Editors’ note: This is the seventh in a series of interviews with candidates who are announcing they will run for election to the Marco Island City Council in 2008.
Dr. Andrew Guidry, a 10-year Marco resident and internal medicine specialist, has announced his candidacy for City Council.
He becomes the seventh to join the race, now comprised of eight candidates: Joe Batte, Roger Hall, Butch Neylon, Ken Allen, Frank Recker, Wayne Waldack and most recently, Jerry Gibson.
The eight are vying for four available council seats. Two will be vacated by Council Chair Mike Minozzi and Councilor Glenn Tucker, who cannot run because of term limits. Councilors Terri DiSciullo and Bill Trotter are both eligible for reelection, but have not yet announced a decision to run.
Guidry’s announcement coincides with his release of the results of a two-month-long study examining island residents who say their health has been adversely affected by hydrogen sulfide.
“I feel like something has to change,” he said. “We have to fix this. From a personal nature I’m seeing so many of my own patients being affected by this.”
He says he is encouraged by the city’s recent steps to treat the gas, which is released during dewatering activities associated with construction, and used heavily in areas undergoing sewer installation.
However, he added, the hydrogen sulfide problem points to a deeper concern he is hearing from residents.
“It is my job to sit down and listen to people,” he said. “And these are the Marco Island citizens, and I know what’s bothering them. They are suffering from feelings of mistrust of the city. They look at the city not as an ally, but a foe.”
Guidry, 44, has lived on the island for 10 years, running a private practice and starting a young family. His wife, Catherine, gave birth to their first child — a girl named Aubrey — just three weeks ago.
Guidry grew up in small- town Opelousas, LA., and joined the Navy straight out of high school. He earned a college degree while on active duty, then attended Oklahoma State University for medical school.
After completing his residency for internal medicine in Tampa, he moved to Marco Island to start his practice.
However, he has had to balance his start as a doctor on Marco with tours of duty with the Florida Army National Guard. His last tour, in Ramadi, Iraq, ended just two years ago.
He served as a brigade surgeon, and says that six out of seven days of the week, he was on the road — the most perilous place to be.
“It was a very difficult duty,” he reminisced. “There was a lot of blood, a lot of death. Sometimes when you face the possibility of dying it gets your attention.”
Now that he is retired from the reserves, he says, he has the time to become a public servant.
“Obviously, it took up a lot of free time,” he explained of the Reserves. “I finally have the time where I feel like I can do a good job and give back to Marco Island. This island has been very, very good to me, personally and professionally.”
Before Guidry made the decision to run, he put out an open call for residents with health problems to come to his office and be examined free of charge. He was interested in investigating a possible link between complaints of respiratory problems and the island-wide sewer construction.
He examined 876 people, in some cases multiple people from the same home. He says 90 percent of those residents with respiratory and other illnesses live in areas experiencing dewatering in the last 12 months, particularly the West Winterberry and North Barfield sewer districts.
He placed a map in his office, pinpointing each home with an ill resident by placing a red sticker at the resident’s address. The result is a map of the island dotted with clusters of red in the areas currently or recently receiving sewers.
“When I first put out the request for data, I had a pretty good barrage, then that tapered down, then some bloggers put out the word,” he said.
He got another upsurge after that.
Most commonly, he found residents with watering eyes, sinus congestion and sore throats.
“Some that bother me the most are nose bleeds and coughing up blood,” he said. “Some people were hospitalized recently with pulmonary problems. I can’t say that’s because of hydrogen sulfide, but it certainly could be.”
Once he hit a point where he felt that he had examined about five percent of the island’s population, he says, that is when he decided to go public with the information. Census information for 2006 lists the city’s population at 16,000.
That’s also the point where he chose to announce his candidacy.
“I chose to announce when I had two months worth of data of the septic tank replacement program study, and I realized the large number of people that are being harmed,” he explained. “I considered bringing it to City Council, but didn’t think that would make much difference. They are taking steps to reduce the levels of hydrogen sulfide, but what if there’s another problem that comes up? What are you going to do, sit back and wait for City Council to solve it? No, you’ve got to take action.”
Guidry says a fellow candidate has called his study a “stunt” to get elected. He countered by stating that only someone “who cares nothing for the sick people of Marco Island would make such an audacious statement.”
Aware that much of the dewatering is necessitated by the Septic Tank Replacement Program, Guidry says the sewering of the island is a major source of distrust among the residents. He points to that issue as the single issue that will decide the election.
“The city has done so little to get the people behind them,” he said. “The first thing the city should have done is get a referendum. If they failed anywhere on city planning, it was on not getting a referendum on (the STRP). If I were asked today what I would do with the sewer, I would immediately snap my fingers and freeze everything and say, ‘Let the people decide.’”
That tenet — of handing decision-making power to the people — is the crux of his campaign. This doctor, who says it is his job to listen to people, says he believes the peoples’ trust can be regained by city leaders going back to a grassroots level of consulting residents before acting.
He is “uniquely qualified” for City Council because of his constant contact with residents, he says.
“City leaders have done things without the consent of the people,” he said. “Stop and ask the people, ‘Do you want this?’” Listen to the people. Be a City Council that not just nods their heads and says ‘yes’ — nod your head, say ‘yes’ and do it.”
Much of this failure, he says, is the shared burden of the City Council and outgoing City Manager Bill Moss.
“The biggest problem that this current City Council has is that they are being guided by the city manager,” he stated. “It should be just the opposite. The City Council should guide the city manager. If (Moss) failed at anything, he failed in the goal of getting the citizens of Marco Island behind his projects. And the City Council failed in not recognizing this and taking action.”
For example, he says, he hears many patients in his office complaining about water utility rates, and pinpoints additions and upgrades to the water treatment plants as an issue that should be reconsidered. He pointed to the need to consult residents affected by these decisions before undertaking a change that causes a rate increase.
He also expresses an interest in continuing to foster programs and initiatives that cater to families and children. Incorporation allowed the city to cultivate a strong sense of community, he says, and he was particularly enchanted by the city’s parks when he first moved to the island.
“The city is very involved in creating green space for family,” he said. “The teen center is a great idea for the younger people of Marco so they can have a safe place to hang. Those are the places where the city can come together.”
But first, he says, trust in city government needs to be restored. And he believes he is the man to help do that.
“If I have any agenda for Marco and for the citizens, it revolves around restoring trust in the City Council and in city government,” he said. “Even the folks that are on sewer, they see what is happening and say they fear what the city will do next to them. I want citizens to be able to look and say, ‘That’s my city. They’re looking out for me.’”