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On the Ballot: Marco Island City Council

On the Ballot: Marco Island City Council

Four of the seven Marco Island City Council seats are on the November ballot. Five candidates are running for the seats designated as 1, 3, 5, and 7, and the top four vote-getters will win.

The candidates are Richard Blonna, Jared Grifoni, Phares Heindl, Becky Irwin, and Joseph Rola.

Seat 6, which would have been on the ballot for the remaining two years of the term of Sam Young, will be automatically awarded to Greg Folley, whose candidacy was unopposed. Folley has been serving in the interim, having been selected to fill the vacancy in June.

Recent articles by Marco Eagle reporter Omar Rodríguez Ortiz and Coastal Breeze News reporter Steve Stefanides provide valuable information about the candidates and the race.

In this post, I will review what I learned from researching the candidates, look at the money that is financing the campaigns, and offer suggested next steps.

Please see How I Research Candidates and 6 Things to Consider When Evaluating Candidates for my approach to writing these posts. I also asked the candidates to complete a questionnaire and included excerpts edited for brevity and clarity as well as links to the complete documents below.

Richard Blonna

Richard Blonna was born and raised in Newark, NJ. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from William Paterson University, a Master’s of Education from Seton Hall, and a Doctoral Degree in health education with a specialization in health counseling from Temple University. After a decade as a public health administrator with the NJ State Department of Health, he was recruited for a faculty position at William Paterson University. He taught there for 28 years, retiring as a Full Professor Emeritus. Blonna has also been a small business owner, first as a training consultant and, since 2006, providing consulting and self-help training and education. He and his wife have been Marco Island residents since 2014.

His platform priorities are “maintain our small-town character; restore and protect our waterways; preserve and protect our beach; and keep taxes and spending low.”

Press Coverage

Questionnaire Responses

Why are you running for this position?

I have always been interested in politics. At this point in my life, I finally have the time and resources to commit to running for office. It is an exciting time to run as five of the seven seats will be changing over. In addition to a new look on City Council, Marco Island has a new Police Chief, a new Fire Chief, and a new City Manager and Assistant City Manager. Change is in the air.

What are three things you want to accomplish if you are elected?

1. Clean-up our waterways and protect our beach.

2. Expand our open space, parks, and recreation.

3. Maintain our small-town character by promoting smart growth.

Name one past policy decision of the board you are running for that you disagree with that you would like to change if elected.

City Council could have gone farther in pushing the City to be more aggressive in implementing parts of their Stormwater Management Plan. They could also have beefed up enforcement of the Fertilizer Ordinance.

What is the most important thing voters should know about you before making their decision in this race?

The most important thing is reflected in my campaign slogan, “Calm, Thoughtful Leadership.” It clearly describes the kind of leader I will be if I am elected.

In His Own Words

Jared Grifoni

Jared Grifoni has a Bachelor’s Degree from Merrimack College and a Juris Doctor degree from Suffolk University Law School. He moved to Marco Island in 2007 and has been a member of the Florida Bar since 2008. He and his wife have three children.

Grifoni was involved with the operation of a large Southwest Florida Dunkin’ Donuts franchise until its sale in 2016 and is now an attorney and leader in multiple small businesses based in Marco Island and Collier County, including Marco Island Italian Deli, according to sunbiz.org.

The only incumbent on the ballot, Grifoni is running for a second term. Since his election in 2016, he has served as Vice Chairman twice and Chairman once.

He has served on the Greater Marco Family YMCA Community Relations Committee and is a volunteer youth soccer coach with the Optimist Club of Marco Island. He and his wife are members of the Marco Island Center for the Arts, the Marco Island Fire Foundation, and the Italian American Society of Marco Island. Passionate about the environment, he and his family frequently work on local beach clean-ups and are long time volunteers for the Audubon of the Western Everglades.

Grifoni discusses his views on taxes and fiscal accountability, protection of island wildlife and environment, responsible budgeting focused on citizens’ priorities, individual and property rights, and community and shared future on his website.

As a Council Member

The “Pledges Fulfilled” page on Grifoni’s website summarizes his actions on five “pledges” made when running for his first term. They were “Keep More Money in Citizens’ Pocket, Protect Property Rights, Improve Marco’s Relationship with the County and State, Sunset Provisions for Controversial Ordinances, and Make Council Meetings More Accessible to the Public.”

A Google search found several articles that, while not specifically about him, mentioned his votes on issues that came before the Council. From them, I learned that Grifoni opposed requiring face masks at the City’s farmers market, opposed installation of license plate readers on the S.S. Jolley and Goodland Bridges, supported opening the City’s private beach access points following Council’s vote to reopen public beach access, supported a proposed ordinance that would have allowed temporary signs in the public right-of-way in all zoning districts, and supported a City program that would pay homeowners to dig starter owl burrows in their front yards, among other council actions.

Press Coverage

Questionnaire Responses

Why are you running for this position?

Our community deserves real action and solutions, not empty words and broken promises. I have delivered on my pledges during my first term but there is much more we can still accomplish.

What are three things you want to accomplish if you are elected?

1. Continue to deliver lower taxes and fiscal accountability for our citizens.

2. Improve the City’s efforts at protecting our unique island environment and wildlife, including working with state and county officials on local water quality projects.

3. Address the need for roadway, sidewalk, and parking improvements and green space retention, complete Veterans’ Community Park, and have an eye to the future on every item that comes before City Council.

Name one past policy decision that you disagree with that you would like to change if elected.

I would like to see the City fully takeover the sidewalk maintenance program, within the current confines of the existing budget (i.e. not raising taxes). Currently, it is a property owner’s responsibility to maintain, repair, and replace a sidewalk adjacent to their property even though the city owns it. This has led to significant bills to individual citizens ranging to upwards of $15-20,000 for a piece of property they have no ownership in. The current policy is un-American and needs to be changed.

In His Own Words

Phares Heindl

Phares Heindl has a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering from Mississippi State University, attended the University of Florida – Fredric G. Levin College of Law, and is a Florida Board Certified Civil Trial Lawyer. A former chemical engineer, he is now a practicing attorney.

He is a past member and chairperson of the City’s Waterways Advisory Committee and says he “is the only candidate with the background and experience needed to effectively lead your fight for our waterways.”

His website includes a seven-point pledge to the voters of Marco Island in which he says he “will fight for the quality of our canal, inland and coastal waters” and to “keep our beaches safe, clean, and environmentally friendly.”

He did not respond to my candidate questionnaire.

Press Coverage

In His Own Words

Becky Irwin

Becky Irwin has lived on Marco Island for 39 years. She is a licensed real estate broker associate, certified as both a Marco Island specialist and a resort and special property specialist. She is also a certified Florida master naturalist, and a state-certified stormwater, erosion, and sedimentation control inspector.

Irwin served on the City’s Beautification Committee for four years and on the Citizen’s Summit for the Marco Island Strategic Plan. She has also volunteered with the Marco Island Women’s Club, Marco Island Newcomers Club, For the Love of Cats, Marco Island Historical Museum, and Marco Island Center for the Arts.

Irwin says she is running “to preserve our heritage and protect our future,” and that her priorities are “keeping our taxes low, protecting our environment, and ensuring the Mackle Brothers’ amazing vision for Marco Island.”

She did not respond to my candidate questionnaire.

In Her Own Words

Joseph Rola

Joseph Rola has a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering (B.E.E) degree from Villanova University and did graduate work in electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Pennsylvania and the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He spent most of his career as a defense contractor working in the field of program management.

Rola and his wife have been property owners on Marco Island for 20 years and full-time Marco Island residents since 2005.

He has been a member of the Marco Island Planning Board for the last 4 years and is an active member of the Marco Island Homeowners and Marco Island Property Owners groups.

Rola says he is running for Council to provide much-needed resident participation in the update of the Marco Island Comprehensive Plan. He says he wants to foster an appreciation for conserving the Island’s natural ambiance and small-town character while supporting the best interests of the community.

He did not return my candidate questionnaire.

Press Coverage

In His Own Words

The Money

According to campaign treasurer’s report filings on the City of Marco Island website:

Marco Island Campaign Money

Candidate Forums

Next Steps

Review the candidates’ websites and narrow down the possibilities based on what’s most important to you. Then do more research, using the links and references included in this post.

If you have questions, reach out to the candidates directly via their website or Facebook. If they don’t respond to your satisfaction when they’re running for office, how responsive will they be if elected?

When you’ve done enough research to feel confident about your decisions, you are ready to vote!


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