MARCO ISLAND — Generally, the governmental bodies at the local level do their work without being noticed by the great majority of the citizens on whose behalf they toil – until something happens to get the citizens up in arms.
There was a literally glaring example of that principle on Marco Island this past week, when red-clad Old Marco residents filled the parking lot and most of the audience seats at the City Council meeting on Monday, to let their elected representatives know how they felt about the street lights being erected along Bald Eagle Drive.
How they felt was unhappy – angry, bewildered, and not in a mood to take lying down what they saw as a threat to their quality of life.
Unaccustomed to the sequence of a City Council meeting, the group of residents was not thrilled to have to wait for their say while other business was transacted, and then for the Council members to have their say.
Council Chairman Jerry Gibson did move up the issue to the first position on the agenda, but it was still two hours into the meeting when the lights were discussed. City Manager Jim Riviere agreed the lights were not the most attractive, calling them “tall, green, and plain – a parking lot look.” He said the city had ceased installing the lights themselves, but was continuing with putting in the underground wiring and the concrete supports in the ground. The primary consideration, he said was safety.
The city’s contractor had already erected 28 of the objectionable light poles, said Riviere, with another 36 slated for installation. One possible use for some of the lights would be at the new high school taking shape on San Marco, where the city is required to have street lights installed by August, but that location would not need all of the tall poles. Riviere said it might be possible to return some or all of the lights to the vendor, although not for a full credit.
Council member Bill Trotter expressed concern that installing high-priced alternative lights would set a precedent for other areas of the island whose residents wanted street illumination.
When the time came for citizen input, the citizens were direct.
“Stop putting up these awful green lights,” said Mary Ann Maniace, who spearheaded the protest movement with her friend Bernadette Powers, who stood beside her at the podium. Remarkably well-organized in a short time, the effort already had a signature color, red, with most of the crowd wearing it, and a symbol, the red Solo drinking cup, symbolizing “we don’t stand solo,” in Powers’ words. They got 400 signatures on a petition, and they got the ear of the City Council.
The Maniace/Powers duo said they preferred no lights to those installed, although Gibson said that was not an option for safety reasons.
“I’m hearing two things. I’m hearing they want darkness, or they want expensive lighting,” said Councilman Frank Recker.
“Sitting in this room tonight, I found out I’m a second class citizen,” said Rupert Road resident Harrison Gay, complaining the city could put expensive street lights elsewhere, but not in Old Marco.
“I suggest we not try to save every human being who is going to walk in front of a car,” said Ted Bush of Perrine Court, arguing against lighting.
The City Council gave the irate citizens what satisfaction they could, with installation halted, and the city staff directed to put together information on how the situation could be handled to the residents’ satisfaction.
“We’re satisfied for the interim, to stop the installation of those ghastly green beasts,” said Maniace after leaving the Council chambers. “They heard us, and they listened.”