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.”