Saturday, September 21, 2019

An interview with Steve Thompson

Steve Thompson

Steve Thompson

On Wednesday, April 29, Coastal Breeze News met with Steve Thompson, whose contract as Marco Island’s City Manager was recently terminated by City Council. We  asked him to reflect on his experience here on Marco and to tell us what his plans are for the future. The following is some of the conversation we had with Steve:

CBN:  Steve, what are your plans for the future for yourself and your family?

ST: For the immediate future, my wife and I plan to enjoy the summer here on Marco, with visits from our daughters, one of whom is in law school; the other is an undergraduate. I plan to interview at other cities for a position similar to the one I held here. We’ve sold our house in Virginia and can now move to any part of the country. (My wife works for a software firm and can telecommute.)

CBN: Did you consider appealing the City Council’s decision to terminate your contract?

ST: Unless there was an indication that the votes would change I saw no point in trying to appeal. While the issues raised at the meeting of April 19th were generally without merit, clearly a majority of the Council wanted to make a change. I approached the job with the understanding that I was expected to step forward with confidence and courage. I served at the whim of Council. It’s the nature of the job, and with the recent election I found that Council had changed.

CBN: Some residents express their opinions and criticisms about City matters in online blogs. Do you pay any attention them?

ST: I don’t read blogs—they generally don’t reflect the feelings of the majority of the community. I see a “scale of civility” when it comes to communicating with each other. When we are one-on-one, we are very nice to one another; “snail mail” is careful; email sometimes is not so nice; and anonymous online blogs can be downright nasty.

CBN: You say you will interview for a similar position again. Do you think you will run into the same kind of situation?

ST: New cities like Marco can be particularly difficult, lacking the history of good decision-making that older and more stable cities enjoy. On Marco, there are controversies that have gone on for five years or more, and there are some people that still would like to reverse the City’s incorporation ten years ago.

CBN: Rumor has it that you are a very good friend of former City Manager Bill Moss.  Is that true?

ST: I like and respect Bill Moss. I can’t say that I know him that well—I‘ve probably had no more than five or six discussions with him since I’ve been in Marco Island and those were primarily social. We were both city managers in South Carolina, and over the years have developed a collegial relationship.

CBN:  How do you feel about the City Council, particularly the new members?

ST: On a personal level, I like and believed that I had a good relationship with each of them.

CBN: Have you experienced anything like this before?

ST: Nothing like Marco Island. I have successfully served as City Manager in a number of cities in the past, and one of those was Deltona, Florida. After a November election, the new Deltona Council immediately fired the city attorney. It happened in the same way as at the Marco meeting: the item was announced as a late addition to the meeting agenda. I saw the direction the new Council was headed; and decided it was time to tender my resignation.

CBN: What advice do you have for a new City Manager coming in?

ST: He or she should be aware that some people have not gotten over the controversies of 2005-2007 even though the issues have, for the most part, been settled. The EPA issue that recently resurfaced will almost certainly not be of the magnitude that the critics of the City have made of the issue. However, there are still people that feel that they did not receive a reasonable resolution or fair treatment during the Collier Boulevard project; creation of the sewer system (STRP); or purchase of the water system.

For these people, the issues and the wars go on. The City spent $100,000 last year on a forensic audit which concluded that the Collier Boulevard project and the City’s finances were all in good order, but even this is constantly revisited.

There really aren’t a lot of new issues facing the City at this point, but the old controversies are alive and well. I respect Jim Riviere (Interim City Manager), and whether the old controversies will continue to be revisited, or the city will instead move forward, depends on City Council.

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