City Government Day – Marco Island celebrates 25 years of cityhood

Lance Shearer

Twenty-five years ago, Marco Island became a city. To celebrate, the island has held a weeklong series of events to mark the anniversary. After a week of related happenings, the focus came around on Friday to what makes the city a city – government.

On Aug. 22, Marco Island Civic Association (MICA) hosted a beach cleanup in the morning at South Beach, and the Marco Island Historical Museum conducted a scavenger hunt. Tuesday was Athletic Day, with a 25-minute walk – one minute for each year of cityhood – sponsored by the Marco Island Area Chamber of Commerce and Blue Zones of Southwest Florida. City staff and schoolteachers faced off in kickball games at Winterberry Park.

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Wednesday was Art Day, with an Art @ City Hall Open House, and a reception at the Marco Island Center for the Arts. Thursday was History Day, with school assemblies complete with historical re-enactors from the Marco Island Historical Society. City staff were honored with a luncheon at Mackle Park, with special recognition for employees who have worked at the city for the full 25 years.

On Friday afternoon, the city staffers and the functions they perform for the island’s citizens were front and center at Mackle Park. City Government Day had the City of Marco Island’s various departments holding open house for the residents, showing off their equipment, engaging with the public, and answering questions.

The police department, the fire-rescue squad, public works and the utilities dept. had the biggest display of toys, with the MIPD and the firemen duking it out for first place on who had the most elaborate display.

“The fire department has all the cool toys,” said MIPD detective sergeant Mark Huffer, before clarifying that he was making a harmless joke.

“That’s when you know you have true fellowship – when you’re able to bust each other’s chops,” said Police Chief Tracy Frazzano, backing up her officer. Of course, while the fire department did bring their tower truck, an all-terrain vehicle suitable for emergency calls on the beach and their brush truck, along with an inflatable “safety house” that combined bounce house fun with signs carrying an assortment of good advice, the police had jet skis, a gleaming police motorcycle, and their tricked-out Dodge Challenger, in addition to a “wheel of fortune” where kids had the chance to spin the wheel for prizes. These included trading cards featuring all members of the force, lip balm, frisbees, badges and a cute little plush bear in a police uniform. MIPD public education specialist Yanneth Contrada was handing them out, and business picked up considerably once the younger kids were finished with their elementary school day.

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The Utilities Department brought their $450,000 vacuum truck, useful for cleaning up really big messes, and the Public Works Dept. had equipment including a dump truck and a massive front-end loader, all scrubbed to an unrealistic level of cleanliness.

Inside the Mackle Park community center, City Manager Mike McNees, and city councilors including Erik Brechnitz and Jared Grifoni gathered to meet with citizens, along with city staffers including some recent hires. These included City Clerk Mike Sheffield, who replaced longtime clerk Laura Litzan, and Environmental Planner Kathryn Grigsby-Budet, standing behind a table festooned with information on burrowing owls, gopher tortoises and sea turtles.

“The concept of Marco Island city government from the beginning has been to be minimalist,” said McNees. “The city government doesn’t do anything but the essentials – police, fire, building and zoning, code enforcement and parks.”

Brechnitz noted that incorporation was defeated five times before passing in 1997. “They only had to win once – the sixth time was a charm,” he said.

“It’s been successful – we’ve become master of our own fate,” said Grifoni. “It’s been successful. Citizen participation has been incredible, and the growth of the community is a reflection that this is an attractive place to live.”

Later that evening, a concert at Marco Lutheran Church featuring the Rockefellers continued the 25th anniversary festivities. The week of celebrations culminated in a “1997 Prom Night” Saturday evening at the Marco Island Hilton resort. Tickets were on sale for – of course – $25.