While lobster mini-season hunters gathered their gear and fishing licenses at local tackle shops, Councilman Dick Ramsay voiced his concerns over the council’s inability to respond to citizens’ comments during council meetings.
“We had a citizen at the July 13 meeting come up to make comments, and I was chomping at the bit to respond,” Ramsay noted, “but then I learned it was the council’s policy not to respond.”
City Clerk Diane Clavier then read Ramsay’s proposed changes to the wording on the council’s agenda section that allows citizens to approach the council during meetings and voice their concerns over current issues.
His suggestion included that “As these comments are not advertised in advance, the Council cannot participate in discussions regarding your comments during the meeting; but we assure you that you are being heard and that appropriate consideration and follow-up will be given.”
Councilman Pete Worthington initially supported Ramsay’s proposal, adding, “It’s been our policy for the last four years that we don’t comment, but I think as elected officials, we should be able to respond to comments. There’ve been many times I’ve been up here listening to people speaking about information that may not be accurate, and we can’t correct them on it.”
Worthington added that he felt people who came to speak before the council might feel slighted by not getting an immediate response to their concerns.
Councilman Rich Keating cautioned against the suggestion, and Vice Mayor Mike Cinque concurred.
“I think people know we bend over backwards to work for the citizens of Marathon,” Cinque suggested. “It can get kind of dicey if an item comes up in the middle of the meeting about which we don’t know ahead of time.”
Ramsay responded that his suggestion stemmed from a council meeting in 2008 during which discussion over a topic on the floor led to the circulation of misinformation.
“It turned into a little bit of a mess,” Ramsay remembered.
Mayor Ginger Snead said she was running for office during the aforementioned meeting, and it did indeed turn into a debate.
“We start looking at our staff, and that puts them in a bad situation when they don’t have the correct information,” she suggested. “Emotions start running high, and when that happens, things we shouldn’t say, get said.”
In other news:
• Ramsay invited John November of the grassroots Citizens, Not Serfs organization to speak regarding the city’s current 37-foot height restriction for buildings.
“I brought this up as a conversation item to get a feel from the council and see if this has support,” Ramsay said. “Personally, I’m against high rises. I think the 37-foot height limit is good for the Florida Keys.”
November went on to enumerate several points in the city’s current Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Regulations that could permit for ambiguity in interpretation with future councils.
“You have an opportunity now to make them clear and more consistent,” he suggested. “I believe you should move forward now to fortify your position.”
Local real estate agent Karen Wilkinson adamantly opposed the suggestion.
“We’ve been incorporated for almost 11 years, and our LDRs are working just fine,” she said firmly, referring to the city’s finance manager Peter Rosasco’s proposed hotel plans that included construction above the established height limit.
“Somebody up here tried to build beyond the height limit,” Wilkinson said waving to city staff seated beside her, “and the town broke wide open!”
Worthington suggested that since the 37-foot height restriction is already in the Comp Plan and LDRs, that the possibility of a future council changing that would be highly unlikely.
Attorney John Herin reiterated that the process of amending the Comp Plan is a lengthy one and would require at least three public hearings. He estimated at least a six-month time line and added changes of that nature could only be made twice a year.
• Ramsay alerted the council of a meeting to be held on Tuesday, August 24 regarding the possible extension of the Marathon Airport runway. As the council’s airport relations liaison, Ramsay said he received a letter from engineers inviting him to attend the meeting that will be open for the public to discuss extending the runway 40 feet to the north.
Though he’d posed several questions to the engineers about the topics to be discussed at the meeting, specifically the noise issue and modification of the existing tree line between the runway and Aviation Boulevard, Ramsay said he had yet to receive a satisfactory response.
Worthington asked City Manager Roger Hernstadt to formally draft a letter to the appropriate airport entities on the council’s behalf, and he gladly obliged.
“Tersely worded letters are my specialty!” Hernstadt affirmed.
• In light of recent concerns with the Overseas Heritage Trail improvements, Ramsay proposed the council volunteer a liaison to the Florida Department of Environmental Protections, the state agency currently overseeing the improvements. Keating volunteered to serve in the position.