The Marathon city council was scheduled to explore an open container ordinance Tuesday evening during their regular meeting, but after just two speakers broached the subject during citizens’ comments, City Manager Roger Hernstadt urged the council to pull the item from the agenda.
“I think our two speakers who spoke to this item are just the tip of the iceberg,” he suggested when the draft came up for discussion. He asked to meet with each council member individually for feedback before presenting the ordinance to the public for input.
During their Dec. 18 meeting, the council directed staff to draft an open container ordinance, but attorney John Herin cautioned that in all the time he’s served as legal counsel, the city’s long been hesitant to criminalize conduct.
“We have a draft already in place that we’ll continue to refine,” Herin offered.
Vice mayor Dick Ramsay added he believed an open container ordinance is something the community needs.
“I wish we’d done something two years ago,” he admitted in last month’s meeting.
Councilman Mike Cinque reminded the council that Marathon is a city of tourists and vacationers.
“I don’t want to use a sledgehammer to kill a fly,” he cautioned. “I want to make sure we don’t have any unintended consequences with this.”
Prior to this week’s meeting, city staff expressed concern with the timing of the ordinance, concerned that it could be perceived as targeting the homeless population in Marathon.
But Capt. Chad Scibilia of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office agreed he saw an open container ordinance for Marathon as a way to address the issue. People hanging around the bus stop between the Publix and K-Mart shopping centers, Scibilia clarified, is not a crime. It becomes an issue when people are drinking, tempers escalate and fights occur.
“Only when it becomes a battery issue and someone decides to press charges do we then make arrests and take people to jail,” he reiterated. “From a law enforcement perspective, incarceration is the last resort. We want to educate the people there on resources that might be available to help them. Our goal is always compliance, not incarceration.”
Key Colony Beach resident Jim Pettorini asked the council exactly what issue they were trying to address with the draft ordinance.
“If the city is trying to address vagrancy and loitering, there are already laws in place,” Pettorini offered, adding that what he called “an unneeded piece of legislation” would likely hurt blue collar workers “who’ve got dirt on their hands, who likely speak English as their second language and are likely people of color.”
Dep. Brad Colen took The Marathon Weekly on a tour of area homeless camps this week and said the only way to manage the various areas, often littered with shoes, sleeping bags, rucksacks and countless empty beer cans, is to keep a letter on file from various landowners giving MCSO permission to remove unauthorized inhabitants from vacant property.
In other business:
• The council voted to move their vacation rental regulations from the Land Development Regulations portion of the city’s Comprehensive Plan into the Ordinances. The first aim of the vote was to eliminate the need for any possible changes in the future to be approved by the state’s Department of Community Affairs.
Mark Friedman, a long vocal proponent of stricter regulations against vacation rental properties, pleaded with the council for a clear and concrete ordinance.
“Please take the handcuffs off Code Enforcement,” he implored. “We thought we moved to a place where it would be nice and relaxing, but it’s become a hell hole. Your vote is for the residents or whether or not you want the free for all to continue.”
Cinque questioned Friedman’s alleged “handcuffs” on Code Enforcement before reminding the council not to get hung up on the minute details of the ordinance.
The primary focus of the ordinance changes have been focused on proper licensing for vacation rental properties, the agents who manage the properties and to remove repeat offenders from the rental pool.
Snead said a major level of frustration among the residents has been that they didn’t know who to contact to lodge a complaint.
City Planning Director George Garrett reiterated that 80 percent of the ordinance on the table was taken verbatim from regulations already on the books.
“We’ve put more teeth into it,” Cinque concluded. “If they don’t have what we ask for, then they’re not going to be an agent anymore.”
One of the contentious items Cinque referenced is something the majority of property managers and rental agents already require – vehicle makes and model from renters occupying a property. The vote also clarified parking parameters for vacation rental properties, specifying they could park on the street shoulder of the unit being rented.
• With two trips scheduled for the mayor, manager and finance director to visit Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. in March, Hernstadt request a $10,000 increase in the city’s travel contingency fund. Councilman Rich Keating supported the motion, along with his fellow councilmen.
“The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” Keating nodded.
Ramsay agreed that to date, he felt the city’s money to pay state and federal lobbyists had been money well spent.
• Supported by the Community Image Advisory Board and Greater Marathon Chamber of Commerce, Cinque requested the opportunity to implement a test program in which every other industrial streetlight along U.S. 1 in Marathon would be temporarily shut off. The goal of the test program, with permission from FDOT, is to give the community a more tropical, hometown feel.
“I don’t believe any amount of landscaping will improve the highway with that type of lighting out there,” Cinque suggested.