After 15 minutes of general housekeeping, agenda revisions and a proclamation of Martin Luther King Jr. Day presented to Pastor Larry White from St. Paul AME Church in Marathon, the Marathon City Council finally dug in on the primary topic of the Tuesday, Jan. 12 session: the replacement of councilman Trevor Wofsey, who was arrested Jan. 3 on a domestic battery charge and subsequently resigned Jan. 7.

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Councilman Steve Cook opened the discussion with a statement regarding the barrage of commentary he received about the upcoming selection process. “There is a difference between the Sunshine Law and the Coconut Telegraph,” he began. He went on to emphasize the replacement “was not pre-selected” nor would it automatically be “the third-place vote getter” in the November election, a reference to 2021 council candidate Lynny Thompson.

Cook took umbrage with communication he’d received that stated, “What does it matter, you’re gonna do what you’re gonna do”. He stated that “however we (the council) decide this process, the citizens must never think it’s a forgone conclusion”.

Attorney Steve Williams reiterated that Section 7 of the City Charter states that in the case of a council vacancy, “If … the remainder of the unexpired term is 81 days or more, the remaining council members shall, within 30 days following the occurrence of such vacancy, by majority vote, appoint a person to fill the vacancy until the next regularly scheduled city election.”

The council subsequently decided to meet on Monday, Jan. 24 at noon at City Hall in a special call meeting to consider the applicants. Applicant submissions are due by Wednesday, Jan. 19, at noon. The council has until early February to fill the fifth seat on the dais and that person will serve until the next regularly scheduled election in November 2022.

Having to replace a council member mid-term hasn’t occurred in Marathon since 2014, when Ginger Snead abruptly resigned, and Chris Bull followed in 2015.

The remainder of the session moved quickly. Williams advised the council that Friends of the Lower Keys, a Keys environmental group, is suing the City of Marathon, claiming the city is violating the federal Clean Water Act by discharging treated sewage plant effluent from its 12 shallow wells into nearshore waters, instead of using deep wells that are used in other areas of the Keys.

Additional council business included City Manager George Garrett confirming that the 7-Mile Marina property purchase has closed, and city staff would begin looking at the structural quality of the buildings and docks on the property. Councilman Dan Zieg requested an update of the City Taxi Ordinance, initially raised in November. Code Director Ted Lozier said essentially no progress has been made yet on a safety inspection and background check process, but that work would continue. The city also agreed to increase wrecker fees for the first time in 16 years.

Williams proposed modifying Ordinance 2021-30 — extending council member term limits from three to four years — so the city wouldn’t experience such large turnover as will occur this November, when four seats will be in play. He said Islamorada didn’t handle this well when they were forced to fill all five of their seats in 2020.

His modification suggestion was that the lowest winning vote-getter receive only a three-year term, while all other winners receive four-year terms. So, this November, when four council seats will be filled, the three candidates receiving the most votes will be installed for four years, while the fourth will get a three-year term.

The city is also looking to purchase property on Boot Key from Marathon Wireless Communications for $200,000, which was offered to the city for conservation purposes. A radio tower remains on the island; however, it is not currently being used.

Garrett gave a brief overview of what Marathon may expect from the 2022 state legislative session. He said Florida Keys Day will be on Thursday, Feb. 10, there’s a state bill regarding vacation rentals, and new hurricane evacuation models should be forthcoming soon.