Editors note: This is the fifth in a series of interviews with candidates who are announcing they will run for election to the Marco Island City Council in 2008.
Jack Patterson threw his hat into the ring for City Council elections last week, making him the tenth to announce his candidacy for January’s elections.
With the qualifying period for candidates opening Tuesday, the sizeable slate of candidates is finally rounding out. Residents only have two more weeks to wait before knowing what their full range of options will be come Jan. 29.
Patterson joins announced candidates Joe Batte, Butch Neylon, Roger Hall, Ken Allen, Frank Recker, Wayne Waldack, Andrew Guidry, Jerry Gibson and Bill Trotter.
They are competing for just four seats. Two are being vacated by term limited Council Chair Mike Minozzi and Councilor Glenn Tucker, a third is held by Councilor Terri DiSciullo, who is not seeking re-election, and a fourth held by Trotter, the only incumbent candidate.
Patterson, 80, has lived on Marco Island since 1990, when he retired and he and his wife bought a house here.
He started vacationing here in 1980, he says, and simply fell in love with the area.
He is father to five children and a grandfather of four. His wife, Rebecca, passed away last year after working at the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort for 12 years. After that, he immersed himself in his hobbies: he collects, builds and restores antique radios. His prized ham radio is five decades old.
He also assembles and flies remote-controlled airplanes. A few hang in the vaulted ceiling of his living room.
Restoration of an antique “service cycle,” a small motorcycle that is no longer manufactured, is one of his current projects.
Though he has never run for public office, he thought that with free time usually spent on his hobbies, he could direct his knowledge of the island and his business acumen toward a useful purpose.
He considered running for several months, he says, thought he didn’t really make up his mind until about a week before he announced.
“When I saw the other candidates that are running, I thought I might be able to contribute something with my construction background, and I have business experience too,” he said.
Before retirement, Patterson was an architect with offices in Marietta, Ga., and San Diego, Calif. His firm specialized in designs for hospitals and school buildings.
That wealth of experience, he says, makes him ideal to help usher the city through the current financial maze of property tax rollbacks as well as its ongoing construction projects.
“Since I had my own business I had to manage my own finances, I had to balance a budget, I had to manage two offices,” he said. “I have a lot of experience with construction contracts. That requires coordination, schedules to be met, and I think I could help a little in that regard.”
He points to the issue of replacing and repairing the island’s bridges.
Though both state and federal sources of funding have been discussed, Patterson says the city could do more to seek the county’s help with the island’s much-needed bridge repairs.
“There’s enough county people that use the facilities here on Marco,” he said, referencing parks like Tigertail beach. “I would hope we would approach the county to get some help on these projects.”
Another ideal formed through his business experience: “You don’t spend more money than you’re taking in.”
Patterson says his experience in budgeting will particularly feed into the important issue of adhering to the city’s spending cap.
“I think the fact that we are a city — it was so narrow a vote when it passed — the thing that passed it was the spending cap,” he said. “People were afraid being a city would eat up the taxes.”
Against cityhood the first two times he voted for it, Patterson says his third vote was for incorporation because the spending cap was added into the charter.
“One thing that swung me to vote for it was the spending cap,” he said.
Because he knows many other residents were swayed by the same thing, he says, it is a principle he is passionate about defending.
But his reasons for running go deeper, into the very heart of the community’s electorate, which he says has not been adequately defended by the city’s seven-member council in recent years.
“It seems to me like there’s been a little lack of representation on the will of the majority,” he said. “I didn’t much agree with the way they try to look for loop holes to get around the spending cap.”
He says he worries the city is heading down that road now, with the consideration of a Special Fire Assessment, and would advocate that any such change go to the voters before being implemented.
“They seem to do things without getting a lot of input from the voters,” he said. “I certainly would not try to push any big issue or expenditure without getting the consensus of the public. I think a good source of input is the questionnaires that (the Marco Island Civic Association) puts out.”
Patterson himself is a member of MICA. While residents might not trust city-produced surveys, he says, the city might gain valuable input by allowing an outside source to poll people.
“I don’t think people, right now, would trust the city,” he said. “It’s a good city, and I don’t have any problems with the city, but I would think it would be good to come from a proven source like MICA.”
One hot topic Patterson says the city should definitely query the voters about is the Septic Tank Replacement Program.
Though he does not advocate casting aside those contracts that have already been awarded, he says residents ought to have a say in whether to proceed with future districts.
“I certainly would not try to stop anything they have contracted for,” he said. “There are a lot of expenses involved in that. But on the contracts that aren’t awarded yet, I would hope they would maybe get voters’ opinion on it.”
Patterson is currently on sewer, so he says he is free of bias on the issue.
He professes to be purely motivated by a desire to see the community better represented, which will lead to more content citizens.
Problem number one on the island, he says, is the disparate divisions between the island’s political groups.
“There should be some way to get the people together better,” he said.
While he does not claim to have all of the answers on how to do that, he says it simply has to start with the city showing a willingness in gathering citizens’ opinions.
Many of the perceived problems from inside the city stem from that deficiency, Patterson says. He is hesitant to pass judgment on the leadership of City Manager Bill Moss or the current City Council, but rather alludes to an imperfect track record marred by an unwillingness to seek opinion from the people.
“Everybody’s got 20/20 hindsight,” he said.
That track record may be the reason citizens question whether Moss has directed the council, rather than the other way around, he says.
“Bill Moss is a good man, I think,” Patterson said. “I don’t know who was guiding who, but they didn’t get enough public input, obviously.”
Patterson says he simply wants to preserve the beautiful place that lured him into his post-retirement life 17 years ago.
“I plan to stay here the rest of my life,” he said. “And I want to take care of it.”
When asked what he would like to communicate directly to the voters, though, it all comes back to that one issue that directed his incorporation vote ten years ago:
“We need to try to live within the spending cap. Period.”
MARCO CITY COUNCIL ELECTION - 2008
- EXPANDED COVERAGE: Marco City Council election