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First Year-End Update
   
    Whew! As I reflect over my first year as your city councilor, I realized that the last few months turned out to be far busier than expected. The meeting schedule was filled to the brim as we worked to hire a new city manager, finalize the budget, prepare our legislative priorities, and conduct regular city business.  I continue to be awed by the people I meet in our community, who represent all that is good about our city. This year, for the first time ever, Marco Island participated in Florida City Government Week, which is sponsored by the Florida League of Cities. The week’s slogan, “My City – I’m a part of it, I’m proud of it,” embraces the positive spirit that so many of you share. It has been a rewarding experience to learn more about your ideas and contributions to our community. I look forward to your input about how we can continue to improve our city.
     In August, the city celebrated its 20th Anniversary with a weeklong celebration, culminating with the unveiling of our new “Celebrate Wildlife” posters created by J.J. Stinchcomb.  The interim city manager commissioned J.J., a local artist and native Marco Islander, to create four paintings of our island’s wildlife. Since so many incredible creatures make Marco Island their home, the Beautification Advisory Committee was asked to assist with the selection. The Gopher Tortoise, Burrowing Owl, Manatee and Sea Turtle were chosen as the finalists. The artwork will be made into banners to hang from light poles along Collier Boulevard after hurricane season. What a special way to celebrate the unique natural environment that makes our island so special!
      On Sunday, September 10, 2017, the extremely powerful Hurricane Irma crossed the warm waters between Cuba and Florida and made Florida landfall right over Marco Island. In the days following Irma, the city staff, along with citizen volunteers and several state partners, worked tirelessly to assess damage and restore services to our community. “Marco Strong” became everyone’s mantra as our community came together to help our own, and to reach out to help others impacted by the storm. We were so fortunate that there was no loss of life or serious injury. Amazing when you think about it! I talked with so many residents who told me they were grateful to be spared the full force of Irma’s wrath.  The community’s big heart and positive spirit was on display for our new residents as well. 
     I hope we will continue to build on our ability to work together in the months ahead, especially as we move towards establishing effective government for all citizens. A positive first step was hiring our new city manager – a key position on the government team. Out of four semifinalists brought to Marco to interview for the position, Council selected Dr. Lee Niblock for the job. He begins work on December 4.   Without standards and procedures that are basic to most professional organizations, some departments are finding it difficult to improve. This situation is particularly critical when it comes to providing information to the decision makers – the city council. 
     Dr. Niblock told me during his interview that he wanted a challenge. Well, he now has a big one, and fortunately he also has the experience necessary to succeed. He’ll be ultimately responsible for improving overall operations from top-to-bottom, with a focus on establishing consistent service to all members of the community equally under the law. Change is never easy, but in this case, positive change is critical to Marco Island’s future. Welcome Lee and Connie Niblock!
     The Staff Organizational Survey results from July will help our new city manager focus on the issues that the staff has identified as needing attention. Dr. Niblock was the only candidate to address the survey results in the cover letter to his city manager application. The fact that he spoke to a few Marco-specific issues made a positive impression.  
          To address the staff survey feedback regarding the city council, I have coordinated with the Florida League of Cities for a training seminar on the “Role of the City Council.”  The Florida League of Cities Leadership Department agreed to conduct the training at no expense to island taxpayers. Partner training will also be conducted the next day with staff. This training seminar could also be of interest to islanders who want a better understanding of the key roles of city government and how it must function to work effectively for the citizens. Mark your calendars and plan to attend on Tuesday evening, January 9.
     The Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation, founded by the owner of Best Buy, hired Q-Q Research to conduct a county-wide community needs assessment.  The assessment results will be a wonderful opportunity for our community leaders and organizations to capture what citizens feel could improve the quality of life on Marco Island. Initially, the surveys and focus groups were scheduled to be completed in August and September. However, Hurricane Irma changed all of that. In a way, this will benefit the assessment, since the survey now includes a hurricane addendum to address hurricane-specific items. This research is being conducted at no cost to island taxpayers.
     The Ad Hoc Parking Solutions Committee has concluded its work and was prepared to give its report at the November Council meeting. The committee has worked extremely hard for the community, even scheduling extra meetings to complete its mission on time. In the proposed plan, the committee identified “no-cost,” and “low-cost” parking solutions that could be implemented in the near-term, along with projects that would require money to be budgeted in upcoming years. Collier County has already agreed to add some additional bike racks at the South Beach parking lot, one “no-cost” idea identified by the committee. I want to thank all of the members for their dedication and service on this extremely important committee. Without their commitment, the community would not have the benefit of these recommendations.
     Unfortunately, four councilors voted not to hear the presentation at that November meeting, to the disappointment of nearly everyone. I expect that the presentation will be given at the December meeting.
     The Beach Advisory Committee voted to change its name to the Beach and Coastal Resources Advisory Committee in order to formalize its work on all aspects of a healthy beach. Council approved the name change at the November meeting. The name now reflects the work this committee will do in advising council on all issues related to our beach, beyond what some have said was simply picking up trash. In the annual report to Council, the committee chair showed a large bag of plastic straws and said that the straws continue to be a problem on the beach. The committee may be looking at proposing an ordinance to ban them entirely.  Marco Islanders depend on the beach as the key economic engine for our island. The health of our coastal environment is key to our continued economic prosperity. This committee will continue to play an important role in the stewardship of our coastal resources as we go forward.
      After season ends in spring 2018, citizens should begin to see road resurfacing work start on some of our arterial and collector roads. Council approved an extra $1M in the upcoming budget for road improvements in response to citizen’s concerns. This amount was identified in the budget, without raising your taxes!
     Wishing you a wonderful holiday season and look forward to hearing from you in 2018! 
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