John Bartus

It was November 1997. People throughout the Keys watched as residents of Islamorada voted to form their own municipal government … and the Village of Islamorada became real.

Early the following year, a group of residents met with Islamorada founder Ron Levy at the Stuffed Pig restaurant in Marathon. For years, many in Marathon thought they were getting short shrift from Monroe County. Islamorada had showed them the path to local control — could the same thing happen in Marathon?

Among people attending this first meeting and subsequently getting involved were Stuffed Pig owners Mike Cinque and Karen Dennis, Alan Fletcher, Bob Miller, Bill and Karen Farley Wilkinson, Dick Ramsay, Dick Schultz, Glenn Robinson, and yours truly. The group Citizens Incorporate Marathon was born, and the struggle to become our own city had begun.

There were a number of issues driving incorporation. Among these were the following:

Infrastructure Tax Spending Inequity – in the first 10 years of the infrastructure sales tax, less than 10% of the taxes collected in the Middle Keys went to Middle Keys projects. 

Home Rule – The one-size-fits-all ordinances and regulations enacted by the County Commission often did not fit all areas of the Keys the same. Each island community is different, and what works in Key Largo might not work in Big Pine.

Parks & Recreation – having lost the Marine Bank field to the new Publix in the late 1990s, the town needed an events field and recreation space. While the county did find funds for Community Park Phase I (largely in response to the incorporation movement), those funds came from Florida Forever grants, which would prohibit just about any event except for passive recreation. The lack of an events field was addressed upon the completion of Community Park Phase II, a multi-use athletic field and amphitheater facility complete with a modern skate park, all of which merged seamlessly with Phase I of the park. Sombrero Beach improvements made this beach park one of the Middle Keys’ most used attractions. Since then, Rotary Park and Jesse Hobbs Park have been developed and improved, and Marathon’s parks host awesome programs and events for all ages.

Wastewater and the 2010 Mandate – When confronted with the potential controversy, the County Commission “punted” all wastewater responsibility to the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority in 1998. Marathon felt it necessary to control the utility decisions to be made for our community. The city took over, redesigned the system, and got both wastewater and stormwater done by the original 2010 deadline.

After numerous public meetings and with the help of State Rep. Ken Sorenson, the Florida Legislature voted to authorize Marathon’s incorporation referendum to be held Nov. 2, 1999. When the votes were counted, the referendum passed by nearly 70%.

The first city council election was held in February 2000, and the original five council members were Bob Miller, John Bartus, Randy Mearns, Frank Greenman, and Jon Johnson. Ken Sorenson swore in the original council, and Bob Miller was chosen Marathon’s first mayor. (I was chosen the first vice mayor, and served as the town’s second mayor.)

So the history of Marathon continues to be written as we move into our third decade as a city. There will be a celebration this Saturday, from 4 to 8 p.m., at Marathon Community Park. It’s a family-friendly event with free food and drink, and feel free to bring your own coolers as well. There will be bounce houses and fun activities for the kids, as well as live music with Freddie Bye, the Stone Crabs, and yours truly. After a program recognizing our incorporation and those who’ve served our city, a DJ will take over. And there will be a special surprise at the end.

Happy Birthday, Marathon! Here’s to many, many more!

City of Marathon Turns 20

DECK: Celebrating two decades of local home rule

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