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May-June Council Update:

Updated: Jul 21, 2023


The major activity in Council over the past two months since my last update involved legal issues surrounding the Short Term Rental Registration ordinance (STR). Four significant lawsuits have been filed against the City seeking to prevent it from implementing the STR as enacted by Council last December. On May 8 Council held a private litigation “shade” meeting with City Attorney Alan Gabriel, another member of Gabriel’s firm who serves as litigation counsel for the City in those suits, and the City Manager. Council members are not allowed to discuss what went on in that meeting; however, a transcript was taken and will be made public following the resolution of the various lawsuits, whenever that may be. Mr. Gabriel at Council’s May 22 meeting recommended to Council that the implementation date for the ordinance be delayed from June 30 to January 8, 2024, with the understanding that this delay would in turn postpone legal proceedings in those lawsuits for at least that long a time.


After a contentious debate, Council agreed to accept the City Attorney’s recommendation by a 5-2 vote. I voted to accept the recommendation for reasons that are my own. I firmly believe that we need a second opinion concerning our approach to the lawsuits. The speed with which decisions concerning the defense of the lawsuits would have to have been made, absent a delay, would have prevented us from getting such a second opinion and possibly different representation for the lawsuits. With an effective date of June 30, plaintiffs in the lawsuits could have been in court as early as early July seeking a court order enjoining the City from enforcing the ordinance. It was my opinion that, absent a different approach, we were at substantial risk of being enjoined from enforcing much or all of the ordinance. So, I voted for the delay.


At our next meeting in June 5 I submitted a White Paper proposing two alternative processes for getting a second opinion from a different attorney. The first involved me as Chair developing a list of 4-5 attorneys who could deliver such a second opinion, and ask them to come to a subsequent Council meeting to present their credentials. The second option was for me as Chair to work with the City Manager to select an attorney to deliver this second opinion and return to Council with that recommendation and a proposed budget. After considerable discussion and public comment, Council voted 4-3 for the second option.


Immediately thereafter, I reviewed credentials of about 30 attorneys who practice municipal law in Collier County, as well as those of several other attorneys from other counties across the state. One attorney stood out from the crowd, in my opinion. Robert Pritt served as City Attorney for the City of Naples for 17 years, and in the same role for Sanibel Island for 13 years. No attorney I reviewed had credentials anywhere near as extensive and impressive as Mr. Pritt’s. I interviewed him and found him to be extremely knowledgeable and honest. I also checked out his references, including two former mayors of Estero, where he had also served for a time as City Attorney. Both of them stated that he would be give us an honest and extremely well researched opinion, and that his reputation for integrity is above reproach. For these reasons, I came back to Council on our June 19 meeting and recommended Mr. Pritt be selected to deliver this second opinion, with a budget not to exceed $20,000. After much discussion and debate (most involving the fact that Mr. Pritt had in the past represented Ed Issler and other citizens in an unrelated non-litigation matter), Council agreed on a 4-3 vote to retain Mr. Pritt for this purpose. We are hoping to hear back from him, likely in another confidential shade meeting, within the next several weeks. What happens thereafter will depend on what he has to say and how Council responds to his report.


New City Clerk


In June City Manager Mike McNees announced the appointment of Joan Taylor as our new City Clerk. Joan was chosen following a rigorous selection process after the departure of our previous City Clerk, Mike Sheffield. Joan brings a wealth of experience and expertise to the position. She recently served as the Accreditation and Grants Manager for the Marco Island Police Department, where she played a pivotal role in achieving the Department’s first state accreditation which was discussed in my previous update. Prior to her work with the Police Department, Joan served as s Senior Vice President for ZenithOptimedia and the Director of Communications Planning for Mindshare, a global media agency. Joan’s career involved work in New York City, Guangzhou, China and Istanbul, Turkey. Joan officially assumed the role of City Clerk on June 5.


Council has only one regular meeting in July, on July 24. We also have an Operating Workshop scheduled for earlier that day. We will return to our normal twice monthly meeting schedule in August.


Have a great Summer!


Greg

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