Marco City Council renews code enforcement magistrate contract in 5-2 vote
In a 5-2 vote, Marco Island City Council reappointed the code enforcement special magistrate for an additional two-year term.
The renewal was approved Monday after some councilors expressed concern about special magistrate Myrnabelle Roche's performance.
Councilor Sam Young said Roche's record in Marco is "all over the map."
"She disregards the city attorney in his recommended fines for repeat offenders," Young said. "Her record [...] is laughable."
Young said Roche's fines should be higher and encourage violators to "continue bad behavior."
"I can't support that," he said.
Councilor Charlette Roman said she was not pleased with Roche's performance.
"I think that in some of the environmental cases that they were disturbing to me, [...] watching the decisions that were made for second and third violations, and the city's recommendations, and they didn't get the attention that maybe I thought they should."
Councilor Larry Honig said Roche was doing a good job.
"I would recommend that we approve the renewal so that we have continuity in the position that we can have these cases heard," Honig said.
His recommendation was echoed by Councilor Howard Reed.
"This contract, if not renewed by the end of February, would leave us without a magistrate," Reed said.
Councilors also talked about the possibility of hiring more than one magistrate.
"When we went to the magistrate system, the council at the time hired three magistrates on a revolving basis," Roman said.
"And shortly after that decision was made one of the magistrates withdrew [...] and in an unfortunate situation one of the other magistrates passed away so we were left with one magistrate."
Roman also pointed out there is no evaluation process for special magistrates on Marco.
"I expected something in our documents that would be at least a recommended way to evaluate our special magistrate as we assess whether or not to renew the contract," Roman said.
Chairperson Erik Brechnitz requested that City Manager Mike McNees create a "scorecard" to have more information about Roche's performance.
"We are making a lot of accusations about performance," Brechnitz said. "Until we have some statistical information that really makes sense I don't think we can be definitive."
Reed also said City Council could communicate its concerns to Roche. Alan L. Gabriel, city attorney, agreed to do it.
In the end, City Council approved the renewal with the nay votes of Vice-chair Jared Grifoni and Young.
The city pays the magistrate $190 per-hour among other fees, according to a document provided by the city.
At a code enforcement hearing in August, the city requested a $500 fine against Madeira on Marco Island condominium association for violating sea turtle lighting restrictions but Roche only issued a $50 fine.
In September, Roche issued a $500 fine against Madeira for violating once more the sea turtle lighting ordinance despite the city's request of $3,500.
Several Marco Island city councilors said in October they want bigger fines against entities who repeatedly break city environmental codes, the Eagle reported.
“Maybe we can […] increase the fines for intentional reckless conduct that are much heftier than where we are at right now while still providing just a sliver of leeway for someone who makes a mistake," Grifoni said during the previous council meeting.
At the time, Roman said City Council should take into consideration the leeway it gives to the magistrate to impose fines.
“Just because the ordinance provides the latitude to give a larger fine does not mean when the evidence is heard in the particular hearing (that the higher fine) is going to be administered for that violation,” Roman said.
“I think we have an opportunity […] to give our city manager and our staff the tools that if there are egregious repeat violators, we can do (what is necessary) to protect our world class beach and our world class environment.”
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