For many residents here in Southwest Florida, the past five to six months is referred to as our “season.” It is when many owners and seasonal lease holders return to what we all refer to as paradise. It is when friends reacquaint themselves and share stories about new grandchildren, travels they have embarked on and, sadly, about losses suffered.
It really is a wonderful time when old and new alike come together as we share this special place many of us call home. The one difference this year lies in the lingering effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic. But this year, we have begun to see hope emerge with the availability of vaccines. Heroic efforts by scientists and healthcare workers over the approximately nine months from March 2020 until November of last year resulted in amazing work and an announcement that we should be able to begin vaccinating the most vulnerable in our society by mid-January of this year.
You could almost feel a sigh of relief when those first lines began to form to receive the fruits of the efforts of “Operation Warp Speed” begun in 2020. Yes, there were some hiccups in the rollout, but we should all rejoice as those glitches were worked through. As of April 1 of this year, over 56 million Americans have been vaccinated and the numbers grow each day.
ON THE STATE LEVEL
This year in Tallahassee there seems to be a concerted effort to wrest more and more control from local governments and concentrate that control at the state level. It is a strange phenomenon, as state legislators around the nation tend to complain about the same regarding Federal mandates tending to weaken states’ control over their own destiny.
It seems this year that many legislators who made their way to the iconic southern charm of the state’s capital in Tallahassee have attempted to throw up roadblocks to local control by the hometowns from which they made the journey.
This has been referred to as “preemptive legislation,” which would prevent local governments from creating local solutions to their specific issues. Some believe that special interests might find it easier to deal with only 160 legislators with their high paid lobbyists rather than embark on attempting to deal with over 400 municipalities and 67 counties and their numerous leaders. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that math – and I didn’t go to an expensive Ivy League school.
Here on Marco Island, as well as in numerous other communities and counties around the state, short-term rentals have become a major issue. Those who desire to see some reasoned approach to the problem have found valued allies in both the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties. However, they are opposed by well-funded opposition from organizations such as the Florida Association of Realtors and rental giants VRBO and Airbnb among others.
Both the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties have taken up the rights of local residents, as they both look to the protections afforded citizens by the embedded provision for “home rule authority” within the Florida State Constitution.
Two of the major bills of concern regarding this issue are SB 522 and HB 219, both of which have received strong support from local legislators.
The Marco Island City Council as well as residents and businesses anxiously await the report from Environmental Research and Design as to the sources of some of the pollutants that continue to impact our waterways. The $130,000 contract should provide council and staff with initial data to proceed with a focused plan to deal those issues.
In the next couple of weeks, taxpayers should have a firm handle on the costs involved in two major capital projects: demolition and reconstruction of Fire Station 50, and plans for the finalization of Veterans Community Park. The recent spike in construction and material costs may have a serious impact on both those projects, but historically low interest rates may help to soften those numbers.
Residents should be aware of possible delays on the Judge Jolley Bridge these next couple of months, as lane blockages on both sides of the structures may impact drivers.
ON A PERSONAL NOTE
I’ve always been nothing but frank and honest with you over the years I’ve had the privilege to write on these pages, so I won’t mince words here or attempt to make them part of a news story. Instead, I’ll give them to you as part of my editorial comments.
For 35 years now, I’ve known Fire Chief Chris Byrne. I met him first as a firefighter and was proud to watch his ascent within the ranks over the 33 years before his retirement. You have to understand that I also was 20 years old in 1970 when I first walked in and took the oath as a firefighter in Concord, NH. I was proud to know him then and was ecstatic when he returned as Chief of the Marco Island Fire Department in 2020.
He is a man of great integrity and pride. He deserves nothing but the highest respect from among his peers and in our community.
I’ve only known Police Chief Tracy Frazzano since she arrived here in 2019. She brought with her great acclaim and respect from those who had known her in her previous life, and she quickly acquired the respect of her new department, residents and colleagues after arriving here.
She shares those traits of integrity and pride with her counterpart, Chief Byrne, and she earned my respect and trust via her actions while here on the job in Marco.
I also served 14 years as a deputy sheriff in New Hampshire in both a fulltime and parttime capacity, so I do understand what is required of that job. I would be proud to go through a door with either one of these individuals, and that is the highest compliment I can pay to either of them.
These are two excellent and dedicated civil servants that don’t deserve further questioning of their integrity. The city manager in his role did what he thought was appropriate and they both responded professionally, and all three should be commended.