By Sean Hartman, the Cape Coral Watchdog
City Manager Rob Hernandez will be out of a job by August (at the latest) after the Cape Coral City Council voted 5 to 3 not to renew his contract for another year. City Manager Hernandez, who is reaching his third year in office, was not present for his own shellacking due to a conveniently scheduled surgery.
The discussion was held in a conference room before the February 1st City Council Meeting. The meeting was not video recorded like other regular meetings. Luckily this Watchdog was able to livestream the meeting … unfortunately, with poor audio and video quality.
Councilmembers Tom Hayden, Bobby Welsh, and Jessica Cosden were the lone supporters of the City Manager. Both Councilmen Welsh and Hayden cited his somewhat positive performance review, and Councilmembers Welsh and Cosden both cited the need to hire a new City Attorney and Fire Chief soon as reasons for their opposition. Councilwoman Cosden, who had rows with the City Manager over Del Prado & De Navarre, felt that one concern was not justification for ending his contract.
On the performance review, it should be noted that the review was conducted by the previous City Council, of which two members have since been replaced in the November election. One new council member, Patty Cummings, had a vastly different opinion than her predecessor (Jennifer Nelson.) In addition, even with that different Council, the City Manager’s average review score was 3.4 out of 5, or just slightly above average.
That last point was hit on by both Mayor John Gunter and District 6 Councilman Keith Long, both of whom asked whether we wanted to be an “average city or an exceptional city?” Mayor John Gunter had some areas where he believed the City Manager did poorly and others, like economic development, where he excelled. But, he concluded that an average City Manager was not good enough for Cape Coral.
“Everything that I’ve tried to do in life has always been exceptional,” said Mayor Gunter, which sounds like an arrogant statement, but he clearly meant that he has tried to be exceptional in everything he does.
Mayor Gunter continued. “Have I failed sometimes? Absolutely. But I always strive to be exceptional. I try to give 110%. I can honestly say the five years that I’ve had the honor to serve our community, I thought I would get more accomplished than I thought. When I look at our current City Manager’s record, I see an average individual. For me, you have to ask yourself, is that the type of person you are looking for, or are you looking for exceptional?”
“I’m a firm believer that he works for us,” said Mayor Gunter. “We are accountable to the residents of this city. Now there have been points and times, several of them actually, where it seems that he had an agenda himself to get from Point A to Point B. I don’t agree with that. Is the tail wagging the dog or is the dog wagging the tail? And in many cases, I think the tail tries to wag the dog.”
Councilman Long said he gave the City Manager the lowest performance review, and spoke to the City Manager about it back in October. But, according to Councilman Long, none of these issues have been resolved, citing consistent permitting problems and the Waste Pro lawsuit as examples.
District 2 Councilman Dan Sheppard had a long list of grievances for the City Manager, ranging from pathological lying to low morale with city workers.
“How can we as a team succeed when we’re misled, we’re lied to, we’re not given proper information?” asked Councilman Sheppard.
But perhaps the most damning of his reasons was the revelation that the City did not use dozens of electronic billboards to inform the public during Hurricane Ian.
For those that may have blocked the trauma from their brains already, after Hurricane Ian hit, many residents had no access to power, and even more, had no access to the Internet. During those first few days, residents could only rely on analog information sources.
Yet the City Government continued to publish online videos and updates as if that was the best way to keep residents informed. Councilman Sheppard claimed to have later discovered “hundreds of electronic billboards sitting there that we never used” at Lake Kennedy, which he felt was justification enough not to renew the City Manager’s contract.
“Rob told me it was not possible to billboard all across the city and he refused to do it,” said Councilman Sheppard. “We refused to communicate with the citizens of our city in the most horrible disaster most of us ever witnessed in our life. To me, that is one reason and the sole reason why this man should go.”
District 4 Councilwoman Patty Cummings said the City Manager has lied to her as well, but the final straw for her was his failure to secure federal and state funding for the Utilities Expansion Project. This failure is why residents in the North 1 UEP will be assessed more than $35,000 per lot, which could leave families in the area with a six-figure debt to the city.
“What really got me was the UEP,” said Councilwoman Cummings. “I represent District 4, but I represent the City of Cape Coral and if I have to help Keith Long and I have to help Jessica Cosden to save some citizens and those residents, then that’s what I’m going to do.”
Councilwoman Cummings then proceeded with a passionate plea to the people populated proximal to her physical position about the problems persisting with the price for the UEP. (This example of alliteration is brought to us by the letter P.)
“The UEP is a very serious matter,” said Councilwoman Cummings.
“Your average resident in the Northwest has 2-3 lots. Do you know how much they’re going to be paying? It’s not $33,000-$34,000, they’re going to be paying $70,000-$120,000. That does not include the 30-year, 6.5%…could be a quarter of a million dollars for a resident in the Northwest. And NOBODY even tried to find Federal or State funding. Now, I have a problem with that, I really do. Because if I don’t fight for them then I didn’t do my job! I am not going to just go along to go along because that’s not why we are voted in.”
Councilwoman Cummings’ passion found its equal but opposite reaction in District 3 Councilman Tom Hayden’s response. The normally reserved and soft-spoken Councilman let his frustrations fly.
“If you guys think that the perfect City Manager is out there, you’re living in a different world,” said Councilman Hayden. “A little history…Terry Stewart, same thing. John Szerlag, same thing. Two or three City Managers before that, same thing. Council changes out, they’re disgruntled, they’re upset, they present inaccurate information…boom, all of a sudden the City Manager’s out and we’re searching again because we think we have a better person out there.”
(It should be noted that Szerlag allegedly committed tax fraud with city revenues and Stewart resigned because he did not like the new Mayor.)
Councilman Hayden accused his colleagues of pursuing personal agendas and implied that Councilman Sheppard’s “hundreds of electronic billboard” was a lie or at least exaggerated.
“Of course it’s personal, these are your personal agendas,” said Councilman Hayden. “We’ve got to be real careful. Defamation of a person’s character, mentioned many times today. The man had his evaluation last year.”
District 1 Councilman Bill Steinke was the only neutral Councilmember, saying that he did not have enough information to make an honest assessment, but noted that during the campaign, residents asked him to fire the City Manager. He also stated that he was hearing many of the allegations about the city manager (from Councilmembers Long, Sheppard, and Cummings) for the first time due to Sunshine Law restrictions.
Unfortunately, this was not something that could be kicked down the road. The City Council had until February 11th to provide Rob Hernandez the necessary six-month window that his contract would not be renewed; otherwise, it would renew automatically per the contract stipulations.
Councilman Long asked Councilman Steinke to think about why residents would ask him to fire the City Manager and to note the concerns of himself and his colleagues in his decision-making process.
Councilman Steinke reluctantly ended up being the deciding vote not to renew.
Marines like Murray Bryant are taught to tough it out. Grind through the pain.
In early 2021, Bryant noticed he would sometimes lose his balance, and his golf game wasn’t up to par. Something just wasn’t right.
Rather than grin and bear it, Bryant visited a doctor.
After a few tests and visits to different doctors, he was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer, which had spread up his body and into his brain. Within a matter of days, physicians at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Lee Health and Advocate Radiation Oncology collaborated to develop an individualized treatment plan that included infusions of cancer-fighting drugs and radiation oncology.
“There are several factors that give cancer patients the best chance of survival, including expert physicians, state-of-the-art technology and an early diagnosis,” said Dr. Arie Dosoretz, managing partner at Advocate Radiation Oncology.
“No one knows your body better than you do. If something doesn’t feel right, get a medical opinion as soon as possible.”
That quick decision led Bryant to Dosoretz’s office, where cancerous lesions involving his brain were treated with stereotactic radiation, a form of radiotherapy that precisely targets and kills cancer cells in one to five treatments while minimizing treatment to healthy surrounding tissue. That often means patients experience fewer side effects like fatigue, nausea, skin changes and hair loss.
At one point, cancer patients had to undergo many weeks of radiation treatments. Advances in technology, however, mean skilled physicians can effectively destroy cancer cells in just a few visits, sometimes requiring only a single treatment.
“My goal is to get patients out of here,” Dosoretz said. “I want them to be at home doing whatever they love to do – not spending time in the doctor’s office.”
While Bryant was undergoing treatments, he hung up his golf clubs in favor of a paintbrush. The Fort Myers resident discovered liquid acrylic art, or fluid art, which is an abstract painting technique. It allowed Bryant to express his creativity while resting, a key component in recovery.
“I try to achieve some beauty in the art that I do,” Bryant said. “I’m not looking for accolades. I just enjoy seeing my results.”
With help from his daughter, Bryant has sold some of his canvas pieces on Etsy and continues painting for enjoyment. Now more than a year removed from his treatments, Bryant is back enjoying life as a retiree in Southwest Florida.
“My golf game still sucks, but other than that, I feel fine,” he joked.
Like all cancer patients, Bryant is continuing to stay in touch with doctors and recognizes he’s in good hands. Despite the close call two years ago, he isn’t overly concerned about a recurrence.
“Oh no,” Bryant said. “God’s got me and knows where to find me when he wants me.”
Cape Coral residents are invited to join the City in support of Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife’s (CCFW) fifth annual Ground Owl Day.
The event will be held at 10 a.m. on Thursday, February 2, at Pelican Baseball Complex, 4128 Pelican Boulevard. Ground Owl Day pays homage to the burrowing owl and, just like the groundhog in Punxsutawney, PA, each year, we look to the owl for guidance on what kind of weather to expect in the next six weeks.
“This event is our way of localizing the classic Groundhog Day and making it our own,” said CCFW Ground Owl Day Event Coordinator Pascha Donaldson. “It’s also an excellent opportunity to spread awareness and provide education on Cape Coral’s burrowing owls.”
This year’s event will feature Mayor John Gunter reading the Ground Owl Day Proclamation and NBC2 Meteorologist Rob Dunns as the Master of Ceremonies. The event will conclude with a determination of whether Southwest Florida’s “winter weather” will continue for another six weeks or end sooner.
For more information on CCFW, visit www.ccfriendsofwildlife.org.
By Sean Hartman, Cape Coral Watchdog
Citizens Input Time
Former District 1 Councilwoman Gloria Raso Tate, now a private citizen, let people know of two separate events:
- On January 31, there will be a FEMA workshop on flood insurance at the Kiwanis Club of Cape Coral at 6:30 P.M. This event is not in relation to Hurricane Ian.
- On February 16th, the Cape Coral Historical Museum will be holding a heart health event from 12 PM to 4:30 PM, with speakers, medical checkups, and a blood drive.
Lori Lerman walks her dog on SW 38th Terrace with a bright light that is hard to miss, a light she bought for visual aid. Despite this, it is unsafe to walk down that street as the 30 MPH road leads to speeding drivers. Lori and her neighbors want something done, either by making the road one-way or adding speed bumps.
District 2 Councilman Dan Sheppard confirmed he received multiple calls about that neighborhood and is speaking to the City Manager about increasing traffic enforcement.
After recent traffic changes to the Del Prado & De Navarre intersection, which now prevents certain turns, residents in the Entrada community and the surrounding Gator Circle area are concerned about unsafe U-turns. The Del Prado & De Navarre intersection is awaiting a traffic light [https://capestylemag.com/2023/01/18/council-watch-recap-of-meeting-on-jan-11th/]. Because of these measures, drivers are making U-turns at the Entrada entrance, creating what residents are calling a “recipe for disaster.”
City Manager Rob Hernandez said that, if the problem persists at the Entrada entrance, the city can implement the same traffic controls as at the De Navarre intersection. He confirmed police are at that location regularly, but stated that drivers “need time to acclimate.”
In the meantime, Entrada residents will just have to acclimate to more danger and risk when leaving their community, as will students waiting for the school bus.
Jill Hyatt, a member of the Lake Kennedy Senior Acting Group, wants to know where they can rehearse for a show but cannot get an answer as to when FEMA will be vacating the site. She has spoken to FEMA, Lake Kennedy, and Lee County Emergency Management about when they can rehearse on stage.
City Manager Rob Hernandez recommended the Senior Acting Group find another venue as FEMA could remain at Lake Kennedy for an indefinite amount of time, suggesting Cultural Park Theater as a potential option.
“At the moment, the FEMA Disaster Recovery Center is a priority for the community,” said the City Manager. District 3 Councilman Tom Hayden suggested Four Freedoms Park as an option as well.
Christian Whittish, representing the North Fort Myers Student Government, informed the Council the school will be hosting an autism walk on April 1st on Moody Field at 9:30 AM. He invited the Cape Coral City Council to the event and said they can speak about their support for special populations.
District 7 Councilwoman Jessica Cosden, who has a child on the autism spectrum, thanked Christian for the invitation and requested he email the information.
Rod Austin of Cape Harbour wants more information on tidal conditions and slack time at Chiquita Lock as well as to have bumpers put up to protect boats from debris on the side of the wall. District 3 Councilman Tom Hayden asked why slack time isn’t there, and the City Manager mentioned he would look into and bring that information back.
Food Truck Regulations Pass
After several years of discussions and failures, excitement and support, the City Council finally voted in new mobile food truck regulations. The regulations have been discussed over the past year and will create zoning regulations to allow for mobile food truck courts and will require food trucks not connected to food truck courts to move daily.
The ordinance was vehemently opposed by District 4 Councilwoman Patty Cummings who came out swinging in opposition to more regulations for small businesses.
“This is a serious matter tonight that we are about to vote on,” said Councilwoman Cummings. “We are talking about small business owners. We are talking about entrepreneurs that have worked hard to get where they are, mom and pop shops.”
Councilwoman Cummings asked why mobile food trucks on private property are a problem for the city. She would end up spending almost an hour battling her Council colleagues in a one-woman pro-business crusade.
District 5 Councilman Bobby Welsh, who supports the ordinance, responded calmly to Councilwoman Cummings’ critical concerns about costly codes against food truck vendors.
“We’re not trying to take away from small business by doing this,” said Councilman Welsh.
“We’re just trying to make sure that mobile food vendors are vendors. This just means you have to move and you have to comply with the city.”
District 2 Councilman Dan Sheppard also disagreed with Councilwoman Cummings. He noted that this has been discussed for the past year and that mobile food truck vendors are aware of these new regulations coming forward.
Councilmembers Keith Long and Jessica Cosden also agreed with Councilwoman Cummings’ concerns about daily mobility. Both said they would like the food truck courts separated. However, only Councilmembers Patty Cummings and Jessica Cosden voted against the ordinance. Councilman Long voted in favor.
Former Military Museum Being Used to Store Furniture
The City Council approved an agreement with United Way to utilize the vacant lot of the former Southwest Florida Military Museum and Library.
The location will be used by United Way and the Cape Coral Caring Center to store furniture being distributed to residents affected by Hurricane Ian. So if you see storage containers where the Military Museum used to be, that is what you are seeing.
United Way and the Caring Center will use the location until June with an additional six months renewal optional.
Businesses to See Property Tax Exemptions
The City Council codified a ballot initiative approved by the voters which would give a property tax exemption to new and growing businesses in certain categories.
It is unclear whether everyday residents will be seeing the same type of property tax exemptions that businesses get.
Councilwoman Cummings Wants Federal Funds for UEP
District 4 Councilwoman Patty Cummings has been speaking to one of Cape Coral’s Congressman, Byron Donalds, about getting federal funds. According to Councilwoman Cummings, Congressman Donalds is open to earmarking the funds.
Mayor John Gunter spoke with the Congressman as well and Congressman Donalds recommended that they speak with a lobbyist and see what is available first.
Interesting that even the City Council needs a lobbyist to get things done.
The Chiquita Landscape project started this week in SW Cape and will focus on enhancing the streetscape design for the local neighborhood on Chiquita Blvd from SW 49th Street to SW 54th Terrace.
The newly enhanced landscape design will improve tree canopy coverage throughout the corridor and benefit the environment while elevating neighborhood aesthetics.
- Expected completion: mid-summer 2023
- Impacted area of Chiquita Blvd: SW 49th Street to SW 54th Terrace
- The project will include intermittent minor lane closures to local traffic