If cities were compared to theaters, Marco Island would likely be one of the smaller, one-screen versions. While that is certainly a quaint scenario, in fact the smaller the theater, the more reaction someone seeking attention can achieve by recklessly shouting ‘fire.’ So if you hear that our local government is ablaze, don’t run for the bridge, at least not yet.
Since Election Day quickly approaches, we have recently heard several cries of civic distress from certain candidates for City Council. I would suggest that before we ask our voters to respond to this purported emergency, we look for any sign of the fire, which they claim exists.
Indeed, instead of flames, I think what you’ll find is that Marco Island is simply one of the most beautiful, safe, peaceful and efficiently operated municipalities in the State of Florida. We have excellent City services, multiple parks, good roads, esthetically pleasing lighting, bike paths, and unexcelled Fire/Rescue and Police Departments under the leadership of Chiefs Mike Murphy and Don Hunter, respectively.
And in spite of the voices shouting ‘hidden’ government, Marco Island is a model of transparency. Everything is either accessible online, or by actually viewing every current or past meeting of the City Council, Code Board, and Planning Board. The only things lacking transparency on Marco are the agendas of those doing the shouting.
Our city employees work hard, work with less, and are extremely dedicated to the City for which they work. We have seen that on many occasions, in many different scenarios. They are neither too many, nor are they overpaid.
For example, during the course of the past 4-plus years on council, I have personally observed city utility workers repairing or upgrading our utility plant operations, walked with them on the transoms over our waste disposal tanks, observed our plant operators carefully monitoring a multitude of gauges and fittings, and watched other utility workers responding to broken water lines or service issues. They do their jobs very well.
I have accompanied public works employees while they picked up ‘road kill’ or errant palm fronds and other debris from streets and sidewalks. I have watched them clean out our drains, clear swales and repair streetlights. They also monitor the condition of our bridges and effectuate repairs when feasible. Eventually, they return to a very worn out rented trailer, which serves as their ‘office.’ The only thing I haven’t seen or heard from them is a complaint.
I have accompanied our fire/rescue department in both fire trucks and EMS vehicles as they quickly and intensely respond to medical calls to both private residences and condominiums. I have watched them administer to the elderly suffering cardiac emergencies, babies whose mother’s believed they were deathly ill, or attempting to stabilize obviously broken limbs on accident victims lying in the street. I have seen them responding to fire alarms on multiple occasions, preparing for each as though it could be a major conflagration.
I have watched as our IT personnel attempted to solve ‘glitches’ in a server, or improve the functioning of the City telephone equipment. Notably, I saw them struggle to meet Council’s expectations in televising our local governmental meetings. And notwithstanding our demands and their long hours, they achieved what we sought, including implementing a sophisticated GPS system and a very user friendly City website.
I have spent countless hours riding with our police, spending days and nights with officers who patrol our streets, who routinely check every alley behind our businesses, stopping only to respond to a multitude of home alarms on a stormy night. They investigate all accidents, and routinely stop vehicles for a variety of infractions. More often than not, they give friendly ‘warnings’ to vacationers who are not familiar with our speed limits. I have also observed them administering to accident victims when they are first on scene, calling ‘back up’ to control the resultant traffic, after which they might go on to execute an arrest warrant when they were lucky enough to have an additional officer available. Many hours were spent on stakeouts, obtaining important evidence that would result in arrests or prevent a crime. As gangs and drugs migrate to our area, their increased vigilance and presence are essential.
In City Hall, due to the remodeling achieved by Dr. Riviere, our City Manager, access to our friendly and hardworking city staff, and multiple departments, is easier and more open than it has been since cityhood in 1997. Just watching citizens and contractors flow in and out of city hall tells us much. Our business is being conducted in a professional, efficient and effective manner.
Our taxpayer cost for what we enjoy is approximately 17% of the total we see on our property tax bills. When you consider that we have attained budget surpluses for the past several years, and our millage rate for city operations is 1.96 (2012 and 2013) despite the decrease in property values, it is hardly a portrait of ‘fiscal irresponsibility.’ In fact, we are currently over 2 million dollars under the spending cap. The utility system is costly and we carry a debt burden, but we control our own utility destiny, and significant debt reduction options are being explored. Nonetheless, our utility bond ratings were recently upgraded to AAA-¬, verifying the stability of our operations.
Of course, everything in life can be improved, and our City is no exception. But the improvement will take us from excellent to ‘more excellent,’ and in a fiscally prudent manner.
We can all be proud of what we have accomplished in a relatively short 15 years as a City. No matter where my travels as an attorney take me, the conversation eventually gets to Marco Island, what a paradise we have, and how much others would love to live here.
So when the aspiring politicos shout ‘fire’ in our local government, no need to dial 911.
Frank R. Recker