilkins and new Town Manager Andy Hyatt. On Monday King said, “I support Councilwoman Woodson that a change should be made immediately.”
Woodson and King wanted Herin fired on the spot Monday and have the 3rd party law firm helping with the search, step in and take over for Herin immediately. They did not have a 3rd vote to make the change Monday.
Wilkins told the Council Monday there have been issues working with Herin. “From an operations standpoint, there have been some challenges. In some cases John’s lack of communication has impeded the town’s progress. Operationally, a change needs to be made.”
When the discussion came back to Woodson, she said, other than his work on the Beach School ILA, “On most other cases the town attorney’s actions almost feel counter-productive to what we’re trying to move forward with. And for that reason we need some fresh perspective. The longer we let this drag on, we’re not being responsible as a council”.
For his part, Herin said, “I work at the pleasure of the majority of the council. If, at any point in time the majority of the council does not want me to serve as your attorney, let me know and we can all move on.” Strangely enough, Herin went on to say that his firm may submit an application to be considered amongst the candidates for the job. He said he believes he’s providing the town a high level of service at a cost-effective price point. Herin has been the town attorney for Fort Myers Beach for 7 years.
In addressing the Persaud case that councilwoman Woodson brought up, Herin said a counter-proposal would be sent to Persaud within 24-48 hours of the Town Council meeting on Monday. It was finally sent Thursday, according to Persaud.
Following the town council meeting Herin confronted both Interim Town Manager Keith Wilkins and new Town Manager Andy Hyatt in what members of the council called a heated discussion. Herin was overheard saying, “Maybe I should resign right now.” Neither Wilkins or Hyatt responded.