MARCO ISLAND — The City Council meeting Monday was a two-for-one special, with a “special-called” meeting at 3:30 preceding the regular City Council meeting at 5:30.
The special-called meeting was supposed to give the councilors the chance to review finalists for the city manager position, soon to be vacant due to the retirement of incumbent Jim Riviere. But by the end of the session, the council was back to square one in the quest for a new chief executive, voting to terminate the contract of search firm Colin Baenziger Associates (CBA), or allowing them to withdraw, and accepting Riviere’s departure at his previously announced date of Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, although he had expressed his willingness to remain onboard while the City Council searched for his replacement.
“I reject this entire process. I don’t want to go through with it,” said Council Chairman Joe Batte, calling the search “flawed from the beginning. We need to admit we made a mistake. Let’s put a caretaker into our city to watch us for a while” and start fresh to find the “very best person for the city.”
The motion to go a different direction rather than CBA, and accept Riviere’s resignation, was made by Councilor Larry Honig, and passed 5-2, with councilors Larry Sacher and Chuck Kiester opposed.
So the councilors will have to come up with a new search firm, a new slate of manager candidates, and an interim city manager, as well as, eventually, an actual permanent new city manager. They scheduled another special-called meeting for Sept. 23 to begin the process, and the city attorney was instructed to open negotiations with Slavin Management Consultants, another “headhunter” firm who had been considered in the original search firm selection process.
In the regular session, the city tax or millage rate of 1.96 mills for city operations, and an additional 0.1163 for debt service, was ratified at the same level as the meeting two weeks ago on its first reading. In public comments, A.K. Battaglia urged a lower rate, although saying “I know it will fall on deaf ears.” The vote was 7-0.
The vote on the budget, the next stop in the mandated process of approving millage rates and budget, followed after a repeat discussion of additional fire department staff and equipment. Council agreed on a consensus vote to authorize Councilor Amadeo Petricca with Collier County for at least one additional ambulance to be stationed on the island. With the intent of strengthening his hand, City Council voted 4-3 to remove the three new fire-rescue personnel requested from the budget, although the money was shifted so that it did not change the budget number. Councilors Honig, Kiester, and Sacher dissented. The budget was then passed on a unanimous 7-0 vote, as were the Hideaway Beach Special Taxing District millage and budget.
The councilors also voted unanimously to raise utility rates by seven percent, for fear that they would be unable to refinance the utility bonds at favorable rates, with water and sewer usage having dropped nine percent over the last several years, and rates not having been raised for two years. These concerns had been voiced by Robert Ori, the city’s bond financing consultant, at a previous council meeting.
On the recommendation of Finance Director Gill Polanco, who had shepherded the votes on the millage and budgets, City Council voted 7-0 to adopt an ERP, or enterprise resource planning system. This overarching software package is designed to update and integrate the financial, accounting, management information, human resources, utility billing, building services and customer relations. The purpose, said Polanco’s slide presentation, “is to facilitate the flow of information between all business functions inside the boundaries of the organization and manage the connections to outside stakeholders.”
The councilors also listened to Community Services Director Bryan Milk on the subject of what to charge private enterprises for parking large numbers of vehicles on city-owned property, indicating they were not satisfied with the fees currently being collected. They ratified, unanimously, the contract with the Policemen’s Benevolent Association, the rank-and-file police officers’ union, and heard an update on the ongoing discussion of replacing or rehabbing the Smokehouse Bay Bridge.
Council listened to Mike Barbush of the Goodland Civic Association as he requested $1.7 million to upgrade the access road to Goodland off State Road 92, starting with something like 10 to 15 percent of that for engineering studies. Nicole Johnson of the Conservancy rose to say that no improvement of the road that involves destruction of mangroves is advisable or allowed.
One city appointment was made with little difficulty. When Bob Brown was appointed to the City Council by the members following Larry Magel’s resignation, his position on the Planning Board came vacant. As Brown had been Batte’s appointee, it fell to the chairman to name a replacement, and he chose former Planning Board member Charlette Roman.
With the hour growing late, Councilor Honig agreed to put off his presentation on the city’s debt level to the following regular council meeting, at which time the group also agreed to listen to Fire-Rescue Chief Mike Murphy’s presentation on the need for additional employees.