Islanders have been exposed to a long and extremely divisive two years of debate concerning political issues that have ratcheted up the heated political rhetoric to the extent never seen before on our tiny little piece of sandy paradise.
It began with the election in 2016, which many on either side has ever come to accept, no matter what side of the issues you were on. It continued with the challenges of attempting to replace the vacant position of city manager. Then when some finally thought we had overcome that challenge, we were faced with another embarrassment of a short-lived replacement of that CEO for the city that continues to drag-on through the court system.
Another process has dragged on to fill that void once again, while causing our executive branch of government at the city level to be left without what some believe to be proper guidance and leadership. All this time while a very nice young man has tried to do his best and balance the workload thrust upon him by the policymakers for the community that hold the seven seats on the dais.
Attacks on city staff members by some have facilitated the aggravation of the atmosphere within the city workforce; who act as the city’s backbone, providing services to the wonderful residents of our island paradise.
Adding to that malaise, we took on the Herculean task of moving forward the debate surrounding the request to obtain a COPCN (Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity) to assist in what some felt would be a natural improvement of EMS services on the island. A task which saw only mixed support from our own council body, that continued to fracture the divide within our own legislative body.
Although we were successful in having our Tallahassee lobbyist to move through a bill giving the city the right to circumvent the natural process for applying directly to the county for that coveted piece of legislation, we lost the battle with our own citizens, to convince them we could manage that important service which they so rightly saw as an important facet of their lives.
All of these issues have brought forward a very tumultuous time in island politics, one which has seen us struggle with our own sense of who we are and how to meet the challenges facing us as a community as we move forward.
Let no one fool you, the challenges are monumental and some are directly related to votes on the Constitutional Amendments such as Amendment 3, which took the regulation of expansion of legalized gambling out of the legislatures’ hands and placed it into the voters’ hands, therefore possibly stifling any attempts to expand that flow of income derived from that industry.
Revenues previously received from greyhound racing will dry up by 2020, further draining that source of income previously available with the approval of Amendment 13.
A saving grace for the island may lie with the seven-year windfall from the approval of the 1% increase in the local sales tax approved by Collier County voters. The seven-year estimate of $70 million, which will be split between the cities of Naples, Marco Island and Everglades City, may provide the city with the necessary breathing room to take care of issues pushed by the three successful candidates who just won election earlier this week.
The most expensive, dealing with environmental issues such as stormwater challenges moving forward. It may however require a relook at the prioritization of the tasks set out by the previous council’s efforts to assist the Marco Island Academy’s desire to seek out state funding for their future building needs. The city’s Tallahassee lobbyist has been instructed to continue to seek those dollars on behalf of the city for MIA, blurring the lines between the Collier County School District’s responsibilities to support the local public high school’s needs and the desires of councilors well-intentioned desires to assist in that goal, despite lobbyist Ron Book’s best attempts to steer them in another direction, based upon his vast experience in dealing with similar experiences.
As I’ve often said, we cannot continue to look in the rearview mirror, but instead must look through the wider windshield, as we attempt to maneuver through these difficult challenges before us. It is important to learn from the past, but it is time to move on and set a reasonable path for success before us. Some of it will require compromise to provide for progress, while finding a path to maintain a person’s core values, but allowing for the necessary improvements within our community.
This does not mean surrender of those values we all hold dear, but instead to find a way for reasonable people to find an ability of reasonable men and women to find solutions to those challenges facing us as a community.
I believe Jim Richards when he said last evening that we must begin the process of healing our community. “Part of that healing has to first deal with understanding no one individual is the smartest guy in the room, but together we can come up with a collaborative and sensible solution to any of the challenges facing us,” said Richards, who unsuccessfully ran for one of the three open seats, but maintains an uplifting and positive attitude.
Erik Brechnitz, who did win a seat yesterday, continued to promise to work for collaborative solutions and bring council and staff together. “As I said throughout the election, it is important that we find the right captain to steer our ship through these rough waters, beginning with the selection of a professional city manager. I’ll keep my word on that and be available to anyone desiring to help in that process,” said Brechnitz.
Sure enough, the sun came up this morning when I started to write this and it will continue to do so each morning as we continue to strive to make this a great community; one that we can all be proud of.
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