The first meeting of the new year saw the Marco Island City Council approve on first reading an ordinance to regulate and register rental homes on the island.

At the same time, the council also voted to give City Manger Roger Hernstadt a 4.7 percent pay hike after his first year on the job.

The council also heard a request to seek an alternative to the state's Common Core educational initiative and listened to reports about delays at the Smokehouse Bay Bridge construction site.

The home-rental issue has been under review since council directed the city's Planning Board to come back with a proposed solution to what many have referred to as a "quality-of-life issue" – what some see as the disruptive nature of short-term rentals in established residential neighborhoods.

Joe Delate of the 1700 block of Maywood said he believed there had been a "seismic shift" in the makeup and character of property ownership on the island.

"These are not people of our parent's generation with their values and beliefs, and we've seen a steady shift to a commercial operation in residential neighborhoods," said Delate.

Ron Book of the 800 block of South Collier saw it a little differently.

"I think the problem is relatively small and more of an enforcement effort is necessary," said Book.

Lee Henderson of Thrush Court narrowed the focus of problems he witnessed to short-term rentals.

"The long-term rentals fit into the neighborhoods," said Henderson.

Speaker after speaker came forward on both sides of the issue throughout the evening but all agreed that some type of ordinance would be passed.

Attorney Craig Woodward presented a number amendments to the ordinance a short time prior to the beginning of the meeting, speaking to his proposed changes during his time at the podium.

In two weeks, council again will hold a second reading on the ordinance and some of the changes being proposed to the ordinance.

Bridge delays

Council was updated on minor delays in work underway at the Smokehouse Bay Bridge project.

The issues have been as simple as weather delays to dealing with asbestos-lined pipes and the appropriate remediation for those materials discovered during the demolition of the bridge deck.

Last week, the city rejected some materials shipped to the job site for being substandard. Other delays included some unforeseen obstructions that had to be removed from beneath the surface of the canal to allow for the replacement of the seawalls.

Any additional costs incurred were being covered by the contingency built into the construction contract, but the main focus was on the potential time delay for completion of the two southbound lanes so they could be opened, allowing work to begin on the northbound side.

It is anticipated the project would be substantially complete by early September, allowing traffic to flow across all four lanes of the newly constructed spans.

Resolution on Common Core

Newly elected Collier County school board member Erika Donalds mustered an army of believers when she asked council to consider passing a resolution in support of moving away from the Common Core initiative and new state standards being implemented in Tallahassee.

Donald first clarified she was there as a private citizen advocating for the changes, not as a member of the school board.

The resolution will call upon the school board of Collier County, the state legislature and the governor to "reclaim the education sovereignty for the citizens of Florida, and to restore local school board control of standards, curriculum and student assessment."

A number of speakers came forward to point out what they believed to be a "clever rewriting" of what children are learning in new textbooks and changes in the curriculum within the schools.

In Collier County, a number of concerned parents came together over the holidays to begin a review of the contents of text books and how they are framing the American experience.

"We are looking for the support of those closest to the people to call for a change in the direction, and those of you at this level are the closest," Donalds told council members.

Council agreed to place the wording of the resolution on their agenda for the Jan. 20 council meeting.

Donalds will be making a similar request to both the Collier County commissioners and the Collier County School Board on Jan. 13 for their consideration.

City manager gets raise

City Manager Roger Hernstadt has now been in place for one year and at a previous council meeting, the council had set down the January meeting for a discussion on his compensation package.

Council member Larry Honig began the discussion and outlined his review of the manager and compensation plans that compare with similar packages throughout the area.

Four out of the seven members on the board had nothing but praise for the manager and the way he has conducted himself and begun to rebuild what many have said was an organization in turmoil.

Councilman Ken Honecker praised Hernstadt after the meeting.

"Roger has done what was needed to turn things around for the good of the whole community," said Honecker.

Councilman Amadeo Petricca criticized the city manager's management style and has been a critic of the plan to eliminate debt that was created and implemented by council. He said he could work with the manager, but couldn't support a raise.

Councilman Victor Rios also criticized the manager, his style and alleged a number of irregularities.

Joe Batte, senior member on council and the only one who had been through the process of voting for a pay increase for a sitting manager, said he didn't have enough "input" on the subject from his fellow councilmen, even though past practices saw a similar process during his first four years as a councilman during the Jim Riviere tenure as manager.

Batte said he had nothing but "high praise" for the manager, but in the end did not vote for the 4.7 percent increase in Hernstadt's compensation package.

Councilmen Bob Brown and Larry Sacher also praised Hernstadt and in the end, only Petricca, Batte and Rios chose not to reward the manager with an increase in pay.

Hernstadt will now be paid an annual salary of $167,500.

"This will place Roger in the upper end of the mid-range of compensation paid to managers in communities of our size," said Sacher.

The change to his compensation amount left his benefit package the same.

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