Guest Commentary: City Council 6-month report

Larry Honig
Chairman, Marco Island City Council

City Council elections took place six months ago, so this is a good occasion to take a look at what has been accomplished over the past half year, and what the Marco Island community can expect in the next six months.

City council authorized a nationwide search for a new city manager, and we should attract an incredible person for this remarkable job in our paradise community. We hope to have a new person in place within a couple of months. Advertising for the position just started. We will select finalists in an evening workshop on June 20, after which the search consultant will conduct in-depth reviews of those candidates. They will come to Marco Island to meet the community in an open setting the evening of July 19, so hold the date. City Council members will interview the candidates individually the next day, and I hope we can make a selection in a special public meeting the evening of July 20.

Marco Island city councilor Larry Honig

We formed two exciting new committees, made up of volunteers who will examine important matters in detail and bring recommendations back to City Council. First is the water-sewer options committee, made up of persons with utility backgrounds, who will look at ways to reduce our utility debt – with the goal of making a meaningful reduction in our rates at least a more real possibility. That committee has a two-year term, after which it sunsets. Second is the parking solutions committee, made up of a cross-section of restaurant owners, business owners, and homeowners – with the goal of giving City Council some real-world ideas to help mitigate our parking problems, especially in season. That committee sunsets in November, so it is working hard and fast.

City Council did not wait for the parking committee, however, to take action to ease the parking situation. We allowed parking in the alleys – which had been illegal for the previous three years – and further allowed parking over the sidewalks at night (until 6 a.m., so school children and bicyclists don’t have to go into the street) and in the swales adjacent to commercial districts.

We also changed the volunteer committee makeup, eliminating four committees that have not met in quite some time, and re-energizing the remaining committees with increases in their responsibilities and their budgets. The Planning Board was asked to oversee the city’s first re-examination of the land development code in a decade. A consultant is assisting. The Parks & Recreation Committee was asked to spearhead an outside review of how to tie the development of Veterans Community Park into Town Center and the Esplanade. PRAC also formed Marco Island’s first Youth Council, to engage our young citizens and advise city council. The Waterways Committee was asked to oversee the city’s water-quality monitoring and storm water management.

We approved funds to install a signal-operated pedestrian crosswalk at Collier and Bayside (near Joey’s Pizza), to refurbish the central beach access at Maple (between the Royal Seafarer and the Madeira), to provide new radios for the Fire-Rescue Department, to rebuild fire-rescue station 51 on Elkcam (which provides about 40 percent of the fire-rescue responses on the Island), to provide fireworks at the Fourth of July celebration (a shared expense with the business community), to build new linear park trails and shared bike paths, to reconstruct the intersection of San Marco and Heathwood, and to repair the Caxambas bridge.

There have been many complaints about the quality of our roadways. Our most famous new resident, former Speaker of the House John Boehner, took me to task. The city will present a plan for us on council to consider – but we must be mindful of the city’s overall budget, meaning your taxes. I have tried at most of our City Council meetings to point out the tax consequences of matters under discussion. Be sure to let us know your willingness to pay more in taxes for the expenses and capital projects being considered.

In terms of quality of life – including the quality of our city employees’ lives – we authorized an outside firm to conduct a survey of current and past employees, in all departments. This will begin soon and should be completed within two months. We placed a one-year moratorium on the transfer of density credits, so that we can examine in a more deliberate way what the community wants in terms of continued development on the island.

We held the first joint meeting with the Collier County Commissioners in almost 30 months, an important step in building strong relationships. At that meeting, the county agreed to take back Goodland Road, a critical artery for the Goodland community, but outside Marco Island’s jurisdiction. It is appropriate for the county, and it is a good thing for Goodland and for Marco Island. We also began a discussion on parking with the commissioners – to be continued. The commissioners agreed to hold our next meeting on Marco Island, and we look forward to hosting them.

A t that meeting, and in several City Council workshops and regular meetings, emergency medical service (EMS) has been an important topic. Collier County provides our ambulance service and staff, although because of the incredible training and certification of our own Marco Island firefighter paramedics, we cross-staff the ambulances with a combination of county and city personnel. What’s important to know is that both the county and the city are committed to providing Marco Island with the finest service in the county. So far, that’s what we have received. Using nationally accepted service standards, Marco Island consistently ranks either #1 or a close #2 in the county in terms of ambulance response times. Your city council will not allow deterioration in response times. How we ensure that is under discussion right now.

Finally, in an effort to be more transparent and inclusive, City Council repealed a prior rule requiring that citizens obtain signatures in order to petition council, and we revised our internal rules of procedure to make it easier for citizens and individual councilors to have their voices heard during our meetings.

The next six months should be positive and exciting for Marco Island. We will open the new Mackle Park Community Center, we will have creative and interesting ideas on parking, a refurbished beach access, and a new crosswalk on Collier – all in time for next season. We will have a new city manager, and he or she will be able to start the job with a complete employee attitude survey. We will have plans for a refurbished fire station. We will have a new budget. We will have the beginnings of a storm-water plan and progress on Veterans Community Park.

Your City Council is also becoming a cooperative group. In our first six months, almost 60 percent of the votes we have taken have been unanimous. Only 13 percent have been decided by 5-to-2, and only 14 percent have been razor close at 4-to-3 or failed. All seven of us do not agree on everything – except providing responsive and responsible government to the citizens of Marco Island.