Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of interviews with candidates who are announcing they will run for election to the Marco Island City Council in 2008.
Four Marco Island City Council seats will be available in next year’s election.
Chairman Mike Minozzi and Councilor Glenn Tucker cannot run because of term limits. The seats of councilwoman Terri DiSciullo and vice chairman Bill Trotter are also up for election. Neither has announced whether they will run again.
But one Marco Island resident, Joe Batte, has.
Batte, 66, has been a resident for eight years. He has two sons and five grandchildren.
His wife, Anne, suggested that he run for the council two years ago when three seats were available.
“I certainly support him now,” she said.
During the 2006 election, Batte said he would not accept contributions and spent approximately $350 out-of-pocket. He received more than 2,000 votes, but didn’t win a seat.
“I learned my lesson on that one,” he said. “I accept contributions this time because we are going to do everything we can to win this thing.”
Batte said running for City Council now has gotten “more serious.” He says he has received phone calls almost daily from people asking if he will run again and if they will have true representation.
“I look around and on every street I see ‘For Sale’ signs popping up,” he said. “I hear people calling me and saying, ‘Do you see a light at the end of the tunnel? Should I stick around?’ ”
Batte, a retired federal special agent and criminal investigator, noted the recent or ongoing investigations by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies into possible Government in the Sunshine Law violations and the city’s handling of an investigation of asbestos found on the island.
“I didn’t come here to have our city’s business investigated by outside agencies,” he said.
During the 2006 election, Batte ran on several issues. He said most of the issues remain today.
Residents of Marco Island don’t want the Septic Tank Replacement Program (STRP), according to Batte.
“Being against the STRP is really the symptom of the main problem that we have, which aches at me and aches at a lot of good people — that is that we’ve lost our government,” he said. “We’ve lost our city.”
According to Batte, citizens have “absolutely no say” about what goes on in the city, including law suits, the STRP and 3-percent spending cap.
“The main problem is we have a dysfunctional City Council that is totally out of control,” he said.
Batte added council members have forgotten why and how they were elected.
“They got there because they were elected by the people,” he said. “Their primary responsibility, as I see it, is to make good decisions with ultimate integrity, but always to represent the people and listen to what they have to say.”
He said council members don’t have a “handle” about what the people are saying and wanting on Marco Island.
Batte says he doubts he has missed more than two council meetings since the last election. He said the council was “bombarded” and “slammed” by the public at the meetings he attended.
“They have heard loud and clear that the public is upset and feels they are not being represented,” he said.
Batte said people who question issues and projects are labeled as troublemakers and malcontents against everything.
“These are people who are speaking out,” he said. “These are people that have real concerns about their city, but nothing happens in the other direction.”
Recent examples of the City Council dealing with the “malcontents,” according to Batte, are approval of Minozzi’s request to speed up the STRP construction and to do away with public comment at the beginning of each meeting.
Batte said the STRP is “the very thing that’s tearing this city apart.”
Council members have said the longer the STRP takes to construct, the more expensive it will be because of rising costs of materials and labor.
Batte said cost is not the issue.
“Because the people don’t want it,” he said. “Why do we pursue areas that the people have made clear that they don’t want?”
Batte said the current City Council will not let the people vote on whether or not to continue the massive project.
The council still allows the public to speak four minutes on issues before the end of each meeting.
“So what does that tell me and a lot of other people?” Batte said. “I think it tells us that the council is saying, ‘We have business to do and we will hear from you later.’ I submit the people should be the first to speak because they are who those folks represent.”
Heal the island
If elected next year, Batte said his first priority will be to make sure city employees understand that the citizens of the island are in charge.
“I think we need a new mind-set,” he said. “I don’t want them to be making decisions for the people. I want the people making the decisions.”
The leadership of the city should come from the City Council and be carried out by City Hall, according to Batte.
He added the council should reach out to civic groups and organizations because organizations, such as Preserve Our Paradise are totally frustrated. Members of POP want registered voters to approve or disapprove of the city manager’s performance every four years.
“This council has totally lost credibility,” Batte said. “Since when does a city manager or City Council sue their own people? That is really, really bizarre.”
Batte referred to City Manager Bill Moss’ request and the council’s approval on April 23 that the city file a claim against Citizens Advocating Responsible Environmental Solutions (CARES) to collect legal fees associated with lawsuits that CARES filed against the city and lost.
“Once the people get a handle that they have gotten part of their government back, things will begin to heal on this island very quickly,” Batte said.
Stop the STRP
Batte’s second priority would be to stop the STRP immediately.
“It’s the wrong thing to do scientifically,” he said. “This city has failed to prove the merit of the STRP. Worse than that, they used their impudence to sell the STRP on the lie that the on-site wastewater plants, namely septic systems, were polluting our canals.”
Affordable housing and quality of life
Batte wants to make sure that essential services workers, including police, fire, teachers and nurses, keep working on Marco Island.
“We need to provide them the ability to live on the island where they work,” he said.
Proposed projects, such as the water park for children at Mackle Park and the development of Veterans Community Park, are also needed, according to Batte.
“Nothing stops the STRP train from going down the tracks,” he said. “Why aren’t we putting some of that money into a water park for our children?”
Waterways and Boating Safety Ordinance
Batte said he supported the idea of a waterways and boating ordinance for Marco Island.
“However, had I been sitting on the council, I would have ensured that in no way would we ever develop an ordinance that could be potentially — as I am reading it — in violation of state law,” he said. “What is it about Marco where we seem to push for home rule and push state law out of the picture?”
A decision in a case of a boater who violated a regulation of the ordinance on Jan. 18 is pending in Collier County Circuit Court. The ordinance and court case has attracted national attention.
“If we lose this case in court and it’s found that this ordinance violated state law, I’m going to be looking at this as something our city attorneys have really let us down on,” Batte said. “Wouldn’t you think that attorneys would look at this very carefully and make sure that we don’t develop ordinances that can’t be enforced or might be in violation of state law?”
He added that Marco Island should be “part of the state of Florida and not a separate place.”
Batte recalled a citizen stating during a City Council meeting that the Constitution of the United States stops at the foot of the Jolley Bridge. Batte agreed with the statement.
He said many people in America were called malcontents leading up to the American Revolution in 1776.
“You’re going to see how many malcontents there are on Marco Island in the coming election,” Batte said. “There is going to be a tremendous switch in power. We’ve lost our government and we’re going to get it back.”