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It’s a New Year
     The hiring of David Harden, a first-rate professional, as Marco Island’s Interim City Manager should be welcome news for Islanders. Effective Marco government may be within reach if Harden’s efforts to stabilize Marco's city administration and get municipal operations back on track are successful.

     The selection was made possible by help from the Florida City and County Management Association (FCCMA) in conducting the search. I’m now very pleased to report that, during the coming year, Council’s search for a permanent city manager will be enjoying the professional expertise and guidance of  FCCMA’s Senior Advisor, Ken Parker, as well as that of Interim City Manager Harden.  
          Marco Island needs a professional, experienced and qualified city manager because the city operates under the council-manager form of government. The framers of the City Charter, adopted by island voters, intended to have professional management for municipal operations and not leave this important task to elected officials with various backgrounds and abilities. As the chief administrative officer of the city, the professional city manager runs the city, leads staff and advises the Council. His duties include submitting the annual budget and capital program to Council. The City Charter clearly states that the seven member City Council has all legislative authority.
     Marco’s political turmoil has been such a distraction for the past ten years that up-to-date critical documents, including a city strategic plan, or similar method of setting priorities, don’t exist. Without a framework in place to govern, personal agendas can take priority instead of community interests.
     With the professional help of Interim City Manager Harden, I’m hopeful that the Council will establish a framework for effective governance to show future city manager candidates that the Council can work together. According to Ken Parker, that is extremely important in attracting top talent for the job as the Council begins the search process for a long-term manager.
     The city’s Beach and Coastal Resources Advisory Committee recommended changes in the city ordinance designed to protect endangered, threatened, and listed species. The update to the Protected Species Ordinance brought it into compliance with state and federal requirements and incorporated Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recommendations.
     Some of our protected species, such as the Burrowing Owl, had been “uplisted” since the last review of the ordinance in 2013. The Burrowing Owl is now a state threatened species and is consequently provided additional protections. Council voted unanimously to support the new ordinance with increased penalties for violators to give the ordinance more “teeth.”
     The Ad Hoc Parking Solutions Committee has completed its work and presented its final report to Council.  Temporary residential and commercial holiday parking relief, passed each year for the past three years, is in the process of being adopted by ordinance to become permanent. The committee’s recommendations requiring funding for infrastructure will be discussed and prioritized during the budget process this spring and summer.
     Plans are moving forward with Kimley-Horn and Associates for the Veterans Community Park improvements. Council will be discussing how much money to set aside for the improvements in the upcoming budget cycle. The city manager will be presenting his recommended budget to Council in the coming months.
     Collier County Coastal Zone Management, using a grant from the Army Corps of Engineers, began a beach regrading project this month that will be completed by April 15 when sea turtle nesting season begins. The purpose of the project is to create a more natural slope to Marco’s Beach and reduce pooling and ponding during rainy season.
     About a mile of Marco’s central beach, starting at Sand Dollar spit and proceeding south up to the JW Marriott, will be regraded.  Project engineers will dredge sand from the beach area closest to the water. The sand will be redistributed to the dune berm, creating a naturally sloping beach. The project will be completed in three sections, beginning at the northern point. Beach access may be diverted during the project.  Please respect the fenced construction area.
     There has been a lot of discussion in the community about the need for some type of assisted living facility (ALF) to serve our seniors on the island. In January, a petition to rezone the nearly 12 acres of the NCH Marco Healthcare Center to a Planned Unit Development (PUD) came before Council. About five acres of the PUD would be used for an ALF.  The motions to approve the petition failed on first reading by Council, 1-6.
     Another ALF project, involving the old Sanitasole property and two adjacent parcels on South Barfield, is in the application process. More to come on this project.
     I attended a meeting that Senator Kathleen Passidomo hosted with citizens to hear about their experiences with problem contractors. Marco Island has become somewhat of an epicenter for these types of problems, and several islanders were in attendance. Senator Passidomo hoped to gain an understanding of how best to address these issues, both legislatively and through the Department of Business & Professional Regulation (DBPR).
     As a result of this discussion, I began to address what could be done locally to improve the process for Marco Islanders. City Manager Harden directed a review of contractor complaint procedures at city hall. 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.” The Building Department now has the County Contractor Complaint forms available at city hall for any citizen who has a problem. Additionally, the city manager is working on arrangements to have a representative from the County Licensing Department come to Marco for regular office hours to serve our citizens. I’ll continue to follow-up with the city manager on our progress.
     A joint workshop was held with the Board of County Commissioners and the cities of Marco Island and Naples to discuss the impacts of fertilizer use and the possibility of a county-wide fertilizer ordinance.  As islanders, we appreciate that we are surrounded by water. The health of our waterways continues to be key to our economic prosperity and island quality of life. There’s more awareness of the role fertilizer plays in causing adverse effects to the water in our canals.
     Marco Island passed a fertilizer ordinance in 2016. This ordinance was stronger than the state model and included a ban on fertilizing during the rainy season. There is still a need for improved public outreach to educate property owners, and additional work with code enforcement on mechanisms to gain compliance. However, over 90 cities and counties in Florida have a similar rainy season ban in place.  It’s far more costly to clean up polluted waters than to prevent pollutants from getting into the waterways in the first place.
     Marco Island is participating in a county-wide study by Dr. Peter Cheng, University of Florida, and Dr. Michael Savarese, Florida Gulf Coast University, on climate change.  The team has received a $1,000,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); and their work will include recommendations to help fortify the county, and our city, against possible storm surges
     As many islanders appreciate, mangroves are the first line of defense in a storm; and our mangroves have all but disappeared due to early developers' lack of understanding. Mangroves are critical to our natural environment.  Tigertail Beach and Sand Dollar are an example of the natural protection mangroves provide to our coastline and property. The Urban Resilience Planning Team, of which I am a member, will look at how we can harden our coastline.
     At its December meeting, the Women’s Republican Club of Naples hosted the most senior Republican woman in the US Senate, Senator Susan Collins of Maine.  Senator Collins spoke about how women mentors and role models had influenced her career and encouraged more women to run for office.  That got me thinking about Marco Island. During the first city council election in 1997, 41 people ran for office, including nine women. One woman was elected. Until 2008, women continued to serve on every council, with three serving concurrently from 2002 to 2006.  An eight-year gap followed until I was elected in 2016.
     Early this year, Marco Island lost one of the titans of our community, Herb Savage. Colonel Savage will always be in our hearts; and I will personally miss him.  Herb was drafted and served in the Army Corps of Engineers, instructing mine warfare and demolitions to the servicemen arriving in Europe during WWII.  When the Korean conflict broke out, Herb again answered the call to service.  Happy 100th Birthday, Herb! Thank you for the memories.
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