Whistle Blower Ordinance Struck Down

A hotly contested ordinance proposed by Marathon City Councilman Pete Worthington during their May 12 regularly scheduled meeting was struck down during a first public reading Tuesday night.

Council members as well as citizens expressed concern two weeks ago regarding duplication of a state statute already in place to protect whistleblowers. Attorney Jimmy Morales was directed to remove language from the ordinance concerning a financial rewards system if an employee’s actions saved money in some way.

“I thought this was redundant when it was presented before,” said Vice Mayor Don Vasil, reiterating the removal of a portion of the ordinance regarding monetary payouts. “The City has raised the standard and the bar on many fronts, particularly regarding financial management and control of special interests. Even though this ordinance may seem redundant, it shows the council is involved in that effort.”

Councilwoman Ginger Snead voted against the ordinance, stating that if an employee is forced to go to the City Manager instead of directly to his boss, it could potentially make for a bad situation.

“It’s a process the state already has in place of going to court,” Snead said. “Why adopt something that could end badly in the long run?”

Worthington argued against the ordinance’s alleged redundancy, saying that it doesn’t just deal with wasteful spending.

“It keeps everybody toeing the line,” Worthington said. “It’s about life-safety issues of this community.”

In other business:
—- Councilman Dick Ramsay sponsored a resolution regarding a feasibility study and cost analysis of having a full time in-house attorney.

The City is currently represented by Morales and his Miami-based firm Stearns, Weaver, Miller, Weissler, Alhadeff & Sitterson.

Karen Farley-Wilkinson said since the city’s incorporation, the outsourced legal service had been great.

“It is only prudent that all city contracts be reviewed prior to continuance,” Wilkinson suggested. “If we don’t have a policy for automatic review of contracts, there should be.”

Snead agreed with Wilkinson’s suggestion regarding regular analysis of the city’s contractual agreements.

“At this time, we are currently in the middle of two lawsuits,” Snead said. “We’re not going to find one attorney that has all the services available through Jimmy’s firm.”

Worthington added that Morales’ proposed budget for the 2009-2010 fiscal year showed a $150,000 decrease. He said through many conversations with Monroe County Mayor George Nugent, he learned that six staff attorneys have pushed the county’s legal budget above the $2 million mark.

“There are opportunities to make cuts, I just don’t think this is one of them,” Worthington said.

Ramsay defended the resolution, adding that it did not suggest council get rid of the firm but simply explore the possibility of bringing an attorney on to city staff full time.

“Why not go out and look?” Ramsay asked, referring to a previous analysis ordered by former Councilwoman Marilyn Tempest that he said only measured the firm’s capability. “No matter what, we’ve seen substantial savings already.”

—- Carl Peterson of Jacobs Engineering Group presented the council results of his firm’s traffic study of the Aviation Boulevard/U.S. 1 Intersection. Peterson elaborated his 12 years of experience studying traffic patterns specifically at this precarious intersection. He presented the council with three alternatives. Between (1) Making the intersection a right turn only; (2) Reconfiguring the intersection and changing the median: or (3) Installing a traffic signal, Peterson recommended simply eliminating the option of left-hand turns or Alternative (1).

“Capital costs are relatively small,” he said of his recommendation to the council.

Snead and Worthington asked why he would not recommend simply installing a traffic light at the intersection, and Peterson sighted his extensive experience with FDOT and their signal warrant studies.
“We know how they think and their issues regarding signalization,” he explained.

The DOT has a certain level of traffic that they require at an intersection to validate installation of a signal.

“I know that doesn’t make logical sense, but let’s take an interim proactive measure,” Peterson said. “If it doesn’t work, we have something to go back to DOT and hang our hat on. We need to make that first step.”
Snead moved to follow the firm’s recommendation, and Mayor Mike Cinque added that he would like to have a public hearing on the issue before it is adopted.

—- Britt Meyers and Daniel Samess of the economic development panel presented their group’s findings to the council. After weeks of meetings and discussions with industry professionals, particularly the Monroe County Tourist Development Council and Tinsley Advertising, the panel has formulated a tentative tag line for marketing Marathon to tourists across the country and possibly around the globe – “The Islands of Marathon, “The Boating Destination of the Florida Keys”.

“As a tourist destination, we need to know who we’re going to target and bring down here,” Samess said of the tentative marketing campaign. “Miami and Fort Lauderdale are targeting the mega yacht market, and that leaves a great niche for us.”

Meyers added that the panel’s recommendations and findings are simply suggestions on forming Marathon’s identity.

“This panel has been very sensitive to newer versus traditional marketing methods,” he explained.

—- Finance Director Peter Rosasco reported that he’d received word from Regions Bank that the city has been approved for a $30 million bridge loan to finance the federally mandated sewer project.

“We were seeking bank financing, but frankly, it’s been a difficult search,” Rosasco explained. “This loan will get us where we need to be as far as meeting this 2010 deadline.”

—- The council approved a letter of support to Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen regarding the need for a customs office in Marathon.

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