Saturday, June 12, 2021

Reflections of a former City Council Chairman



Frank Recker was relaxed and reflective as he looked back on his year as city council chairman. His recollections were of stress, success, and high hurdles. In an hour long interview he spoke about the chairman’s job and the challenge of stepping from member to chairman of a collegial body.

When Recker first became chairman he received a double shock: unknown to the city council, the City of Marco Island had retained a law firm in Bradenton, Florida, to deal with an environmental issue raised by the Environmental Protection Agency. In addition to the city council being unaware of the situation, the city’s counsel had no knowledge of the other firm’s activities.

The issue surfaced because of the apparent failure of Quality Enterprises, a construction company chosen by the city, to meet certain EPA standards in the major redevelopment project of Collier Boulevard. Upon learning of the issue Recker got personally involved, winding up as a city representative along with the city counsel and the Bradenton firm. Recker is pleased with the ultimate outcome in which the city received a “safe” letter from EPA, absolving the city itself of any fault; and the fine levied against Quality Enterprises was not shared in any way by the city. Recker points to the Collier project as necessary for infrastructure capability as well as the enhanced look of Collier Boulevard all the way down to the South end of the Island.

Another early surprise for the new chairman was the communication problem between the city auditors, and the fact that the city council was not receiving adequate information about city finances. Recker is very comfortable with the performance of the city’s accounting department. Beyond that, he is effusive about Jim Riviere’s accomplishments as city manager. He points to the appointment of Riviere as a major accomplishment during Recker’s tenure as chairman.

Recker spoke extensively about his efforts to learn about the functions of Marco Island’s police and fire rescue departments. He spent a lot of time with both departments and says, “as a layman I found out how efficiently and cost effectively both departments function. They have superb performance records and outdo comparable communities in their tight financial controls. Both groups have vested interests in the Island, and we are fortunate to have both of them within the city structure.” He thought a moment and added, “How could you not want this police and fire rescue department?”

Among the successes by the city during his term he noted the work of the charter review committee. That group worked well together within a reasonable time frame, and produced an excellent product that was properly taken before the voters.

He sees the water/sewer rate issues as important matters for the upcoming year. In retrospect he believes that the city did not have the necessary expertise when the matter started to be explored over a year ago. He thinks that a bid system should have been instituted at that time to learn what it would cost the city’s water and sewer users to have an independent expert company either take over management of the utility systems or actually acquire the functions. At the time the city bought the water company there had been a bold move by a northern Florida community to acquire the water company and use the revenues derived from the water company to help pay some of the heavy expenses of that Florida city. This would have been a serious negative outcome for Marco Island residents, so the city itself purchased the water company, and set to work to repair and update an old and badly maintained infrastructure.

Now the time is appropriate for a recognized expert to analyze the efficiency and cost effectiveness of the Marco Island water and sewer systems, and to develop the proper allocation of costs. The consultant retained by the city is among the best in the country, especially at dealing with the economics and operations in small communities. The consultant has performed a thorough review and analysis and that has been crystallized in a comprehensive 83 page report.

Recker switched to Veterans Park. He sees it as a long term boon to the Island.  Recognizing current financial difficulties, he understands the need to work at a reasonable pace until it is appropriate to move ahead with the master plan for the park. He sees it as a “Diamond in the rough”.

With respect to Mackle Park, Recker believes the master plan is excellent and the proposal on a new building is “tremendous”. He says that the timing makes it tough to proceed, but the city requires a multi-faceted center to provide for the needs of its residents. He states that, “the government cannot just defer on this issue, and that the city has a responsibility to develop a basic facility.” In answer to a tag on question about accusations of “reckless spending” by the city Recker replied that he has looked painstakingly, and has found no evidence to support the accusation. In his view the accusation may largely be based on his earlier statements about the poor communication, and that there were problems in accountability and transparency that are now corrected.

Turning back again to the city manager, Recker said that based on Recker’s observations of Riviere’s performance as chairman of the planning board and chairman of the charter review committee he believed he would be ideal for the job of city manager. He said that Riviere was, “not a professional city manager, he had no set opinions, is open and cool-headed and has an ideal perspective from a street level on how to view problems and deal with recommended solutions.”

Finally he said that he believed Jerry Gibson will be an excellent chairman, and that he has utmost respect for Gibson’s knowledge, judgment and demeanor.


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