Marco Island's City Council engaged in a marathon, butt-numbing series of meetings on Monday, tackling a wide range of issues.
First up was a joint workshop with the city's Planning Board, in which the councilors and board members tackled the ongoing and sometimes divisive issues of who can park on the island, when, and where. They met around a U-shaped table in front of the dais in the council chambers, joined by City Manager Dr. Jim Riviere and as necessary by city department heads and members of the public.
Attesting to the level of concern about parking, the public nearly filled the available seats in the hall. While a variety of parking issues were tackled, the ones that stirred up interest were beach parking, and on-street parking in the Old Marco district.
On beach parking, the discussion centered on how to regulate, deter and discourage non-Islanders from taking up parking space, without inconveniencing residents wanting to access the beach. Clearly, no one was particularly interested in encouraging outsiders parking at the beach – certainly not for free. Residents on hand for the meeting seemed uniformly opposed to any parking in swales.
Councilor Jerry Gibson suggested what he called "payage" machines, saying "free parking is what people are interested in."
"Towing is more of a disincentive," said Councilor Chuck Kiester, suggesting the matter be turned over to a private contractor, and a hefty fine of $95 or more be imposed. Gibson suggested "booting" illegally parked cars so they could not be moved would be more effective.
Police Chief Don Hunter pointed out the current parking fine of $30 loses money for the city, with a $40 fee to the county for processing a court case, even before overtime and fuel for officers testifying in court is added in. Councilor Frank Recker called the fines "a big bluff," warning, "you will be called constantly by a condo commando or two, watching with binoculars" for violators.
Planning Board member Monte Lazarus renewed his pitch for stickers identifying Marco Island residents, so they could be treated differently from visitors on parking.
The Planning Board's recommendations, to place "no beach parking" signs on Swallow Ave., Huron Ct., Panama Ct., Collier Ct., Seagrape Dr., Maple Ave. and Swan Drive., were adopted by a 6-0 vote of the council, along with the directive to increase the fine from $30 to $95 and initiate "vigorous enforcement."
On the Old Marco parking question, business owners and condo residents rehashed their arguments for and against. Merchants including Susan Ackerson and Peter Marek spoke for access and commercial viability, and residents' representatives including Eileen Ward and Robert Green argued for improved safety, residential property values and protection of the swales. Council did not come down on one side or the other, rather falling in line with the Planning Board recommendation to allow swale "on grass" parking and seek additional alternatives.
After the joint workshop, councilors went into two closed-door sessions, meeting with City Attorney Burt Saunders and Daphnie Ricobene of his staff at the law firm of Gray Robinson P.A., to discuss a pending lawsuit against the city, and ongoing union negotiations with the police and firefighters' unions.
With only a short break between sessions, they gaveled open the regular City Council meeting at 5:30, and delved into the next set of issues. First, though, they recognized the Marco Police Foundation, for their donation of bullet-resistant vests for the protection of police officers, and heard how the Fire-Rescue Dept. responded, aided by outside help, when confronted with multiple high-rise fires, a serious traffic incident, a medical emergency and, maddeningly, a false alarm, all on one evening in June.