MARCO ISLAND — Capri’s Community Center was rich with dignitaries Friday as residents of the Isles of Capri Fire Control District continued discussing their future during a public workshop.
In attendance were Fire Chiefs Mike Murphy, Kingman Schuldt, Alan McLaughlin and Collier County Commissioner Donna Fiala. The chiefs represent Marco Island, East Naples and Ochopee, respectively. McLaughlin also is interim chief for Capri.
Len Price, administrator from Collier County, brought back to the workshop a reworded amendment to the original ordinance that established the district in 1978. Residents had requested County Attorney Jeff Klatzkow draft the amendment at a workshop on Jan. 28.
At that meeting, residents presented Klatzkow with their version of the amendment. They were told it would not be viewed favorably by Collier County’s Board of Commissioners, the government body that oversees the district.
Klatzkow agreed to rework their version with one promise: when it was returned it would be legally sufficient. Without new language, he said, there was little hope that it would be approved by commissioners.
Residents wanted an amendment that would give Capri’s fire board more clout in directing decisions and would lead to more independent control. Suspicions that county management was not responsive to the fire board’s opinions and the downward pressures of lower property assessments drove residents to seek action.
What residents saw did not please them.
“We thought we could go to the fullest extent of the law as a board and fire district,” said John Rogers, who had been appointed to work with Klatzkow. “This is a document with no meat in it.”
Price disagreed; explaining the board always had the authority to investigate ways to conduct business cheaper, better and faster even without the amendment. But Jeri Neuhaus, a member of the investigative team looking into alternatives, did not agree.
“The same people who tell us we’re going broke are telling us we can’t change these things,” she said. Resistance often came from the layers of management between Capri’s fire board and the Board of County Commissioners, she said.
“There’s a system from point A to point ‘BCC,’” Price responded, “but you have a right to go directly to county commissioners.”
Part of the problem, Price explained, came from the fact that the fire district’s bylaws were never approved by commissioners. That document, when approved, would better outline policies and procedures.
The current fire board tabled a review of the bylaws at its January and February meetings, waiting until all five members of the board are seated. Appointments in December and January filled the seats, but appointee Matt Crowder asked to delay joining the board until March.
“Let’s not wrangle over this anymore,” said Kevin Walsh, a past member of the fire advisory board. Residents asked Rogers to get together with Klatzkow and see if revisions could be made to the amendment.
Capri’s fire board, having met prior to the workshop and recessed, reconvened to discuss next steps. Members agreed to wait for the revised amendment language before taking further action on it.
Additionally, the board agreed to ask county commissioners for formal proposals from the East Naples Fire District and City of Marco Island for operational management of fire district services.