MARCO ISLAND — While the street light issue generated most of the heat and public interest at the Marco Island City Council meeting Monday afternoon, the councilors took up another question that could have much more far-reaching implications. Under new business, item (C) was the first reading of an ordinance to repeal the city’s Utilities Advisory Board.
Councilman Frank Recker said the UAB “either needs expanded membership, or a utility czar,” and to be less political.
As Councilman Bill Trotter noted, the Utililies Advisory Board (UAB) deals with weighty issues, and some large dollar figures.
“Comments about (the UAB) taking too much staff time concern me,” he said. “This is a business with a bigger budget than the city.” Residents of Marco Island depend on the work of island’s utilities department, overseen by the UAB, every time they turn on a water faucet or flush a toilet.
“We need that, particularly with our lack of detail and technical expertise. We need this board,” said Trotter. He suggested the Council, rather than abolishing the UAB, suspend its activities and refocus it on operational issues, a suggestion the Council ultimately adopted.
“Focus them as a technical advisory board. Policy recommendations – that’s what we should do,” said Trotter. “I spoke to Mr. Honecker (UAB Chairman Ken Honecker, who resigned after the Council announced their intent to consider eliminating the board). If we refocus, he would stay involved.”
“I opposed establishing this board,” said Councilman Chuck Kiester, citing his experience with a similar situation in Gainesville. It’s too sensitive. With only five (members), it could be essentially dominated by one faction.”
“Their inability to have a quorum has resulted in a waste of city resources,” said Councilman Wayne Waldack. “Time to pull the plug on the UAB.” Waldack noted that when residents for the UAB were solicited, only five members came forward.
Several councilors conceded they had helped create problems for the UAB, requiring a quorum of four members with just five members overall.
UAB member Amadeo Petricca stepped forward from the audience to speak. He took issue with previous remarks by Council members, including the word “dysfunctional,” saying “Mr. Recker has a good arsenal of words – repugnant, dysfunctional. We became dysfunctional because you were dysfunctional.” He proudly owned up to “bean counter,” though, and defended the expertise of the UAB members, “engineers with MBAs,” and his own experience as COO of a manufacturing firm.
“I know my bean counting,” he said. “I can make the numbers say anything you want them to.” What was important, though, said Petricca, was the truth.
In the public comment section of the agenda item, Ray Seward and Fay Biles said the UAB members were owed an apology from the City Council.
“I’ve yet to hear an apology from this Council,” said Seward. “I think it’s absurd and sad, after the way they acted.”
Marco Island Taxpayers Association President Faye Biles said she attends all the UAB meetings.
“Sometimes I don’t have the foggiest idea of some of the numbers. These guys worked their heads off. They’ve done a marvelous job,” she said, to applause from the audience, and repeated the call for an apology from Council, prompting an admonition from Chairman Jerry Gibson that “speakers should limit their comments to the motion” on the floor.
“I don’t think there was anything attacking the individuals,” said Gibson. We put an undue burden on the committee,” not reappointing a member when a vacancy came open, and requiring a supermajority just for a quorum to hold a meeting.
“I get criticism all the time,” said Gibson. “Any time you serve on a committee, you’re never going to make everyone happy. The hours they put in were enormous.”
In the end, Recker’s motion to suspend the UAB’s activities temporarily, increase membership to seven while keeping the number for a quorum at four, and “keep them out of policy,” passed 7–0.