MARCO ISLAND — Politics reared its head at the Marco Island City Council meeting Monday evening. Before the council could get down to business, during the community forum, Judy Sacher, wife of council candidate Larry Sacher, rose to lambaste council chairman Larry Magel for what she called a "secret letter" he had sent to island condo managers.
"I would like to express my disgust with the conduct of Larry Magel, our city council chairman," she began, before being cautioned by the chairman that personal attacks are not permitted in the council meetings. "You state my husband's obvious motive was to (run for city council and) represent single family owners," Sacher continued, accusing Magel of representing only condo residents.
Magel responded he had run his letter by city attorney Burt Saunders before sending it, to ensure he did no wrong, and Saunders confirmed Magel was within his rights, as long as he did not use city property for campaign purposes. A succession of other residents then rose to reiterate Judy Sacher's complaints.
"We elect city councilors at large," said Linda Turner. "Their job is to represent all" the island's citizens. "By writing this two-page memo, it seems like the very same thing he is accusing these three of doing." The "three" are council candidates Amadeo Petricca and Ken Honecker, in addition to Larry Sacher. In his letter, Magel said, "Of the nine candidates running for the four open seats, three have openly expressed a bias against the 'Condo Owners' of Marco Island."
Ray Seward and Dave Scarborough also spoke against Magel's letter, with Seward requesting an apology from the chairman.
"There will be no apology," said Magel, and quoted from the founding documents of what was begun as the Marco Island Homeowners Association, with Larry Sacher as chairman, before the name was changed to the Marco Island Property Owners Association.
"A number of people have felt that the master-metered condo interests are overtaking those of the single-family homeowners," he quoted, along with a passage stating members could "choose to support those who might be more inclined to wish to protect the interests of single-family homeowners" rather than condo owners.
Magel, ironically, is not up for re-election this election cycle. Told by Seward, "I voted for you. I won't vote for you again," he replied, "Thank you. You have two years to worry about that."
On a lighter note, Old Marco resident Bernadette Powers asked for and got an update on erection of new streetlights in her neighborhood. Utilities Director Tim Pinter assured her the lights were on hand, waiting only for the ground to dry off enough to allow installation.
On another election note, the council passed an ordinance regulating election signs, leading City Manager Jim Riviere and Community Services Director Brian Milk to promise enforcement would begin the next day.
Seawall reconstruction came back before the board for another airing, with Councilor Bill Trotter complaining the meaning of a proposed ordinance had been changed, to prohibit any use of vacant lots for seawall "staging" after a six-month period.
That was exactly the intention, said Magel and other councilors, with the intent of forcing the Planning Board, city staff, and marine contractors to come up with a solution to the problem. The seawall ordinance passed 5-1, with Trotter dissenting and Councilor Frank Recker absent.
Another longstanding issue, the Smokehouse Bay Bridge, also came back up for discussion, with an engineer's report by consultant Cardino/TBE Consulting Engineers saying that replacing the bridge now, rather than continuing to repair the existing structure, would be safer and more cost-effective. Council voted 6-0 to accept the findings.
They also voted 5-1 to proceed with a fire/rescue boat that will eventually cost over $400,000. Trotter, who has come up on the short of a number of lopsided votes recently, and will soon be term-limited off the council, cast the dissenting vote.
Council unanimously approved a fitness center in the Shops of Marco. In response to a question from Magel, Saunders confirmed that the Sunshine Law does not prohibit city councilors from participating in voter forums, of which several are scheduled, as long as their comments are addressed to all and not on how another councilor would vote on a given issue.
Riviere opened the meeting by singling out several members of the city's utilities and fire-rescue departments for commendations, including engineer/paramedics Albert Munoz and Dustin Beatty, who were honored for saving a life when they pulled a motorist out of a vehicle after an I-75 rollover.
The next council meeting is set for Oct. 15.