For many of the realtors in attendance, it was their first chance to see and hear from Interim City Manager David Harden. Along with City Council Chair Erik Brechnitz, Harden spoke to the Marco Island Area Association of Realtors’ general membership lunch, Tuesday at the Hideaway Beach Club, giving them what amounted to a progress report on city government.

It was also an introduction of sorts to Brechnitz. Just elected to the council in November, having previously served as chair of the city’s planning board, he was immediately named council chairman by a vote of his fellow councilors.

MIAAOR president Steve Josselyn welcomed Harden and Brechnitz as guests of the realtors, but in a sense, the real estate salespeople were Brechnitz’ guests, since as a Hideaway resident, he was on his home turf, in the room where he held a victory party on election night.

In his introduction of Harden, Josselyn gave highlights of his career in municipal government, including 12 years as city manager of Winter Park, and a 23-year stint as city manager of Delray Beach, an enviable record in a profession in which tenures tend to be brief, especially on Marco Island.

Harden’s remarks were brief, as is likely to be the case with his time in Marco Island city government. Still, he said, “as interim city manager, I am not a caretaker. We have issues we need to deal with in a forthright and expeditious manner.”

One of those issues, he said, was that code enforcement had not been dealt with in an evenhanded manner. Another issue, which comes under the category of good problems to have, is deciding how to spend the dollars anticipated from the county’s one-percent local option sales tax increase, that passed despite Marco Island voting against it.

Those funds, said Brechnitz when he spoke, are anticipated to amount to approximately 23 to 25 million dollars, although as he pointed out, “we will probably kick in about $50 million – Marco Island is a donor community,” paying in more taxes than will be returned to the city.

While listing hiring a permanent city manager as his top priority for city government, which he said “I believe we will be able to get done in six months,” Brechnitz spoke highly of Harden. “The Marco Island charter doesn’t have anything called interim manager. He is the manager,” said Brechnitz. “This gives us a little breathing room to select a permanent manager.”

Financially, he said, the city is in “really good shape.” He told the realtors they have a great job, selling a product people get excited about, with a small town feel that leads to satisfied clients. New crime statistics, said Brechnitz, say “the safest city in the State of Florida is Marco Island. You can walk our streets, even at ‘Marco midnight,’ (variously calculated but sometime around 8 p.m.), and be as safe as in your living room.”

Challenges the city would have to deal with, he said, include parking issues, a planned county fertilizer ordinance, and massive growth anticipated on the 951 corridor adjacent to the island. He listed his top legislative priorities as hiring “the absolute best city manager available,” moving forward with a plan for Veterans’ Community Park by the end of the year and dealing with water quality issues.

In the Q and A following their remarks, Harden and Brechnitz took questions on building permits, the assisted living facility nixed by the council, and the withdrawn application for major changes to the Olde Marco Inn and nearby shops.

Realtor Jim Prange asked why the city could not charge a toll to enter the island for non-residents, as communities such as Sanibel Island have done, prompting Brechnitz to reply, “you’re preaching to the choir,” but that getting such a measure approved would be extremely difficult.

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