Everglades Restoration: Advancing Key Priority Projects VIEW
In the last few months, the COVID-19 pandemic changed life as we knew it. Activity came to a halt with Governor DeSantis’
safer-at-home order, and many businesses closed as island life slowed down because of the uncertainty of the virus. Islanders found their days filled
with new projects closer to home. Social distancing, one of the guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to combat the
coronavirus, became the norm for grocery shopping and other routine activities once taken for granted.
Throughout this time, city government continued to operate with added public safety responsibilities. Our first responders and staff quickly transitioned to the new normal. It was not business as usual. Beach access, fireworks, and local rentals all became important decisions; and islanders were active participants along the way.
Most Marco Islanders stayed safe during the crisis. Now as we restart our economy and put out the welcome mat to visitors, it’s important that we continue to do our part to protect ourselves and others until treatments and vaccines can be developed and produced.
In late April, the Council found itself one short on the dais when Councilor Sam Young abruptly resigned after only 17 months. He had moved off Marco Island. Due to the length of his unexpired term, the City Charter requires that Council appoint someone to fill the vacancy until the November 2020 election. At that time, the voters will elect a replacement to serve the final two years of Mr. Young’s term. There were five applicants for the appointment. On June 1, Mr. Gregory Folley, who has lived on Marco Island for two and a half years, was appointed to fill the position until the election in November.
With the addition of this two-year seat, in the upcoming City Council election, voters will be deciding on five Council seats. That’s over 70% of the City Council! This could signal a big change for the community depending on the number of candidates. It’s extremely important that islanders register and vote!
Another important decision before the voters is whether to ban the sale of recreational marijuana on the island. A local Political Action Committee formed to put a ballot initiative before the voters to decide the issue. An important fact to note is that this is about recreational marijuana, not medical marijuana. Medical marijuana has already been approved by the state of Florida, and Marco Island has approved an ordinance that stipulates the requirements for opening a medical marijuana dispensary on the island.
The number one issue during the last election, fixing our degraded water quality, has stalled. Marco Island’s water quality continues to deteriorate. The city environmental report for April 2020 showed that all 14 testing sites around the island exceeded DEP standards for total nitrogen. In January of this year, the council contracted with Dr. Harvey Harper of Environmental Research and Design to conduct additional testing and make recommendations about improving our water quality. His report to Council is several months away.
Any recommendations requiring funding for implementation will have to go through the budget process, which could take longer still. The budget cycle for FY 2021 has already begun, so FY 2022 would be the earliest to fund selected recommendations. It is unclear at this point how much money will be available in FY 2022 in light of the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Citizens will have to continue to pressure the Council to make water quality a priority consistent with the goals of our strategic plan.
The city has entered into a contract to update the Marco Island Comprehensive Plan. The last amendment to our current plan was executed in 2009. The update is long overdue! A team from Florida Gulf Coast University will be helping the staff and stakeholders to step through the process of updating the Comprehensive Plan. This plan regulates public policy on land use, recreation, transportation and other elements to inform the city land development code. Together with the Marco Island Strategic Plan, the Comprehensive Plan sets up the systematic process by which our community anticipates and plans for the future.
I’d like to thank the Collier County Transit Manager, Michelle Arnold, for giving Marco Island the chance to partner on an opportunity to benefit from almost a million dollars from the Federal Transit Administration to promote innovative mobility.
As you’ll recall, in 2017, the city council established a Parking Solutions Committee. This committee examined ways to improve island-wide transportation and developed a plan to address island-wide mobility and parking. The plan was briefed to and adopted by Council. The County, along with commercial vendors, worked with the committee on transportation options. One idea from the committee was on-demand transit, which would permit any islander to request a ride to take them anywhere on the island, similar to Uber or Lyft, but through a shared ride service.
The County wanted to apply for the grant with Marco Island to serve as the site of the pilot program if the money was awarded. There was a short suspense for a memo to support the grant application.
If the grant was approved, Marco would have had another chance to decide whether to participate when an inter-local agreement was drawn up. The pilot would have been for two years, with a planning and implementation year. The County proposed a cost-share for the matching funds. The Council decided to pass on this offer because of the short turnaround for submission of the grant package.
Our city manager, Mike McNees, is coming up on his one-year anniversary. Council will be formally evaluating his performance as required by his contract. When he was hired, his contract included both a job description and evaluation form along with Council’s commitment to be more transparent with this process. One-on-one sessions between Mr. McNees and each individual councilor, followed by a public session at the August City Council meeting to discuss the evaluations, are planned. We’ll see how it goes.
Thank you, Marco Islanders, for giving me the privilege to serve you over the past four years. I’m so proud of what we have accomplished together. We’ve been through both Hurricane Irma and a pandemic! We’ve also waded through seemingly endless searches for a city manager. Finally, with help from the Florida City and County Management Association (FCCMA), we found and hired City Manager McNees. I’m pleased to report that this was done at no cost to the taxpayers.
With your help, we created a strategic plan for your vision of our city and common goals. This, along with our soon-to-be updated Comprehensive Plan, provides the critical components needed for a thriving community.
We’ve taken steps to protect our environment, and engaged citizens on a broader mission of beach and coastal resources, including our endangered species. The Owl Watch Program, led by Audubon of the Western Everglades and supported by volunteers across the island, has been instrumental in protecting the Burrowing Owls. Bird Stewards volunteer for public outreach at the Big Marco Pass Critical Wildlife Area where our migratory and nesting birds visit by the thousands. Other highlights of what we’ve accomplished together include Gopher Tortoise Day and the art by JJ Stinchcomb, commissioned for Celebrate Wildlife during the city’s 20th Anniversary Celebration.
I find that public service is indeed a calling that I value greatly. Last year, I was appointed by Governor DeSantis to the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board. After years of dedicating my life to protecting the environment, it was an honor to be selected to work for Everglades Restoration and clean water.
As the At-large Lower West & Northern Central Area board member, I represent an area that encompasses ten counties - Collier, Lee, Charlotte, Hendry, Highlands, Glades, Okeechobee, Orange, Osceola, and Polk counties. I also chair the Big Cypress Basin Board in Collier County.
In this unique position, I feel I am not only invested in the future of our island, about which I remain passionate, but also the future of the 16 counties that this Governing Board serves. Water is the lifeblood of Florida. The many and varied water resource issues touch each of us. Nearly nine million South Floridians depend on the Board to get the water right.
I’ve enjoyed every day as your City Councilor. Thank you for your trust and confidence in me to represent you. After serious consideration, I have decided not to run for reelection to City Council. However, as a SFWMD Governing Board member and chair of the Big Cypress Basin Board, I shall continue to serve your interests and those of South Florida.