As you may notice, Council Watch has returned home to CapeStyle Magazine. The hurricane hit my family hard, but we recovered well. I had taken the month of October off to focus on them and to get back to normal, but now things are normal-ish enough. Thank you all so much for your patience with this hiatus.
Citizens’ Input Time
Tom Shadrach, a candidate for Mayor of Cape Coral, explained that residents contacted him about a construction debris site at Chiquita & Gleason to which he referred as a “mess.” The site sits in a residential neighborhood which could cause future health problems for those living there.
“It’s not right, these people could end up with some real serious health problems,” said Tom. “I’m speaking on behalf of those citizens. Why aren’t we taking all that [construction debris] to the Festival Park location? That would be a good place to put something like that. You’re just creating another liability for our city.”
District 2 Councilman Dan Sheppard spoke about this issue (briefly interrupted by a Hello Moto sound, if you listen closely), seeing as the site was located in his district. In an M. Night Shyamalan-esque twist, Councilman Sheppard defended the construction dump in a residential community.
“Nobody planned to have five-feet of water in their house. Nobody planned for a tree to fall on their automobile. Nobody planned…nobody planned to lose electricity. And nobody planned to put a dump in District 2 in that neighborhood,” said Councilman Sheppard.
“These are all things we have to deal with, to overcome what happened to our city. And we’re all going to suffer. Everyone in this city is going to suffer somewhat. We’re all going to suffer to some level ‘til we get things in order.”
(Councilman Sheppard then put on black makeup, put on headphones, and began blaring emo music. Jennifer Nelson then asked him what was wrong before he screamed “Nothing matters, Mom!”) ***
City Manager Rob Hernandez explained that the Debris Management Plan set up the sites well in advance of the hurricane and were “ permitted and approved” by the State.
“We don’t have the ability to arbitrarily set up Debris Management Sites anywhere throughout the city unless they are part of the Debris Management Plan approved by the State,” explained Hernandez.
Hernandez explained that the Gleason-Chiquita Dump was chosen because of the build-out in the North and the locations of city-owned land. He explained these are strategic decisions and are not meant to punish any particular neighborhood…which no one was thinking about until he brought it up.
Tom also asked for a status report on the Yacht Club and was critical of the slow response.
“It’s interesting that Fort Myers Beach is already out there cleaning out their sand. Sanibel, which is completely decimated, they already have an engineering team getting back their lighthouse, their iconic structure, working on that,” said Tom. “Our iconic area, the Yacht Club, I haven’t heard anything on the news or in the Council about the status. I’m sure the Boathouse wants to get open as soon as they can.”
Lou Navarro, after a failed comedy routine, once again advocated for a reprieve on the Public Service Tax exemption.
Hurricane Recovery Update
Cape Coral’s Trash Czar Terry Schweitzer gave a brief report to the City Council on debris removal, explaining that all right-of-ways have been cleared and, as of November 2nd, 1 million cubic yards of debris has been collected, with approximately 41,000 removed daily. If residents do see debris in a right-of-way, they are advised to call 3-1-1 so it can be safely disposed of. More than 185 trucks and more than 500 personnel are working on debris removal.
A major barrier to this task are wires which require specialized handling. Trash Czar Terry explained that this is why residents have seen linemen and city workers stopping their vehicles in the middle of the street…it’s because of the wires and not because the city workers were planning a flash mob. *
Trash Czar Terry explained that 21 subzones (locations) have had a “first pass of vegetation” cleared, with construction debris ongoing; 14 subzones with both vegetation and construction debris removal ongoing; 11 subzones are completely cleared of vegetation.
Trash Czar Terry also mentioned the five debris sites are operating with security and privacy fencing. By the time you are reading this, the debris will have begun being hauled out to that special Trash Heap in the Sky, with a possible layover at the Charlotte County Landfill.
Trash Czar Terry told the Council that Waste Pro will begin collecting horticulture trash as normal on November 14th. Waste Pro asks residents to have their horticulture to be put in personal cans and yard waste bags and separate from storm debris. In response, residents are asking Waste Pro to pay the $2 million in fines they owe but which were swept under the rug.
Permitting to Start Getting Easier … Probably … Maybe
There may finally be an end to the EnerGov debacle, according to the City Manager’s Office.
As of November 1st, almost 3600 emergency permits have been successfully filed, mostly at City Hall, though the Cape Coral Art Center, which has doubled as a FEMA base of operations, is taking in about 6% of those applications.
EnerGov has taken 1924 permits and will open for new permit applications on November 14th. The big new innovation will be “push-button” permits for twelve permit types. The goal would be to streamline the permitting process for those twelve types, with the first types to include common emergency permits, such as A/C changeout, emergency electrical, and residential fencing, with all set to be out by December 5th.
Councilman Tate’s Last Day
District 1 Councilwoman Gloria Raso Tate, the second longest-serving Councilmember after Tony Rotino, will have one less responsibility to juggle. The winner of Tuesday’s Election will be inaugurated on November 16th. Philanthropist Dr. Carol Rae Culliton and realtor Bill Steinke are both vying to succeed her. The winner should be revealed by Tuesday evening, barring any glitches from the voting machines (which, of course, would never happen.)
Councilwoman Tate received high praise from District 3 Councilman Tom Hayden, echoed by all of his colleagues.
“The only thing she ever put first was other people,” said Councilman Hayden. “She dedicated her life to helping other people, making this community, which has been her home since the 60s, her life. Her dedication to community is unprecedented and I was happy she was happy to join us for this last year or so.”
Councilwoman Raso Tate’s official last day is November 16th.
Aggressive Tactics, Ballot Harvesting, and Bribery Amongst Accusations
By Sean D. Hartman
Being “The Cape Coral Watchdog,” I am usually only focused on Cape Coral politics. However, multiple sources have now come to me directly concerning serious allegations of both ballot harvesting and bribery from Fort Myers City Councilwoman Terolyn Watson.
This story has previously been covered by local news networks, though no source at the time was willing to come forward publicly. This was also the case in my initial investigation, where five sources refused to go on record, and one backed out a week ago.
The story was essentially dead until an anonymous source sent The Cape Coral Watchdog a video of an elderly woman alleging that Councilwoman Terolyn Watson took her ballot with her consent. The video can be found here.
Since then, four other sources came forward anonymously detailing different altercations with the Fort Myers Councilwoman.
One individual explained that his 80-year-old grandmother saw Councilwoman Watson on the street campaigning, and told her she was supporting her opponent, Chantel Rhoades. Councilwoman Watson had asked to put a sign up on her property, but his grandmother said no. Later, when the grandson came to check on the grandmother, the sign was on her property without permission.
“She saw Ms. Watson across the street,” said the grandson of his grandmother. “She didn’t recognize her; she didn’t know who she was. She just thought she was speaking to one her of neighbors across the street.”
“Ms. Watson came over and started to introduce herself,” the grandson continued. “My grandmother stated to her ‘Well, I’m voting for Chantel.’ And she [Terolyn] insisted that was okay. She insisted on putting her sign in the yard and my grandmother told her that she was voting for Chantel and wanted to make that clear.”
The most damning allegation was a Fort Myers resident who alleges that Councilwoman Watson bribed her with $20 and clothes for her children for school in exchange for her vote. The resident explained she did the ballot in front of Councilwoman Watson the Monday before Primary Election Day, at which point Councilwoman Watson took the ballot.
“It was a group of us,” she said. “She paid us $20 and said she’d buy our children school clothes if we voted for her. She watched us fill out her name and she took it and turned it in herself.”
Another resident said that Councilwoman Watson took her mother’s ballot saying that she was being “pushy,” with a third resident also witnessed bribery, saying that Councilwoman Watson was “promising this and promising that, that Terolyn lady. You don’t do no [expletive] like that.”
It may come to a surprise, especially after recent electoral reforms, but ballot harvesting in itself is not illegal, even for a candidate, though there are limits to how many ballots someone can have on their person at one time. However, bribery for votes IS illegal. It is also crucial to note that, outside of witness testimony, there is no evidence of illegal activity from Terolyn Watson that has been uncovered as of this writing.
A request for comment was made to the Terolyn Watson campaign, but received no response.
He’s survived the clutches of an alligator’s jaw, and now he’s reporting for duty. I’m talking of course about Gunner, now Detective Gunner as he was recently deputized by Sheriff Carmine Marceno.
Gunner made national headlines after a Florida Wildlife Federation video was released of his father, Rick Wilbanks, rescuing the five-week-old puppy from the grip of an alligator. The now-famous video showed Rick jumping into the lake and prying the gator’s jaws open to rescue his puppy, all while never dropping his cigar.
Wilbanks told CapeStyle Magazine that he had just gotten the puppy from the breeder and had no idea the incident was recorded. But the daring rescue was recorded, and Rick and Gunner won the hearts of Americans everywhere.
One of those individuals was Sheriff Carmine Marceno, who believed that Gunner and his story could help educate people about water safety. In a ceremony last week, Gunner raised his right paw and swore an oath to the Constitution, making him the newest Deputy Dog as a detective and “safety officer” due to his personal experience. Detective Gunner is now authorized to give official tips about safety and reports directly to Lt. Bosco.
Rick, who developed a close relationship with Sheriff Marceno, is excited that Gunner can serve his community.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Rick told CapeStyle Magazine. “Taking something that could have been a tragedy and turning it into something good. I’m happy.”
Starting in January, Detective Gunner will be going to schools to talk about water safety, visit children and the elderly in hospitals and assisted living facilities, eventually even educating teenagers about driver safety.
“It [Gunner’s story] will start a conversation with people,” said Amy Dell Aquila, the Sheriff’s Community Liaison. “Conversations about how this happened, how to avoid this.”
Saturday was Detective Gunner’s first official day on the job. Stationed at the Community Resource Center at the new Brotherhood of Heroes Museum & Resource Center, Gunner was available for photos with individuals coming in for a Christmas food giveaway.
Also attending the event were Cape Coral’s newest State Representative, Mike Giallombardo, and recently elected City Councilman Tom Hayden, both of whom helped distributed food to local families.
The Deputy Dogs program is a recent program which engages the community using superhero-like “deputy dogs”, spreading specific messages about safety to Lee County residents and guests. The first deputy dog was Deputy Chance, Sheriff Marceno’s own rescue dog, who is now Lee County’s Goodwill Ambassador.
Deputy Chance has since been joined by a team of capable deputies, including Lt. Bosco, Kylo, Bowden, and Dasher. Some deputy dogs have specific skills. For example, GiGi is the deputy’s animal abuse analyst, Mad Dog is an undercover operative, and the bloodhounds Maggie and Mercy search for missing children.
Cape Coral has their own patron deputy dog as well, named Prince. Prince, or “The Prince of Cape Coral” is a debonair poodle who is the team’s public relations officer. Who’s a good boy, representing his hometown? Prince is!
In fact, all these deputy dogs are good boys and girls, serving their communities. Detective Gunner is in good company.
The task that Sandra Worth takes on as Executive Director of My Autism Connection is not an easy one. Running the nonprofit requires her to be a sort of mother to dozens of autistic children and adults, and a counsel for parents who are scared about their futures. She does this all without pay, and with only two paid part-time staffers to assist her.
But her endeavors have done wonders for the autistic community, helping individuals who usually have social difficulties master the skills needed to live independently and to make friends. The members are given lessons from psychologists about interpersonal skills, or career coaches about building a resume, as well as experts from various career fields giving hands-on lessons about their jobs.
Currently, My Autism Connection is looking to raise money to open a new office. While the original purpose of this article was to provide some press to this worthy cause, I wanted to take the opportunity to publicize a much bigger issue in the autism community, which is the lack of services for what we really need.
The sad truth is that most services for autistic individuals are paternalistic in nature. I would be remiss to even include MAC in its early years—myself being one of the original members. This reflects the common misconceptions about the autism community that could best be described as “children with the minds of supercomputers.”
Autism Speaks is a perfect example of this. The extremely popular autism charity group receives its sharpest criticism from the autistic community. It currently has no autistic members on its board of directors. The last one resigned in 2007 citing a controversial ad that compared autism to losing a child. This is the extreme end of what many in the autism community must deal with in terms of charities designed to help us.
What My Autism Connection does is different. They don’t treat their autistic members as equals: they treat them as leaders, decision-makers in their own destiny. The lessons they learn and the services they provide are chosen by them, not by parents or administrative officials, or psychologists. They choose democratically.
Autistic individuals need to be seen more as leaders in society. This includes in businesses and civil society. Decisions about us should be made by us. My Autism Connection grows their autistic members into becoming such leaders.
Please consider giving to them this #GivingTuesday.
Cape Coral has historically been known as the town for the “newlywed and nearly dead.” But a group of young activists have been tapped by the City Council to change that image.
The Cape Coral Youth Council is preparing it’s Fall Gala, an extravagant event that will the public to interact with local community leaders, including members of the Youth Council.
The Youth Council is an advisory committee to the City Council, currently being advised by Councilman Rick Williams. They have made great strides in this role, speaking to the League of Cities last year, where they won an award for “Blessings in a Backpack,” a charity fighting childhood hunger.
Fall Gala is the Youth Council’s “Senior Project”, which will
promote what the Youth Council does. The Council will have their own
presentation and catering and are currently looking for sponsors and
raffle donations, with gold sponsors costing $500 and silver sponsors
costing $250. Mayor Joe Coviello announced at a recent City Council
meeting he would provide a $2500 donation for a sponsorship.
“We want to show the businesses in Cape Coral,” said Jason Brandish, one of the presenters. “We want to show how great our city is.”
the Youth Council’s Fall Gala, the Council is fighting for local
concerns such as school bus stops, city appearances, and school
security, and are preparing a pilot program with different schools to
clean up local bus stops, similar to Adopt-A-Road.
The Fall Gala will be held on September 14that 6 P.M. at Kiwanis Hall on Santa Barbara Blvd. It is open to members of all ages, with a tentative agenda of a catered dinner, music, city official presentations, and a raffle. The proceeds will go to Blessings in a Backpack, the Youth Council’s legacy charity. Tickets will be $30 for adults, $5 for children.
For questions or more information, or to purchase tickets, please contact Connie Griglin at firstname.lastname@example.org.