Victorious City Council candidates sworn in; rental ordinance advances

Lance Shearer

Monday afternoon, in their last scheduled meeting for 2022, the Marco Island City Council swore in their new members, those who had prevailed in the November election. Two of those were already on the council: Chairman Erik Brechnitz and Councilor Greg Folley. They were joined on the dais by newly-elected Councilor Darrin Palumbo.

The three raised their right hands and had the oath of office administered by Collier County Court Administrative Judge Robert Crown. With that ceremony concluded, the council jumped into another election, choosing a new chairman and vice chair.

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For chair, there were two competing nominations. Palumbo nominated Vice Chair Jared Grifoni, and Councilor Rich Blonna nominated Folley, beating Councilor Joe Rola to the punch. The vote was 4-3, with Brechnitz, Folley, Rola and Rich Blonnna supporting Folley, and the others backing Grifoni. After Folley and Brechnitz swapped seats, Folley taking the chairman’s seat in the center, Grifoni was selected over Blonna as vice chair, with five votes. Grifoni’s nomination came from Folley, who had just bested him the chairman’s role.

A lengthy council meeting followed, clocking in at five hours, 47 minutes, with much time and talk devoted to implementation of the island’s new single family home short-term rental ordinance, or STR. After the discussion, legal clarifications, amendments and citizen input, the ordinance was approved on second reading by a 4-3 margin, with Folley, Brechnitz, Blonna and Rola in support, and Grifoni, Irwin and Palumbo opposed.

Reached prior to the meeting, the newly elected and re-elected councilors shared some of their hopes, plans and proposed agenda for the upcoming year in the council – when they can talk about something other than the STR.

Brechnitz, term-limited and having just completed his stint as chairman, had definite ideas for the council in the new year.

“I’d like to figure out a way to acquire the North Marco Utility Company,” he said. “It’s something we need to have. If there is a serious problem there, it is our problem.” The utility, he said, does not have sufficient generators to run their lift stations, and the city has already had to step in to backstop it.

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 Brechnitz also wants to form a charter review committee, with the aim of modifying the form of city government.

“I think Marco Island needs an elected mayor. It’s just a much better system.” He has experience in this, having served as mayor of Decatur, Illinois, a city then of 90,000, for five years from 1990 to 1995. He added he has no intent of stepping into that role. “I’m ineligible. Two terms is plenty. And when I finish this term I’ll be 88 years old.”

Having the title of mayor makes it easier to get the attention of other governmental entities, he said. In another revision, Brechnitz also wants the city clerk to be hired by and report to the city council.

Water quality in the island’s canals is a big concern for Folley, a concern shared by Brechnitz. The two ran as a “slate” in the election, each endorsing the other, and running joint ads. Palumbo also flagged the water in Marco’s canals as a top issue, noting “the quality is getting worse and worse over the years.” Folley supports pilot programs to reintroduce more oxygen into the canals’ water, and more vigorously enforce the city’s fertilizer ordinance.

Palumbo said “we should be exploring gray or reclaimed water,” and “looking over the bridge” at potential outside sources of pollution. “Can we help get Isles of Capri off septic tanks?” he wondered.

Both Folley and Palumbo noted they had been initially opposed to the STR, with Folley saying that, the voters having spoken, “I am committed to enacting the short term rental ordinance. I want to make sure we maximize protections for single family home owners.”

Palumbo, the “new kid” on council, said that on a number of issues, “I am in fact-finding stage.” After 25 years as a city, he said, a priority for him is “how do we keep that quaint, small-town feel?”