The Marco City Council moved quickly through their agenda Monday evening. Routine items such as the approval of minutes from three previous meetings were quickly dispatched, as well as the appointments of Mary Beth Cummings to the Beautification Advisory Committee and Tom Swartz to the Planning Board, both nominated by Chairman Erik Brechnitz to replace members no longer serving.
Gil Polanco, the City’s Finance Manager, guided the council through the City’s Comprehensive Financial Report for the last fiscal year, ending on September 31st, 2019.
Referendum Question on Recreational Marijuana
At the urging of Councilor Rios, the discussion concerning a citizen’s petition requesting an Ordinance Banning Recreational Sales of Marijuana on the island was moved up on the agenda. In July of 2019, a Political Action Committee was formed and registered with the City Clerk’s Office and they began the process of collecting the requisite number of petition signatures which equaled or exceeded 10% of the number of voters in the last election.
Their desire is to have the issue placed on the August 18, 2020, Primary Ballot as a referendum question. This would allow the residents to vote on the matter in the form of an ordinance banning those sales within any zoning district on the island. Provisions for allowing the petitioning for the referendum is included within the City Charter and requires the City Attorney to rule on the “sufficiency” of the petition itself. That does not include ruling on whether the proposed ordinance is legal, but whether the paperwork is in order to have it placed on the ballot.
Council Vice-Chair Jared Grifoni questioned the language within the legislation the petitioners are requesting to have placed on the ballot; in his opinion, it may be in violation of the State Constitution and Florida State Statutes.
Grifoni questioned whether the ordinance as written might ban the sale of medical marijuana. A long discussion regarding the allowance of medical marijuana dispensaries ensued during the late spring and early summer of 2019 on Marco Island after a “White Paper” was presented by Councilman Honig, who explained it was for just “informational purposes only.” Shortly after, Councilman Grifoni came forward with a proposed ordinance to allow the establishment of Medical Marijuana Dispensaries on Marco Island.
At the June 18, 2019 meeting of the Marco City Council, by a 5-2 vote with Councilors Grifoni, Young, Rios, Roman and Honig voting in favor. Board Chairman Brechnitz suggested a modified motion which would have included a clause approving the medical cannabis dispensary/treatment center, but banning any future consideration of legalizing the sale of “recreational marijuana” on the island. That attempt drew a strong rebuke from Councilors Honig and Grifoni who opposed any addition of that language and was only supported by Council Chair Brechnitz, Vice Chair Roman and Councilor Reed.
City Attorney Alan Gabriel responded to Councilor Grifoni’s questions that he was not responsible for reviewing whether the language was correct within the proposed legislation. “That is not our responsibility to do so,” Gabriel comment.
The Council voted 7-0 to have it placed on the May 18 Council Agenda for a vote to refer it to the County Elections Supervisor for placement on the August 18 Primary Election Ballot. If approved, it would be sent to that office.
Filling the Vacant Seat
The Marco City Council also voted to begin the process of temporarily filling the vacant council seat of Sam Young, who last month resigned after only 18 months of a 4-year term. Interested parties may go to the city website to fill out an application for the council’s review. The cutoff date for submission is no later than May 12th. The Council will then interview the top three candidates and from those candidates select someone for the 5-month interim position.
The next meeting of the Marco City Council falls on May 18th, beginning at 5:30 PM in the Council Chambers.