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Changes Coming this Summer
     Water and natural resources are the foundation of Florida’s communities, economy and way of life.  Marco Island is surrounded by water and relies on a healthy environment for its continued economic prosperity and quality of life. Last summer, some areas of Southwest Florida experienced the devastating effects of Red Tide and harmful algal blooms. Their detrimental impacts to local economies served as a wake-up call for action. Citizens demanded that the government do more to protect Florida’s environment.
     When Governor DeSantis took office, he outlined in Executive Order 19-12 a bold vision for “Achieving More Now for Florida’s Environment.”  In February, I was honored to accept the Governor’s appointment to serve on the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board and work for the health of Florida’s water and the restoration of the Everglades. The District is the largest of the five Water Districts in the state, and encompasses 16 counties, serving 8.7 million people. I represent an area that includes Collier, Lee, Charlotte, Hendry, Highlands, Glades, Okeechobee, Orange, Osceola, and Polk counties.
     Governing Board members must be confirmed by the Florida Senate. This year, as part of that process, the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee asked to see the Governor’s new appointees. I travelled to Tallahassee during the legislative session for the confirmation hearing. After an hour of questioning, the Ethics and Elections Committee recommended confirmation of the new Governing Board members to the full Senate and we were later unanimously confirmed in full session.

     While in Tallahassee, I stopped to visit Marco Island’s lobbyist, Ron Book, who was working hard with his staff to get funding for Marco’s priorities.

     In my new Governing Board position, I’ll be working closely with Collier County as the Chair of the Big Cypress Basin Board. The Basin was established as a special taxing district by Florida Statute for all of Collier County and a portion of Monroe County.  The Big Cypress Basin Board and the Big Cypress Basin Service Center manage a network of 153 miles of primary canals, and 45 control structures. Collier County took ownership of the canals when a developer went bankrupt back in 1978. The County has an agreement with the District to operate and maintain the canals.
     In March, the new District Governing Board hit the ground running by hiring a new agency director and awarding the largest contract in South Florida Water Management District history for the C-43 Reservoir, which is a  construction project along the Caloosahatchee River. The reservoir should be completed in the next five years and will be able to minimize the harmful flows from Lake Okeechobee to the west coast. A water quality component for the reservoir is currently in the planning stages.
     Governor Desantis was at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary on June 25 to highlight this year’s environmental funding. The Florida legislature supported the Governor’s budget request, resulting in over $400 million dollars for Everglades Restoration. This will move more projects closer to completion, including the Everglades Agriculture Area Reservoir. The Tamiami Trail Project received $40 million from the state and $60 million from the federal government. It is critical to raise the Tamiami Trail in order to restore fresh water access south to Florida Bay and bring back the natural system of sheet water flow.

     A new webpage aimed at keeping the public informed in the ongoing efforts to restore America’s Everglades and protect Florida’s Environment was recently unveiled (click here). The “Advancing Key Priority Projects” contains information on 29 critical Everglades restoration projects, including projects that support the Governor’s vision in Executive Order 19-12. The Picayune Restoration Project in Collier County is one of the endeavors listed on the webpage.
    The Florida City and County Management Association (FCCMA) Senior Advisor, Ken Parker, completed his work with the Marco Island City Council when Mike McNees was hired as our new city manager. A year had passed since Mr. Parker began his work with the city. His professional services were provided at no expense to the Marco Island taxpayers by the FCCMA. Our new city manager officially began work on July 1.
     David Harden, who has served as our short-term city manager since January, is currently guiding the Council through the budget process and will stay on with the city until August 1. David has been instrumental in guiding the Council through a strategic planning process over the past few months with the help of an excellent facilitator, Lyle Sumek. Marco’s political turmoil has been such a distraction for the past ten years that up-dated critical documents, like a city strategic plan with priorities, were desperately needed. Now for the first time, these priorities will help guide Council in funding decisions for FY20.
     This planning effort included a citizen summit for input and establishes a vision, mission, and goals within a framework that can be used as a roadmap going forward. The final session to wrap up the strategic plan is scheduled for mid-July and will include a discussion of governance.  The incoming and outgoing city managers will be leading the workshop with the Council. Citizens are welcome to attend.
     Starting in August, Marco Island will have a new police chief – Deputy Police Chief Tracy Frazzano, a 23-year veteran of the Montclair, NJ police department. Chief Frazzano was hired after a nationwide search conducted with the help of the Florida Police Chief Association (FPCA), using its Selection, Training, Assessment, Recruitment, and Support (STARS) Program.

     Eighty-one people applied for the job. After the list was narrowed from twelve semi-finalists to five finalists, Mr. Harden set up two independent panels to screen the candidates. The first panel consisted of the Bradenton Police Chief, a retired police chief from Tallahassee, the Collier County Sheriff, the MI Police Foundation President, MI City Clerk, MI Finance Director and former MI Deputy Fire Chief Chris Byrne. This panel interviewed the candidates by asking questions provided by the FPCA.
     The second panel was set up as a mock city council meeting with the President of the MI Chamber of Commerce, Water Utilities Director Poteet, Deputy Fire Chief Battiato, and Aaron Harden, business owner and Director of Sales & Marketing for Apex Facility Resources in Seattle, WA. This panel met in Council Chambers, and each finalist presented a PowerPoint presentation on “Restoring Public Confidence in the Police Department.”

     After the sessions were finished, the panels were asked to recommend their top two candidates. Both Mr. Harden and Mr. McNees then made the final selection after jointly interviewing the finalists. In the end, Tracy Frazzano was selected as the best fit for Marco Island. Congratulations, Chief Frazzano!
     Last month, a representative from Collier County Contractor Licensing staff began serving customers at the Building Department in City Hall on Tuesdays from 10am – 12 noon and Thursdays from 2pm – 4pm.  I had been working with the County for several months to provide improved access for islanders to the contractor licensing staff.  Through an inter-local agreement with Collier County, Marco Islanders receive services related to “contractor licensing and the discipline of contractors or persons performing unlicensed contracting.”

     In recent years, Marco Island has become an epicenter for contractor complaints. Often citizens are unable to get the information about the process to follow to get help. Now islanders with a contractor complaint or question can seek the advice of a County representative conveniently located at City Hall. The County will monitor the service hours and make adjustments depending on demand.

     State Senator Passidomo has invited Secretary Beshears, Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, to come to Naples in August, to meet with citizens. No date has yet been set.
     Marco Island has been participating in the county-wide National Oceanic Atmospheric Association project that is taking a look at the impact of sea level rise in Southwest Florida. As part of this project, I was asked to represent Marco Island on the Urban Resiliency Team.

     Recently, short-term city manager Harden and I attended a meeting at Florida Gulf Coast University to discuss the benefits of forming a Compact in Southwest Florida. A Compact unites county and municipal governments within specific counties with natural and cultural resource managers, to analyze the region’s vulnerability to the effects of climate change (e.g., sea-level rise, storminess, warming, extremes in precipitation). Then the members can work together to plan for or mitigate consequences through the identification and implementation of best practices.
     In 2009, the east coast initiated the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact with four counties and 109 cities; and it is still going strong today. Collaboration across the region has many advantages, since it conserves resources, enhances competitiveness for private and public funding, and generates a united voice for affecting policy and legislative action at higher governmental levels. In the fall a Memorandum of Understanding should be finalized for Council to decide whether to sign-on with the other local governments in this Compact.
     In November 2016, more than 70 percent of Floridians voted in favor of amending the state constitution to expand medical marijuana access to a larger list of medical conditions. On Marco Island, 60 percent of local voters also voted in favor of that constitutional amendment. Last month, Council passed a resolution that would allow medical marijuana dispensing facilities within the city limits subject to the same regulations as pharmacies, as well as any other restrictions stipulated in the Florida Statutes.

     In Florida, licensed Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers (MMTCs) are the only businesses authorized to dispense medical marijuana and low-THC cannabis, and only to qualified patients and caregivers. MMTCs are vertically integrated and must receive authorization at three stages – cultivation authorization, processing authorization and dispensing authorization.

     When a dispensary opens on the island, patients and caregivers who have Medical Marijuana Use Registry identification cards will be able to get their prescriptions filled closer to home.
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