MARCO ISLAND — Several weeks ago, the VPC (Veterans Park Committee) had a meeting scheduled so I stopped by to see how it was coming together. I…nor anyone else who I talked with at the meeting…knew it was a public input meeting with the committee’s consultant and their staff armed with easels, marking pens and power point presentations. Their objective was to seek input/suggestions from the members of the public who attended.
I was very surprised that a notice wasn’t sent out to Marco citizens letting them know of this “public input” meeting or if a notice was sent out, I missed it along with many others. We all thought we would just sit and listen but we ended up talking about the park design and making suggestions. Unfortunately, there were only around 30 people in attendance so the input was limited considering the scope of this project.
At the next VCP meeting, the consultants presented three large illustrations of park designs with each park area labeled to clarify each suggested feature. It was announced that seven sets of the design boards would be placed in prominent locations around the island so Islanders could see the layouts and provide feedback.
That never happened. So I asked to set up the three large design boards at my place of business, Orion Bank, so anyone else interested could stop by, study the layouts and actually fill out a ballot voting for their favorite design including any suggestions for improvement. Once people heard the boards were available at their convenience, people lined up to see and question the designs, sharing with others their thoughts and gladly “voting” on their favorite. No pressure, no large audience, just lots of conversation about the park project and feeling good about getting their opinions included. Laughing while sharing ideas, some pretty outrageous, added to the good spirit of the gatherings.
I have been very impressed with our new City Manager Steve Thompson, who continues to improve the communication between the city and Marco Islanders. His weekly updates are informative helping us feel there is better communication coming in our direction. While the content of the updates could be more extensive, the fact that they come out regularly is beneficial.
Likewise, our “new” City Council is composed of people who campaigned on better communications and some of that is happening…..but, in my opinion, not enough to be a true benefit to our community.
I honestly believe the VPC members feel the public has had every opportunity to share their thoughts and suggestions on the park design. Some of the feedback I have included that the VPC meetings are open to the public and the public may provide input during the “Public Comment” portion of the meeting. That is the short time set aside so the VPC can listen to those who have the courage to stand in front of a large panel of prominent Islanders to share their thoughts and suggestions.
Public comment is almost always one-way communication…from the “public” to the committee members with little if any encouragement to the public to ask questions or to dialogue. It should be remembered that public speaking is one of a persons greatest fears so the experience in the committee type of atmosphere can be pretty intimidating. And, it is one person at a time, standing up, speaking their mind then sitting down followed by the next nervous and possibly intimidated citizen who may have just seen the previous speaker’s suggestions “well received” or criticized judging by the committee members facial expressions or body language.
When is there an opportunity for the public to just sit down with the committee members, ask questions in a casual relaxed setting, dialogue back and forth on differing opinions, having all public attendees exchanging ideas and suggestions with committee members in an organized setting. Why not have the consultants take part in the exchange realizing there may be positive and negative input. After all is said and done, both positive and negative input from all parties will help make the final “product” reflect the communities desires.
I imagine, at some point, the community may be asked to support the final design by voting to approve a funding vehicle that could include a bond, grants, private funds and/or taxes imposed on those who will be using the facility….Marco Islanders.
If the community does not feel they had the proper opportunity to provide their input in the design of the park, what are the odds they may not be interested in financially supporting what I believe is the biggest and most important project on Marco Island over the next 5 years.
If done properly, Veteran’s Community Park will be the “gem” of southwest Florida serving Islander’s cultural and community programs and events while adding value to all aspects of living and working on Marco Island.
So, rather than accelerate the VCP project, slow it down and give our citizens an opportunity to participate. Yes, many in our community are eager to see the Veteran’s Community Park “dream” realized while some think it is bad timing given a down economy. A project of this scope and magnitude always runs into opposition, yet once properly completed, everyone shares in the afterglow of a job well done.
I have asked the VCP Chairman, Monte Lazarus for permission to speak to the committee at their next meeting on Wednesday, February 18 at 6:00pm to bring my thoughts to them and suggest a couple of ideas that might…just might…make public input more user friendly.
The committee has no better resource for the design of this park than the end user….the citizens of Marco Island. Let’s slow this train down a bit and give them time to jump on board as this will be a terrific ride with only one chance to do it right.