MARATHON CITY COUNCIL URGES PUBLIC INPUT AT VACATION RENTALS MEETING

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In the 2022 Marathon City Council election, “transparency” became a buzzword, heard nearly as often as “vacation rentals” and “permits.”

The newly elected council hopes that Tuesday, Jan. 24 at 4:30 p.m. will be a stepping stone toward that goal as it launches a second scheduled monthly meeting for the first time since 2020.

The two-meeting model isn’t entirely new for Marathon, which offered them until about three years ago. Citing frequent cancellations of the second meeting and a lack of worthy topics, the previous city council – of which only current Mayor Luis Gonzalez was a member – voted 4-1 in February 2020 to dismiss the second meeting in favor of holding special call meetings and workshops as needed. Then-councilman Mark Senmartin was the lone nay vote.

But resident cries for transparency and increased dialogue on a number of hot-button issues and city government processes have multiplied in recent years, pushing these concepts to the top of the priority lists for several council candidates on the 2022 ballot.

Suggested by councilman Jeff Smith and enacted by Gonzalez at the new council’s December 2022 meeting, the additional sessions will be structured as slightly less formal workshops and roundtable discussions on pressing community issues. The gatherings are designed to feature few action items and formal votes, if any, preferring instead to feature informative presentations and allow more time for focused resident input. 

The first topic on the list? Vacation rentals, long acknowledged by residents and city officials alike as both a necessary economic engine and one of Marathon’s greatest challenges.

“It’s going to be a topic-driven meeting,” said Gonzalez. “I hope, first of all, that people show up and come with lots of input and work together with us to find solutions.”

A hallmark of the new meetings is the ability of staff and council members alike to respond directly to resident concerns during the session itself. While residents are limited to three-minute comment periods during standard council meetings, with no direct reply permitted by council members, the slightly less rigid format is designed to encourage a more open dialogue. Though residents’ comments may be limited by reasonable time constraints, the city had yet to settle on exact meeting rules as of press time.

Presentations confirmed by City Manager George Garrett will include an illustration of the tax impacts of vacation rentals – along with penalties for illegal rentals – by Monroe County Tax Collector Sam Steele; an overview from city Code Director Ted Lozier of software recently purchased by the city to detect illegal vacation rentals; and a presentation from City Attorney Steve Williams on the nuances behind Marathon’s ability, or lack thereof, to pursue modifications to its existing rental ordinances. 

Other invited stakeholders include Marathon planning director Brian Shea, members of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office and vacation rental agents from around the city.

“I really want to see some transparency come out and show that these are the steps we’re taking,” Vice Mayor Robyn Still told the Weekly. “And when I say transparency, I mean, let’s let people know how your government is working. What happens when you file that complaint? What do you want to see from the city?

“Let’s take that mystery away. What I’m trying to push for is a good explanation of the process. We need to get on the same page of okay, here’s what we can do, here’s what we cannot do.”

Residents are urged to attend Tuesday’s meeting at 4:30 p.m. in the city council chambers. An agenda will be published prior to the meeting at https://www.ci.marathon.fl.us/meetings, and a live-streaming link and post-meeting recording will be available at https://cloud.castus.tv/vod/#/city-of-marathon.

Alex Rickert made the perfectly natural career progression from dolphin trainer to newspaper editor in 2021 after freelancing for Keys Weekly while working full time at Dolphin Research Center. A resident of Marathon since 2015, he fell in love with the Florida Keys community by helping multiple organizations and friends rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Irma. An avid runner, actor, and spearfisherman, he spends as much of his time outside of work on or under the sea having civil disagreements with sharks.