By Noelle H. Lowery
Bill Harris is a concerned citizen of Marco Island.
He attends almost every City Council meeting, and tries to keep track of anything that may interest his fellow Marco residents. He also keeps a log of promises made by those running for and/or presently serving on the City Council.
“One such promise that was made by the majority of those last elected to the council, was transparency in government, and Town Hall meetings where the citizenry can ask questions and get answers,” explains Harris.
To date, though, this promise has gone unfulfilled. That’s why Harris recently sent a gentle reminder via email to every Marco Island City Councilor: “I request that City Council schedule a series of Town Hall meetings where their constituents can ask questions and receive answers,” Harris wrote. “This was promised during the campaigns for the last election. It’s been over a year, and that should be long enough to schedule these events.”
Council Vice Chairman Larry Sacher answered the call, and on Wed., Jan. 22, 2014, he will hold “Coffee with the Councilor” at 9 AM in the Community Room located at the Marco Island Police Department. According to Sacher, he understands an event like this is long overdue, but the logistics of planning a Town Hall meeting coupled with a year jam packed with “pressing issues” pushed it to the “back burner.”
Even so, Sacher believes these one-on-one sessions between residents and councilors are important to the process of governing for two reasons. “One, I need to make sure that people who otherwise don’t call or write have an opportunity to communicate,” he says. “And two, I want to get as much community input as possible. I was elected to represent the people, not just my opinions.”
Harris agrees: “In the normal course of regular council meetings, we have a ‘Community Forum’ where anyone can stand, be addressed and raise any issues and ask any questions that are foremost to their minds. The missing ingredient is a response from anyone on the council, anyone on the city payroll, or the city attorney. The normal routine is, you get to say your piece, ask your questions and the replies are ‘Thank you’, or ‘Council doesn’t respond to questions’. Harris is hoping events like Sacher’s “Coffee with the Councilor” will provide the answers citizens are looking for on a number of major issues, including community-wide referenda, the Smokehouse Bay Bridge project, the fate of the Mackle Park Community Center, the possible renovation of Fire Station 50, the possible expansion of the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, changes to the water sewer utility rates and the spending cap.
“This is perhaps the only time the average citizen can ask questions and pretty much be assured of getting an answer,” says Harris. “All citizens should be afforded (the chance) to ensure that their elected officials know what they think, what their needs and concerns are, and how they rate the sitting council.”
It is unclear if other City Councilors will hold similar events, but if there is ample interest and participation, Sacher may do more: “I can’t speak for the other councilors, nor can I commit to more at this time, but if it is well-attended, I’ll probably try to do more. It’s up to the community to let me know if they feel there is value.”
“We have some critically important issues in front of us now and likely in the future,” Sacher adds. “Thus, molding policy based on what the people feel are priorities is essential.”