It’s really hard to believe that an entire decade has passed since the incorporation of Marathon. As part of the City’s 10th Anniversary Celebration, Larry Shaffer’s online Marathon Journal recently poised a series of questions to sitting and former City Council members. Since I have the forum of a newspaper column, I’ll go ahead and answer his questions here. It will give me the opportunity to point our readers to Larry’s website so that they can read other responses as well (www.marathonjournal.us).
Larry’s first question: What did you want to accomplish in the year(s) you served?
Having served on our City Council for the first six years of its existence, the goals kept changing as time moved on. Initially, our goal was to create a municipal government from the ground up. The quickest way to do that was to contract with existing firms and organizations to provide us with management, planning, building, and law enforcement services (and we still contract with the Sheriff’s Office for our municipal policing). We were tasked to create a Comprehensive Plan for Marathon, and were faced with hot burner issues like gaining control of Marathon’s infrastructure, including acquisition of our City Marina, developing Marathon’s Community Park, and resolving an inherited Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit over access at Sombrero Beach.
As the years moved on, so the goals also changed. After a lengthy and somewhat heated debate over the direction of our municipal government, we ended our contract with our management firm and proceeded to hire a City Manager and build a more traditional government framework. We did lose some time on our Comprehensive Plan, however, and some of the progress we had made with the State of Florida vanished after certain parties in Tallahassee reneged on a pledge they had made.
We never lost sight what was really important; as a result, Marathon was always committed to making progress on the issue of wastewater. We encouraged the FKAA, our wastewater authority at the time, to move forward on Marathon’s project. When we got bids that ranged from $185 million to $255 million, the Council realized that we needed to do something different. The City hired its own engineering firm, and the plan they came up with cut $100 million off the lowest bid we had previously received. An opinion rendered by our City Attorney, John Herin, gave us the legal weaponry to take our fight to Tallahassee, where we persuaded the DCA, the DEP, and the Governor and Cabinet that we indeed did have the better plan. Lucky for all of us in Marathon, subsequent Councils have seen the wisdom of seeing this project through.
My final year on the Council (and last term as Mayor) was a non-stop cavalcade of one-thing-after-another. In addition to the battle for our wastewater destiny, the hurricane season of 2005 was one like no other in the Keys. Four hurricanes whacked our islands, and we had three States of Emergency (with mandatory evacuations) declared. October of that year brought in Hurricane Wilma, our biggest disaster since Hurricane Donna in 1960.
The title of Mayor under Marathon’s charter is largely ceremonial; under a State of Emergency, however, the Mayor is the de facto head of local government and the person who makes all the crucial decisions. While natural disasters aren’t a picnic for anyone, Wilma was a huge responsibility to shoulder. Thankfully, we had a great staff in the City EOC as well as wonderful first responders, and they were the major part of why we were able to recover as well as we did. Nothing prepares you, however, for people on the steps of our City offices who had lost everything and were looking for someone who could help them find food and shelter. Nothing prepares you for seeing 3/4 of your island town under water. Nothing prepares you for seeing just how close we came to losing a part of US 1 on Grassy Key because of storm surge erosion, much less seeing houses with no ground underneath them anymore. Suffice it to say that recovery from Wilma was our top priority during my final months in office.
Well, that’s Larry’s first question! I’ll try to be a bit more condensed in my answers to 2, 3, and 4 for next week’s column. And don’t forget the City’s 10th Anniversary Party at Marathon Community Park on Saturday, November 21. We’ll see you there!