Steve “Stef” Stefanides
This is an interesting year for elections in every segment of the political scene around the country. Voters can’t help but shake their heads at the negative nature of the campaigns and some of the outrageous claims and comments being made.
Here on the island we are about to elect four individuals to sit in seats that will have a lot to do with our daily lives as we move forward these next four years and for many years after that. Some of these individuals have been participants in the workings of our city for a number of years. They have volunteered their time and efforts to hopefully make a difference in the quality of life we have here.
There is another candidate whose name may not be on the ballot, but your vote might determine his future and that of our island.
Roger Hernstadt, who serves as our city manager, came to us with over 35 years municipal management experience. He honed those skills in the major metropolitan area of Miami-Dade at various levels of responsibility before moving onto the much smaller but more politically challenging small island of Marathon, before moving here just under 3 years ago.
He and his wife Jessica both love Marco Island and find the residents here to be overwhelmingly supportive. They have been the most visible and approachable people I’ve known to hold that job. I mention Jessica because they are inseparable. When he hurts, she hurts, and this last month of political maneuvering and attacks on his integrity have become personal and are part of a larger agenda. These attacks are not reflective of the character of this island, and the two of them are good people and deserve better, as do you, the residents of our community.
Previous to Hernstadt coming, the city had a total of five different managers sit in the corner office. Hernstadt was the first to be hired with extensive Florida municipal experience and had no ties to any groups on the island or allegiances to anyone on the council. He was told to right the ship and put us on a sound financial footing; he has done that.
In the almost three years he has been here he has done that and more.
• He has created a sound budgeting format, which takes into account future capital needs in the operating side of the budget to eliminate borrowing monies under normal circumstances.
• He has stabilized the tax rate for the community and has even reduced the millage rate this year.
• He inherited a police department, which was in need of serious attention. His appointment of Al Schettino from within the ranks was a wise choice and he has accomplished much, but more needs to be done.
• He reached within the ranks to promote an individual to the post of human resources director and professionalized that function.
• He has worked diligently to realign and refocus the efforts of the Building Services Department to deal with issues that needed to be addressed. That effort is still ongoing and will continue to need attention to cut down wait times for permits, reviews of plans and to insure on-time inspections. It is still a work in progress but needs more attention.
• He is working to build a professional planning department that can address the challenges facing the community in the next decade, having inherited a department in serious disarray and under a cloud of suspicion. The review of the Land Development Code (LDC) is a good start in that regard, and should be continued as we face redevelopment challenges and off-island pressures.
• He has worked to protect the lives and safety of the citizens and visitors by a proactive approach to move forward to obtain a COPCN (Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity) to deal with possible changes in how emergency medical services and emergency transport are handled within Collier County to insure Marco is protected.
• We’ve begun the construction of the new Mackle Park Community Center, after years of debate and haggling, while bringing the project in below estimates.
• He’s managed to bring forth savings on the huge debt incurred when the city purchased the outdated and aging Water/Wastewater Utility System. We have now saved ratepayers millions of dollars in interest payments by restructuring debt as we move forward.
• At the end of next year we will have paid down $7,000,000 in pension liabilities, and at the end of 2017 we will have no outstanding liabilities, unlike other municipalities throughout the state who face a looming crisis.
The council is not perfect. How could it be with seven individuals with unique personalities and beliefs? Seven individuals who can only interact from the dais twice a month. Many meetings do see 7-0 votes, while 5-2 and 4-3 votes are not uncommon.
Current email barrages and salacious rumor mongering from individuals with overt agendas are not reflective of the character of the majority of Marco Islanders and tend to cloud the real challenges moving forward. It is particularly offensive to invade our privacy, personal and otherwise, to disseminate their negative messages and character assassinations.
On November 8 I hope you’ll go to the polls and vote for the candidate of your choice, based not on what others have told you, but upon the research you’ve done yourself on the candidates to review who best reflects your beliefs and will continue to move the community forward.
Steve Stefanides, well-known by his nickname “Stef,” is an experienced award-winning reporter of local civic and public interest news. Stef’s More Straight Talk column (and its predecessor, Straight Talk), on a variety of subjects, is a favorite of readers who trust him to bring them the facts. A Marco Island resident, Stef contributes to the community in many ways, having served on a number of city committees, charitable groups, boards and local organizations. Contact him by email at Stef@coastalbreezenews.com.