Marco Council-elect resolves to heal divisions

With fate of STRP sealed, the elected eye budget, communication as areas of concern

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The flow of Marco voters to polls was a slow trickle Tuesday afternoon after heavy early voting.

The flow of Marco voters to polls was a slow trickle Tuesday afternoon after heavy early voting. Watch »

Healing open wounds may be the first order of business for the newly elected Marco Island City Council once everyone takes his seat in March.

That goal ranked at or near the top of everyone’s list following Tuesday’s election, in which the entire slate of four candidates supporting sewer completion were elected in a monumental victory. Jerry Gibson, Frank Recker, Bill Trotter and Wayne Waldack each earned at least 14.7 percent of the votes cast, leaving Joe Batte, Andrew Guidry, Roger Hall and Butch Neylon with roughly 10 percent apiece.

Margins in the win were large, but it still leaves a sizeable minority of residents whose votes went entirely to the unsuccessful candidates. Exit polls revealed Tuesday that the majority of islanders were voting either for the four pro-sewer candidates or the four anti-sewer candidates, with few votes split between the slates.

“There were winners last night, but there really weren’t losers,” Councilor-elect Jerry Gibson said Wednesday afternoon. “We have all maintained that we want to approach things in a positive basis. We want to reach out.”

Gibson said he began his campaign with the belief that a wide gulf divided him from his opponents, but came to realize that his vision for the island is not so different from that of his rivals.

“If we reach out to these people, hear them, and take their thoughts and their concerns into consideration, I’m very optimistic that we can come together in a positive way and move forward,” Gibson said.

Waldack said he has never much liked to listen to himself talk — a trait he said will help him keep an ear out for a wide range of viewpoints.

“We are definitely going to make a statement that we want their input,” he said.

Recker said he is already trying to engage the other four unsuccessful candidates in a dialogue, part of his attempts to do his homework over the next six weeks before he takes office.

“At the polls, those voters had something to say, and they weren’t just saying something about septics — we need to find out what those concerns were,” he said. “I would like to meet with the people who know most what those concerns were, and that would be Joe, Roger, Butch and Andy.”

Sitting Councilor Chuck Kiester was present at the gathering of anti-sewer candidates Tuesday night, and shared in the disappointment of supporters as results came in. Kiester, who himself was elected on a promise to stop the sewer program, publicly endorsed Batte, Guidry, Hall and Neylon.

He is now vowing to help the city move forward in whatever direction the majority chooses.

“I think the sewer issue is decided,” he said. “That’s the by-and-by, and with that out of the way, perhaps we have an opportunity to reunite the island. I was surprised at the results, quite frankly, but on the other hand, the people spoke, and we need to move past this one issue.”

Kiester said he is still committed to advancing a few projects close to his heart, including initiating a charter review committee to explore ways to shore up language on the city’s 3 percent spending cap and re-evaluating the powers of the city manager.

First and foremost though, he said, the council has to work to heal some of the divisions on the island that have been more bitterly apparent than ever before in the last two years.

“I think the first thing is, we are apparently all in agreement that we need to mend some fences here, so I think that’s a good start,” he said. “I think that this new council will be open to receiving citizen input and be responsive to that.”

In the effort to promote citizen input, incumbent Councilor Trotter is hoping to sponsor more workshops and public forums on everything from department budgeting to major construction projects.

“I think we need to improve our budgeting workshop approach,” he said.

Trotter said it will depend upon when each department can prepare proposals for the next year’s budget, but his plan would see an individual workshop dedicated to each city department’s budgeting needs. It would allow residents to approach the more nitty-gritty details of each city funding area and sound off feelings on the necessity of individual programs and projects.

Trotter’s goal resounds with his fellow councilors-elect. They all identified careful budgeting as a major concern in the coming year, particularly after voters passed a resounding vote to double their protection from property taxes.

“I look forward to a good council season for the next two years,” said sitting Councilor Ted Forcht. “Of course, we didn’t agree on the STRP, but in the coming year, that’s going to be a very small part of the challenges this council is going to face.”

He said he has heard the city will receive a shortfall of anywhere between $700,000 and $1 million in lost property tax revenue from the cutbacks.

“It would have been a good year with the other people, it would have been a good year with a mix,” Forcht said. “But everybody who was running was running with the best interests of the island in mind.”

As the song goes, you can’t always get what you want, but if you try, you get what you need.

There is no disagreement among the council-elect that the city needs a little healing. There is no easy fix, but in the rosy days following an election victory, talk of reconciliation is in fair supply.

“In two long years as a city councilor, I’ve learned that it’s impossible to please everyone,” sitting Councilor Rob Popoff said. “But I believe that some of us on council have tried to strike a balance. I would hope that this new council will try to work with everyone in the community and continue to try to make meetings an open forum so people can voice their opinions respectfully.”

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Comments » 6

Neutral writes:

I am posting this comment in hopes that the incoming councilors will check this thread. Many of the anti sewer voters are people to whom the personal financial burden of the STRP is signifigant. My property is sewered but I voted for your opposition because I saw the STRP as a program that would have been politically impossible if the unsewered lots had not been a small minority. I worry about this precedent of targeting a minority because they do not have the numbers to fight back effectively. I doubt if every homeowner who has $35,000 ($20,000 assessment + $15,000 septic system cost) taken from them will get over it. I do believe that any efforts made by the new council to lessen the burden will help. I like most on Marco am a financial conservative. My primary reason for voting against you was that you recieved endorsement from those council members responsible for attempts to circumvent the spending cap in the past. I hope that we have seen the last of these tactics. I love this island and I look forward to the day when it is as relaxing for residents as it is for tourists. I hope that will be within your term.

SmokeyJoe writes:

I agree with Neutral above. The new Council can do a lot to bring the residents of Marco Island back together. Many of those that voted for the losing slate are on fixed Incomes and can not afford the $20,000.00 + it will cost for the assessments for sewers. The new council could reach out to those who voted for the losing slate by considering some of the matters raised by them , such as a Forensic Audit, Charter study review Committee and certain Financial revisions that reduce the City Managers powers on award of contrats etc, We do not need any more anger or hard feelings between our residents.

d_a_t_a_m_a_n writes:

Some final analysis of the election by Precinct

Overall 72% of the registered voters (8,916) cast ballots. This was the highest turnout ever (the 1997 city-hood election had a 71% turnout). The average ballot voted for 3.8 candidates.

By Precincts:

Precinct 190 (First Presbyterian) - 66% voted. This area consists of all sewered homes and the recently constructed North Marco sewer district. The pro-sewer candidates received 67% of the vote.

Precinct 191 (St Marks) - 77% voted. This area consists of Hideaway Beach, the recently connected Tigertail sewer district and the 2009 Kendall district. The pro-sewer candidates received 69% of the vote.

Precinct 192 (Mackle Park)- 60% voted. This area consists of about half sewered homes and the 2010 Gulfport and 2011 Goldenrod sewer districts. The pro-sewer candidates received 52% of the vote.

Precinct 193 (United Church) - 72% voted. This area consists of about half sewered or recently constructed sewer homes and the 2012 Estates and 2008 Sheffield sewer districts. The pro-sewer candidates received 52% of the vote.

Precinct 194 (Marco Lutheran) - 76% voted. This area consists of condos and mostly homes in the 2008 Lamplighter and 2011 Copperfield sewer districts. The pro-sewer candidates received 58% of the vote.

Precinct 195 (Jewish Congregation Temple) - 79% voted. This area consists of condos and single family homes with recently constructed sewers. The pro-sewer candidates received 75% of the vote.

Precinct 196 (Mackle Park) - 71% voted. This area consists of about 20% homes on sewer and 80% in the 2010 East Winterberry and 2009 Mackle Park sewer districts. The pro-sewer candidates received 44% of the votes - this is the only district the pro-sewer candidates failed to win.

Flowerpower writes:

The City Council has made many attempts to make the STRP more affordable. Specifically Councilors DisCuillo and Popoff have worked to make this project as equitable as possible. There was a referendum to have a flat sewer assessment of $10,000 and the voters rejected this plan.

If you remember, Neylon, Hall, Davies and others openly campaigned against this plan. Do not point to our City Council, who have endured enough abuse, look to the individuals that campaigned against this fair and equitable plan.

Neutral writes:

Flowerpower: I don't see any abuse or fingerpointing in this thread. Alot of people have been abused on Marco Island over the past few years but thats not what this thread is about so take your "spoiling for a fight comments" elsewhere because this article and thread are about reconciliation.

To the new council: Flowerpower brings up the past referendum on spreading the cost around which failed. I agree that it was a fair and equitable plan. My personal feeling is that the original referendum was designed to fail. I would suggest reintroducing it as a simple yes/no proposition instead of the confusing way it was presented before, but from my conversations with others about the original referendum it is clear it didn't stand a chance anyway. A sad fact is that most on Marco island want 100% sewer coverage but only if others are paying 100% of the cost. I think any further divisive referendums would only prolong the agony. One thing is obvious from the results of the last referendum, anything that even hints at a change in the spending cap is a non-starter and you can't ask the voters to be fair and equitable if doing so will cost the majority a dime.

Joe_Btfsplk writes:

What a difference an election makes. The above appears to be reasonable discussion. A breath of fresh air.

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