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City council extends invite to search firms, makes COVID changes

By TIFFANY REPECKI / trepecki@breezenewspapers.com - | Jun 14, 2021

The Sanibel City Council finalized its list of search firm applicants to assist with the hiring of a new city manager at its monthly meeting, as well as made adjustments to the city’s COVID-related policies.

On June 1, staff provided the ranking of the city manager search firms that had applied, based on a scoring system completed by the council. City Attorney John Agnew reported that Colin Baenziger & Associates, Mercer Group Florida and Slavin Management Consultants had all provided proposals.

Utilizing a ranking system with the scores of 1-5, Colin Baenziger & Associates and Mercer Group Florida both received a score of 1.6, while Slavin Management Consultants received a 2.8 score.

During the discussion that followed, the council agreed on inviting all three firms to present their proposals either in-person or virtually before the council and to answer any questions, with one to be selected at that time. A motion for them to present at a special meeting on June 15 was approved.

Also during the meeting, the council addressed face coverings in city buildings and facilities, vaccinations for city staffers, and the two electronic “mask” signs at the island’s entrances.

Vice Mayor Richard Johnson opened the discussion about the city’s ongoing requirement for mask wearing within its buildings by noting that a lot has been learned about COVID-19 and that vaccines are widely available. He suggested it may be time to loosen the restriction and make them optional.

The rest of the dais voiced support, agreeing that it is time to let the public make the choice.

“It is probably the time to go ahead and relax our stance,” Councilmember Dr. Scott Crater said.

However, a motion to change the policy to allow individuals in city buildings to decide whether to wear a mask was withdrawn after Councilmember John Henshaw raised concerns about it applying to staff.

“I don’t want a city employee to expose a resident if they become infected,” he said.

Henshaw added that he would like all city employees to be vaccinated.

Following questions from the council, Agnew explained that any employer can require its employees to be vaccinated, subject to accommodations for health-related reasons and legitimate religious practices.

He added that employers can also require proof of vaccination from their employees.

Scott agreed with the suggestion of requiring staff to get vaccinated, explaining that city employees work in “very tight spaces” and small offices and that the risk of transmission is extremely high.

Other council members disagreed.

“I’m a little uncomfortable requiring a vaccination by all city staff members,” Johnson said, adding that he knows the benefits and strongly encourages it. “But in my opinion, I think it’s a personal decision.”

He noted that those who choose not to vaccinate and cannot socially distance should wear a mask.

Smith echoed that sentiment, pointing to continuing protocols like barriers and hand washing.

“I would be very hesitant to require (it),” she said of vaccinations for staff.

Councilmember Mike Miller asked for Henshaw and Crater’s thoughts on not requiring staff vaccinations, and instead requiring those who choose not to get one to wear a mask at all times.

“I think, functionally, it’s plausible,” Henshaw said. “It seems reasonable.”

Crater agreed, explaining that that is the policy he has implemented at his business.

A motion was made to require city employees to be fully vaccinated or to comply at all times with the CDC guidelines established for unvaccinated people, to include wearing a mask at all times. It also included asking but not requiring the public to wear masks in facilities, including the recreation center.

The motion passed 4-1, with Henshaw dissenting.

Henshaw then called for a second vote on the same motion.

“I’m making the point that vaccinations are extremely important. We want to encourage our number one asset to protect themselves and the general public,” he said, adding that he seeks council solidarity.

The second vote passed unanimously 5-0.

Continuing the COVID discussion, Crater floated the idea of updating the electronic signs at the entrance to each end of the island — from the mainland and Captiva — to promote vaccinations. While Miller voiced support, the rest of the council questioned how effective it would be on the public.

“And I don’t think it’s the right thing to be doing at the entrance to our island,” Johnson said, adding that he thinks instead it is time to remove both of the signs.

After some further discussion among the council, a motion was made to remove the electronic signs at the island entrances, effective immediately. It passed in a 3-2 vote, with Miller and Crater dissenting.


– During council comments, Smith shared that senior planner and planning supervisor Roy Gibson retired from the Community Service Department effective July 1. He served the city for 30 years.

“Roy’s dedication to service and institutional knowledge here is immeasurable,” she said. “He has exemplified in all of his years of service character, integrity and commitment to what we live and follow.”

Smith added that Gibson is a long-standing community member who lives and loves Sanibel.

– The council voted 5-0 to approve five positions in the Recreational Department as the city works toward reimplementing programs and activities for the Sanibel Recreation Center/Center 4 Life.

It also voted 5-0 to approve recommended changes by staff to the rec center’s schedule and programming, to include eliminating the registration system for the outdoor tennis and pickleball courts, indoor pickleball and open gym; registrations will be continued for the weight room.

In addition, the council voted 5-0 to reimplement the rec center’s summer youth program.

– The council voted 5-0 to advance a proposed ordinance banning gas-powered leaf blowers to a first reading at the July meeting, with a second reading in August. During discussion, council suggested changes to the draft language including pushing the effective date to 2023 and adding a decibel level.

It also voted 5-0 to proceed with proposed amendments to the city’s regulations that would allow for outdoor dining at establishments. The language will now go to the Sanibel Planning Commission.

– Smith was presented with the Florida League of Cities’ Home Rule HERO Award by Rachel Keesling, executive director of the Southwest Florida League of Cities.

– Engineering Technician John Mort was recognized for 30 years of service to the city.

– The first reading was held for a proposed ordinance amending the Sanibel Code and Land Development Code relating to formula retail stores. The second reading is set for July 20.