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.
Frank Recker joins a list of Marco City Council candidates who were announced during the summer: Joe Batte, Roger Hall, Butch Neylon and Ken Allen.
The five are now vying for four available City Council seats, two of which are being vacated by Chair Mike Minozzi and Councilor Glenn Tucker because of term limits. The other two, held by councilors Bill Trotter and Terri DiSciullo, are up for re-election, though neither councilor has announced a final decision on whether they will run again.
What may set Recker apart in the minds of voters is his stance on sewers, which he says are a foregone conclusion on the island. However, his main agenda item is to foster better understanding between political opponents and bring them together, an issue which he believes is foremost on the island.
"If I walk into a courtroom and another attorney is trying to annihilate me, he's using facts, law and persuasion. He's doing his job," said the 61-year-old attorney. "But we can leave and be friends. It should be no different in city government."
Recker says one motivating experience in his decision to run was when he took his 13-year-old son, Mac, to a City Council meeting several months ago. He realized the tenor of debate there was unsuitable for his child to listen to.
"I was embarrassed," he explained. "I didn't want my son — whom I've always encouraged to get involved in student government — I didn't want my son to see what he was seeing."
Mac is Recker's only child still living at home. Recker and wife, Saundra, together have six grown children from previous marriages. They have lived in Marco full-time since 1997.
Recker says that experience was a defining one in how he is shaping his candidacy. Despite the cat calls and booing he witnessed that evening with his son, Recker says he sees the potential in Marco Island's city government for people to come together in an environment of shared respect, creating the kind of exchange between people and elected leaders that children and grandchildren could be proudly exposed to.
"My biggest issue is you can't solve problems in an environment where you have to duck all of the time," he said. "Who's going to stand up and say, 'Let's talk. Let's all return to civility, calmness, rational discussion?' "
Recker comes from a background of two seemingly incongruous professions. However, he says his professional experiences have lent him an ability to bridge gaps between human emotion and logic.
Recker made the jump from dentistry to law in 1986, after attending night school and practicing both part-time for a number of years.
"People come in a wide spectrum of sizes, shapes and perceptions of the world. What one person sees as black, another person will see as white," he stated. "You learn a lot about people in dentistry. Law is less concerned with people's feelings as opposed to facts and what the law is. You can blend the reality of knowing that a person can see things, which they believe to be factual, with what one person can see is the opposite color ... bring them to a common perception."
Recker now specializes in medical licensing law. He also comes from a background of diverse board and committee positions. He served on the Ohio State Dental Board from 1979 to 1985, sat on the board of directors for the Marco Island Civic Association from 2000 to 2003, and the board of directors for Marco Community Bank from 2004 to 2007 and served as the Vice Mayor of Madeira, Ohio from 1991 to 1995, to name a few positions.
Recker says Madeira was like Marco in both size, population and organization of city government, with a city charter and police and fire departments.
As president of the Marco Island Marina Association from 2002 through 2005, Recker says he developed understanding for yet another segment of the population that he would not have otherwise.
"That taught me a lot about the interests of boaters — their concerns, what they want, what their perceptions and concerns are," he explained. "It's another area of exposure that directly relates to people on the island: the boaters. Some people could care less about boats. Other people live only for that."
Issue number two on Recker's agenda is the Septic Tank Replacement Program, which may be the item that decides January's election.
"I believe that if you went to every person on this island and said, 'Would you rather flush your waste to a treatment center or have it on your property?' there's no one that's going to prefer septic," he said. "What most of us would say is, 'I don't want disruption in my life, I don't want the noise.' "
While he says he recognizes how contentious the issue is, he believes that if the city does not act now to replace septic tanks, a higher agency will make it a mandate at some point in the future where the cost will be much greater to residents.
Recker himself is currently on septic, and just recently signed his 20-year lock-in agreement.
"I'd rather bite the bullet and deal now rather than have my kids or my grandkids deal with it," said Recker. "I'm convinced that a government entity in the near future is going to tell us this must be done."
Part of Recker's platform advocates finding a way to reduce the financial burden and disruption for residents. He says he would like to explore new options, such as splitting up assessment districts into smaller chunks or more effectively lobbying the Florida Legislature for financial assistance.
"Let's just accept reality," he proposed. "Let's just accept it collectively and figure out the best way we can do this with the least amount of pain."
Education and recreation for the island's children is another concern of Recker's, and he emphasizes the need for greater returns from the Collier County Board of Education on the property tax dollars it receives from Marco Island. He also proposes the retention of board of education-owned Tract K on the island as a site for educational or recreational opportunities.
For the most part, Recker is reserved in his appraisal of the current City Council and city staff. He says he is not personally familiar with any of the current council members.
"Unlike some people, I don't think there's one person on this City Council who hasn't worked hard to accomplish what they thought was right," added Recker.
However, he said, he does believe the council needs to set more clear ground rules for exchanges between residents and council members.
"If I bring my child there and he witnesses cat calls, booing and negativity, who controls that environment?" he asked. "I don't see (council) exerting that control."
Meanwhile, he explained, when he looks at past appraisals of City Manager Bill Moss by the council, he sees a city manager who is very capable in the eyes of his council.
"I can't personally criticize someone I have never worked with. I have never been his boss," he answered when asked his opinion of Moss. "I do find a disconnect between 10 years of (positive) council evaluation and those who are somehow anti-city management."
Referencing attempts by political action committee Preserve Our Paradise to subject the city manager's job to a voter referendum, Recker says that while he doesn't support that avenue, he does see value in setting up a citizen committee to evaluate senior city management.
"The point of a committee would be at the grassroots," he added. "That viewpoint is probably not available to council."
Though there has been much conflict in the city's 10-year history, the city and its leaders have accomplished much according to Recker.
"They've had to address within 10 years time the 30-plus years of neglect by Collier County," he stated. "So consider the tiny window of time within which our councils have had to work. They have done a great job."
Now, he said, the city simply has to find a way to return to a level of political debate that embraces tolerance for opposing viewpoints and fosters participation from all sides.
"Let's all be friends," he concluded when asked what his ultimate message is to voters. "Let's all respect each other. Let's all move forward together. I don't think that's pie in the sky. I really don't."