Editors’ note: This is the eighth in a series of interviews with candidates who are announcing they will run for election to the Marco Island City Council in 2008.
Jerry Gibson, a 21-year resident of Marco Island, announced his candidacy last week for City Council, bringing the count to eight candidates vying for four seats.
He joins Joe Batte, Roger Hall, Butch Neylon, Ken Allen, Frank Recker, Wayne Waldack and Andrew Guidry.
On Jan. 29, they will compete for two seats vacated by Chair Mike Minozzi and Councilor Glenn Tucker, both of whom will exit office due to term limits. Another two seats, held by councilors Terri DiSciullo and Bill Trotter, will be open for re-election, though neither has announced their intentions of running yet.
Gibson, 60, says he considered running two years ago, but decided against it when he felt enough well-qualified candidates had stepped forward.
This time around, he says, while the field is full of respectable opponents, he simply felt that the race was missing a candidate with more extensive experience as a resident.
Gibson first moved to Florida in 1970, living on the east coast for a time before visiting his mother on the island.
“I was one of those that, my mother was living on the island, and I stopped to spend the week, and 20 years later I’m still here,” he said.
Gibson lives on the island with his partner of 12 years, Stacy. He has one grown son and three grandsons.
He says he has been in sales most of his life, including a stint as a sales manager for a national company. When he moved to Marco, though, he took a 12-year hiatus from work “to spend days playing golf.”
He worked nights tending bar and waiting tables, and spent his summers in Europe.
Once he satisfied his wanderlust, he settled onto the island, eventually getting into real estate. Now, he is a licensed agent with Anchor Real Estate.
In the community, he sits on the board of Christmas Island Style, and is one of the board members for the Marco Disaster Fund, which helped arrange some assistance for Hurricane Katrina survivors.
He is deeply involved in his work for the Marco Island Sunrise Rotary Club, which he says emphasizes many of the same goals and attributes necessary for civil service.
“Our motto is ‘service above self,’” he said. “I really see my involvement and desire to do something for the city as an extension of that service above self. I think this island is in a very difficult time right now, and it needs someone with a level head and integrity to step up and get through the issues we’re facing.”
In 2004, he worked with other rotary members to organize a project collecting non-perishable food items for soldiers stationed overseas.
Now, he added, he wants to focus his efforts on helping his immediate community, the place he has called home for the last 21 years.
“I think every candidate out there is certainly a viable candidate,” he admitted. “But most everybody has been here four to five years or less. And that’s not to say they’re not wonderful candidates, but I certainly think experience on this island adds something.”
He says the island needs council members who can recall key arguments over key issues from five, ten, even twenty years ago. He points to the debate on the island’s sewering project as an example.
“I think the city could have done a much better job on information and communication,” he said. “But I know that attempts were made because I was here at the time. It’s important for people to look back. I know MICA (the Marco Island Civic Association) had done a number of polls years ago and the citizens were overwhelmingly receptive to going to sewers.”
It is when the city started kicking around the issue of money, he says, that support for the program soured.
“That’s when the core group started to rebel,” he explained.
He recognizes that sewers are the foremost issue in residents’ minds, but says he believes the time to hesitate on the Septic Tank Replacement Program has passed.
“Obviously, the issue, of course, is going to be the sewers,” he said. “I personally see it as two-pronged.”
He says the first aspect of the debate is the simple question of whether the island actually needs sewers.
“I think that was an issue from two years ago,” he said. “By the time we’ve gone to the polls, 85 percent of the residents on the island will be either on sewer or ready to be hooked up to sewer. I think the financial ramifications would be so huge if we were to stop it, it almost makes it a non-issue.”
The second consideration weighing on the issue, he says, is the lack of communication and the miscommunication many residents feel they have been wronged by. It has created a rift in the trust between voters and their representation, he says.
Restoring trust also has to do with repairing the divisions between residents and finding a common ground, he says.
“It’s been pitiful, the lack of decorum and decency,” he added. “Marco has always been controversial. It’s only in the last few years that it’s become embarrassingly personal. It’s broken my heart.”
He points to his experience some years ago as the president of his condo association. He moved into the small complex expecting a tight, nuclear community. Instead, he found a building split into two warring factions.
When he became president of the association, he set out to bridge that divide, something he hopes to do as a City Council member.
“I said, ‘Sometimes I’m going to agree with you, and sometimes I’m going to agree with you, but I’m not going to take sides. I’m going to do what’s right,’” he said. “All I can do is get all of the facts and make the decision of what’s best.”
He says he believes the blame for the divisiveness falls on the shoulders of citizens who launch personal attacks.
“There’s no doubt in my opinion that it’s the citizens,” he said. “I’ve been amazed actually that the council has taken some of the personal attacks leveled at them and not responded worse than they have.”
He says the council — in its entirety — should be commended for what it has done.
“There is not a councilperson serving that is not dedicated. I don’t care which side of the issue they’re on; I think the service they are providing, they cannot be thanked enough,” he said.
The same goes for outgoing City Manager Bill Moss, who Gibson says is a personal friend.
“I have a lot of respect and admiration for the job he did,” he said. “He became a lightning rod and an easy target for some people. It’s one thing to disagree with Bill, but I just feel the way he was treated by some people was disgraceful.”
While Gibson says he sees the sewers as the issue at the forefront of voters’ minds, he feels particularly concerned by the island’s infrastructure — particularly the bridges that will be in need of critical repairs or replacement in the coming decade.
“I think the major thing we’re going to face over the next few years is going to be the impact of the taxes, with revenues being reduced for the city, and how we’re going to select what parts of the infrastructure get attended to,” he added.
He doesn’t have all of the answers to this dilemma, he says, but he is prepared to tackle it as a top priority.
“Obviously you’re going to have to approach and deal with each situation as it comes,” he explained.
While Gibson has strong feelings about some of the community’s key issues, he says much of his platform will be shaped by the concerns of citizens out in the community.
“The important parts of my platform will be told to me by the people,” he said. “I can’t tell them what’s important; they have to tell me what’s important. Then, I’ll do the research.”
He says he plans to pound the pavement a lot in the coming months to learn about what the residents want and need from their City Council candidates. And he invites residents who see him out in the community — whether at a bar or the grocery store — to come discuss the issues with him.
“I see my role on the council as a long-time resident who plans to live here until the day I die,” he concluded. “And I’m here to serve the people; I’m here to communicate with the people and for the people. I’m not a politician. I never have been, and I probably will never be again. But right now, I think the city needs people like myself who have integrity.”