Monday, November 29, 2021

Candidates for Marco City Council

Dr. Richard Blonna.

On November 3rd, the citizens of Marco Island will choose to fill four seats from among five candidates for Marco Island City Council. A fifth seat was already filled by Greg Folley, who ran unopposed for the remaining 2 years left vacant when Sam Young resigned from the council. Mr. Folley had filled that seat temporarily when the council appointed him in June to serve until the November election.

Over the last several weeks, the Coastal Breeze News has sat with the five candidates running for a council seat and listened to their views on the issues recapped here.

Dr. Richard Blonna and his wife of 49 years, Heidi, have made Marco Island their home since 2012. He is an educator, a writer, and concentrates on managing stress-related issues. He graduated from William Patterson University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, and received his Master’s Degree in Counseling from Seton Hall, and his Doctorate in Health Education from Temple University. He taught for 28 years at William Patterson University. 

Dr. Blonna is an avid outdoors person and enjoys everything the Marco Island environment has to offer. He enjoys being on the water and is especially fond of kayaking. Blonna would like to see the city invest, through the application of grant funding, in more “pocket greenspace” around the island, if and when it becomes available at a reasonable price.

Although he has never served on an advisory board for the city, he has been a regular attendee at the monthly city council meetings over the last year, speaking on a number of issues. He agrees with the other four candidates that water quality issues should be a priority moving forward. In addition, he prefers existing ordinances be enforced rather than establishing additional regulations when it comes to issues concerning rental problems.

Jared Grifoni and his wife Elsa and their three children live here on Marco Island. Grifoni moved here in 2007. He is a licensed attorney, graduating from Suffolk Law School in Boston. Because he is the only incumbent, a CBN Staff chose to question him on positions and issues which resulted in council votes while serving his first term.

Jared Grifoni.

CBN Staff: The “bucket plan,” which was instituted by former City Manager Roger Hernstadt, required a slight increase in the city tax bill in 2014, but provided for a built-in income stream going forward to provide funding for recurring capital needs. Did this program, as well as the continuing expansion of the tax base (this year a half-billion dollars), assist you in maintaining the roll-back rate?

Grifoni responded, “Yes, that has been helpful within all city departments. You do want to make sure you are not over budgeting or under budgeting. I am proud that we have been able to hold the line on the tax rate that residents pay. Although the values of property have grown, you are paying the same amount and we are not taking more money.”

CBN Staff: One of the creative ideas you floated in 2016 was the idea of “sunsetting” ordinances after a one-year period to evaluate their effectiveness. You never did that. Why? 

“I want to correct you, as I was referring to controversial pieces of legislation, and maybe reviewing after 3 years: Things such as the 2015 rental ordinance. Quite honestly, we haven’t had any real controversial ordinances during the last 4 years,” said Grifoni.

CBN Staff: In one of your campaign pieces from 2016, you stated, “Good government protects your ‘pursuit of happiness’ rather than regulates it…” You’ve heard from a number of individuals that their happiness has been seriously impacted as commercial renting is causing an issue with noise, trash, parking and safety issues… Isn’t there a need for regulation due to abuse four years later?

“It’s a reasonable question. It’s one that the citizens have expressed some concerns about. When you look at the rental situation on the island, it’s not a question whether it needs regulation, it’s a question of how you can effectively and legally provide improvements for the citizens who have expressed clear concerns about what is happening in the community. This issue has only been highlighted over the last 12 months. I always felt that the best way to address issues is without an overarching and massive rental registration program. We are in the middle of passing the noise ordinance, which should address the problem better. Clearly the noise ordinance passed in 2015 didn’t fix the problem, and our revised ordinance should do that with defined decibel standards. The noise ordinance is just one piece of the puzzle.”

Photos by Steve Stefanides | Becky Irwin.

Becky Irwin was originally born in Fort Lauderdale, but lived on Marco from 1981-83 at an early age. When her parents returned to Fort Lauderdale, she moved back with them. 

She graduated from Florida State and raised two sons while working as a non-profit executive in Broward County for 20 years. She also began a real estate career there, but moved back to Marco Island where her father was living after losing his wife, Irwin’s mother, to cancer.

Irwin essentially has been on the island since 2013, working fulltime in the real estate business. She bought her first home in 2018. Irwin is a dedicated environmentalist, a Certified Florida Master Naturalist, and a certified inspector for Florida Stormwater Erosion and Sedimentation Control. “I think I can bring some of these talents and knowledge to bear as Marco seeks to improve its water quality,” said Irwin in an interview.

Irwin has been a member of the Beautification Advisory Committee, appointed by Councilman Howard Reed. She also participated with another 70 residents and city staff members during a visioning exercise concerning the development of a Strategic Plan. 

Irwin desires to bring a measured approach to the issue of problem rentals on the island and instead looks to improving the city’s enforcement of existing ordinances.

Phares Heindl.

Phares Heindl is a 1972 Chemical Engineering graduate of Mississippi State University and holds a Law Degree from the University of Florida. He presently is a practicing attorney in Collier County, but also is admitted to the Bar in Mississippi, formerly to the Bar in California, and the U.S. District Court/Middle District of Florida. Heindl is also a Licensed Patent Attorney. In his younger years, he taught high school chemistry, physics and biology.

Heindl has served on the Marco Waterways Advisory Committee, as well as being its chairman for one term. He also has volunteered as a Beach Steward. Heindl is an active paddleboard enthusiast and was a founding member and president of the Marco Island Paddlers Association. When asked what interested him in the City Council position, Heindl said, “I think I’m the best candidate for the job. With my background as a member of the Waterways Advisory Committee and as a chemical engineer, I understand the issues facing us with water quality. 

Heindl also has become involved in the debate concerning the short-term vacation rentals and their impact on single-family neighborhoods. “These rentals are becoming as much of a problem as the issues with our waterways, and are a direct threat to both the quality of life and the property values here on the island,” said Heindl.

Joe Rola.

Joseph Rola is a 1964 graduate of Villanova University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering. He also engaged in electrical engineering and computer science graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania and the New Jersey Institute of Technology. 

Prior to being appointed to the Planning Board by Councilman Victor Rios, Rola was a board member of the Marco Island Property Owners Association

Rola has been a member of the Marco Island Planning Board for almost 4 years and sees service on the City Council as the next productive step to serving the community he has lived in for 15 years as he stated, “The city is really at a crossroads in regard to its development and the quality of life issues which we all care about, and I feel I can best serve Marco in that capacity.

“Residents are concerned as to whether or not the dream they bought into is evaporating before their eyes. Mega-homes being built on 80×110 foot lots are a concern to many, as well as what appears to be out-of-control rentals which are affecting the quality of life for islanders. This isn’t what they envisioned when they invested in paradise.”

Only four of these candidates will be elected on November 3rd, 2020. Go to their websites, read their information, and make an educated decision. More information and articles will be coming over the next four weeks about the issues and what is at stake during this election.

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