by SC Reporter Reese Holiday
When Mick Denham first got to Sanibel, he was only able to enjoy the island for weeks at a time.
Denham took a job as a management consultant in Hong Kong. There, he would spend 13 to 14 weeks of his time working overseas. But after four years of a back and forth affair between the small island of Sanibel and the big city of Hong Kong, Denham took an interest in something else.
“When I got tired of the incessant travel to Asia, which is pretty tough on your body, I then retired again from my consulting life and began to take an interest in local politics,” Denham said. “I was eventually asked by a number of people if I would consider running for city council.”
That interest in local politics turned into a 16-year career on the Sanibel City Council with Denham winning his first election in 2005, according to the city’s website. He then was re-elected three more times and served as Sanibel’s mayor and vice mayor during that tenure.
But when reflecting on his time serving Sanibel, Denham remembers the island selecting him to first be on city council without really knowing who he was.
“Quite frankly, nobody knew who I was,” Denham said. “Nobody knew who the hell I was because I hadn’t done very much on the island. To my complete surprise, I did win the election that I ran.”
Now, Denham is serving as the well-known mayor of Sanibel, but his time on city council will come to an end after his term expires in March. He is not seeking reelection. With this, Denham said that his impact on Sanibel before joining city council was small, but he helped put a lot of projects together that made the island what it is today.
One of those projects was allowing for outdoor dining on the island, something that was prohibited when Denham first arrived. He also promoted safety by being one of the prime motivators in helping move Periwinkle road away from Sanibel’s shared use path to create a median between cars and pedestrians.
More recently, Denham has been an advocate for masks on the island to reduce the spread of COVID-19. In his advocacy, Denham started a mayor’s mask challenge that awards prizes to the most creative masks, promoting safety and creativity. He also put up a sign right at Sanibel’s entrance that welcomed island goers and reminded them to wear a mask.
But with these projects, Denham said they don’t get accomplished without some time spent off of the island.
“The other thing, which people don’t often realize, is how much of a councilmen’s life on Sanibel is spent outside of the city,” Denham said. “Particularly, we spend a lot of time engaging, visiting and talking with our state legislatures.”
Denham said he did this often, but especially for the improvement of Sanibel’s water quality. He did so by helping in the fight to make Sanibel the first city in Florida to have a fertilizer ordinance. According to the city’s website, that ordinance was passed in 2007 and reduces the use of fertilizers during rainy periods, which in turn can reduce the amount of red tide in Sanibel’s waters.
However, despite this progress, Denham said he was criticized by his colleagues for spending too much time away from Sanibel. He said while he did spend his fair share of time talking to the state level, he believes it was all to improve Sanibel and the water that surrounds it.
“Very early on in my career on the council, I was criticized by my council colleagues,” Denham said about talking to the state. “I believe then, and I believe now, that we protect our island best by doing a lot of work and agitating to improve water quality.”
But even with this early criticism, and other challenges Denham faced, he said it has been an honor and a privilege to serve Sanibel for as long as he did. His hard work has been recognized throughout the years, such as earning the esteemed Florida League of Cities Home Rule Hero award four times. He said while he has enjoyed his time on city council, he is looking forward to the time where he can enjoy his family’s company.
“I’m looking forward to my retirement, I must confess,” Denham said. “I have 10 grandchildren and I want to spend a little more time traveling to see those folks once this pandemic is over.”
Denham’s first years on Sanibel were spent across the seas, serving the consulting industry. Over the past 16 years, he fell away from that to serve the people of Sanibel. Now, Denham reflected on the successes and mistakes during this tenure but emphasized his primary objective of putting the island first.
“I’ve had some successes and I’ve made a few mistakes, as you would expect over 16 years,” Denham said. “But I have always put the health and safety of Sanibel systems first, and I’ve aimed to make the island a place where people enjoy visiting and then wanted to stay.”