Friends & Supporters,
Happy New Year. We had a busy and productive end to 2023, with many issues being addressed by City Council. Let’s get to it.
Zach Ludwig, May He Rest in Peace—readers may have heard about the New Year’s Eve shooting of Zach Ludwig in the hotel at Port of the Islands. Zach is a marine veteran and his parents, Mike and Tamra Ludwig, are realtors at Keller Williams here on Marco.
I didn’t know Zach, and that is my loss. I had the opportunity to join a standing room only crowd at Marco Presbyterian Church on January 6, and there was not a dry eye in the house as we celebrated the heroism and character of this outstanding young man. This was a funeral with full military honors, and it concluded with a video and soundtrack of Zach singing an inspirational song that he himself composed. The love demonstrated for him and his parents, who lost their only child, is hard to describe. Our community is much better off because he was with us for the time God allotted to him here on Earth. He is deeply missed.
Good News on Water Quality—at our October 2 meeting, Councilor Rola shared some very encouraging data about water quality in our canals. The overabundance of phosphorus or nitrogen in our canals and waterways can get the city's waters on the impaired list, where we now sit. However, as the Harper and Jacobs reports both confirmed in the past couple of years, phosphorus is not a concern—our levels are well below the state’s level for impairment. This had not been the case with nitrogen, however, which in 2018 was more than double the state’s impairment limit, at 0.61 mg/L (the limit being 0.3 mg/L). Since that time however, nitrogen levels have fallen off precipitously, with our most current reading is just 0.16 mg/L, just above half the legal limit and a nearly 75 % reduction since 2018. Our nitrogen levels have been well below the state’s impairment level since 2021, and we are well on our way to being removed from the state’s impaired waters list, which is fantastic news. Many factors may account for this dramatic improvement, but one for sure is the city’s fertilizer ordinance, which is being voluntarily followed by the vast majority of our landscaping contractors doing business in the city, and is clearly moving the needle in the right direction. Great results for our City and the wildlife in our waterways.
Close out Report for the Vacation Rental Registration Program—after Council at our October 4 meeting accepted our attorneys’ conclusion that SB 250 voided our rental registration ordinance, Vice Chair Grifoni requested a full accounting of expenses associated with rental registration going back to 2020. At our November 6 meeting Assistant City Manager Dr. Casey Lucius presented a summary of those expenses. The headline number, picked up by local media, was a highly misleading figure of $726,934, which included all STR related expenses incurred since May of 2020. The expenses incurred before December 2022 when Council enacted the ordinance would have been spent regardless of whether Council had enacted the STR ordinance or not, and those expenses amounted to $281,621. The costs incurred from December 2022 to October 2023 were $445,313 for legal expenses, personnel and vehicles. However, after Council suspended implementation of the ordinance based on legal advice in June of last year, personnel hired to do STR implementation work were redeployed to fill vacant positions in other areas, reducing the actual cost by $144, 439, or just under $300,000 total. Vehicles purchased for the program have also been transferred to other departments, thereby avoiding the need for those departments to procure additional vehicles, bringing the actual cost down an additional $50,000 to about $250,000, as opposed to the media reported total of $726,934. This is a good example of how headlines misrepresent reality, as they do in so many cases. The $250,000 was spent in a good faith effort to implement a registration program approved by a large majority of voters, and when advised by our attorneys to suspend the program, immediate steps were taken to cut ongoing expenses associated with ordinance implementation.
Health Freedom Bill of Rights for Marco Island—“Since March 2020, we have experienced the greatest intrusions on civil liberties in the peacetime history of the country.” These are not my words, but those of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, in his recent and extraordinary concurrence in Arizona v. Mayorkas. He went on, stating that “executive officials across the county issued emergency decrees on a breathtaking scale,” listing a number of categories of government overreach that were decreed, not legislated, including stay at home orders, school and business closures, attendance limits or religious services, a federal ban on evictions, mask mandates, and the Biden Administration’s attempt (blocked by the Supreme Court) to impose a national vaccine mandate via the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
In response to these radical and in most cases unjustified impositions on our constitutional liberties, Collier County last April enacted a Health Freedom Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights is a binding ordinance, prohibiting vaccine mandates, mask mandates and quarantines (unless a supermajority of the County Commission decides otherwise), and vaccine passports. By its terms, the Bill of Rights does not apply to State mandated vaccines such as measles, etc., and doesn’t apply to Marco Island, but only unincorporated Collier County.
At our November 6 meeting, I presented a white paper to Council proposing that we adopt a similar ordinance for Marco Island. A copy of this white paper can be obtained by clicking the link here. Council unanimously supported the proposal, and at our December 4 meeting unanimously adopted a Health Care Freedom Resolution and approved on first reading the Health Care Freedom Bill of Rights. The text of those documents can be viewed by clicking here and here.
I am proud of our County and our City for being at the forefront in protecting the liberties of our citizens, being among the first governmental entities in the state or country to enact such legislation. We will take up the ordinance for second reading and enactment at our January 8 Council meeting.
New Council Chair and Vice Chair—my term as Council Chair came to an end in December, and as is customary our Vice Chair, Councilor Grifoni, was selected as Chair to replace me. Councilor Brechnitz was selected as Vice Chair for the coming year.
Condo and Church Parking along Collier Beach Corridor—at our September 18 meeting, Council by a 4-3 vote asked the Planning Board to consider a change to our zoning ordinances to allow public parking in condos and church parking lots near the beach. I voted against this idea, as did Councilors Rola and Brechnitz. The Planning Board was going to meet to consider this issue in early December, but due to a failure in the notice requirements had to move the consideration to its January meeting. In the run-up to the Planning Board’s meeting in December, following Island-wide communication about this issue from MICA, I and my colleagues received about 800 emails on the matter, with fewer than 10 in favor and almost all others opposed. I have never received anywhere near that number of emails on any other issue during my entire tenure on Council. At our December 4 meeting, on my motion, Council voted 7-0 to kill this bad idea. It is officially dead, as it deserves to be, and the item was removed from the Planning Board’s agenda for the January meeting.
Other items—At our December 4 meeting Council considered on first reading, proposals to adjust pay for Councilors elected in future elections (to adjust for inflation since the pay levels were set in 1998) and to change the titles of Chair and Vice Chair to Mayor and Vice Mayor. These items were approved and will go to second reading at our meeting on January 8. If approved at that meeting the issues will go to the voters, who will decide whether the changes should be made in the March election. Additionally, I presented a White Paper proposing that Marco Island pass legislation making Marco Island a Bill of Rights Sanctuary City, just as Collier County is now a Bill of Rights Sanctuary County. The White Paper can be viewed by clicking here. Council unanimously supported proceeding with this ordinance and it will be considered for first reading at our January 22 meeting.
Altogether a busy and productive end to the year. I hope you all had great holidays with your friends and families and are enjoying a fantastic start to what promises to be a momentous year for our country in 2024. God Bless!
Greg S. Folley