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Marco Island City Manager Roger Hernstadt on Tuesday was a guest speaker at an American Legion meeting to discuss the $7.5 million government building proposed for Veterans Community Park.

The veterans said during a question-and-answer period at Gino’s Trattoria they were concerned that the city was using veterans to qualify for $2.5 million in state funding.

“I’m glad the City Manager took the time to come to the American Legion meeting to present the proposed building and took many questions and heard lots of objections,” said Lee Rubenstein, commander of American Legion Post 404. “But I was disappointed that he didn’t tell members that the veterans were not the originators of the request for this building.”

Hernstadt has said the project will proceed with or without support from veterans, but without veterans, the city likely wouldn’t qualify for state funding. If it were built, he said, the entire funding burden would fall to Marco taxpayers.

After Hernstadt’s presentation that included drawings of the park master plan and future phase, Hernstadt took questions from the vets.

Leaders from the American Legion, Civil Air Patrol, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and VFW met with Hernstadt and Fire-Rescue Chef Mike Murphy last week about the proposed project and their concern about Hernstadt’s using the word veterans as a hook to secure state money. The City Manager told the group at that meeting that perhaps it was poor judgment on his part to use that term, Rubenstein said.

The vets attending the first meeting last week said they weren’t looking for an apology. When Gov. Scott vetoed $2.5 million in state funds for the building in June, Rubenstein said he asked Hernstadt why he didn’t pull the military groups together to gain support.

Several of the vets at the meeting said they had been approached by citizens on Marco, asking, “Why are we, the veterans, wanting this building?”

“Well, we are not,” Rubenstein reiterated.

Consistent with the American Legion charter, Rubenstein reminded members that their group is non-political and stands neutral.

Delegation

On Oct. 15, Hernstadt spoke before members of the Collier County legislative delegation, seeking support for $2.5 million. The submission packet, which had the support of four city council members, is in the hands of state Rep. Kathleen Passidomo. The cover letter contained the word “veterans” 15 times. Following the meeting Tuesday, Hernstadt met with the parks recreation advisory board and laid out more specifics.

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