Council Watch — Recap of meeting on Feb 8th

Council Watch — Recap of meeting on Feb 8th

By Sean Hartman, the Cape Coral Watchdog

Citizens Input Time

Representatives of the Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife expressed concerns about the “overzealous” clearing out of canals after Hurricane Ian, destroying the fauna in the process.  They showed multiple photos of the damage, including owl burrows and gopher tortoise habitats that were destroyed.  Contractors have also destroyed the habitat of the endangered limpkin bird.

Friends of Wildlife noted that the mandate for these contractors is to clear hurricane debris, not destroy wildlife and natural habitats.  They also disputed claims from the city that gopher tortoise habitats are marked, saying that multiple habitats are not marked because gopher tortoises are wild and free and can go where they want because they aren’t confined by such things as traffic rules or other government regulations.

Michelle Mold, a member of CCFW board, read angry emails from other Friends of Wildlife members. 

“Everything that was beautiful about the canals has been destroyed for nothing.  The people destroyed some of the very essences that make our area what it is…got a truckload of money and we got destruction…and still have trash!”

Jim Collier had another, more malicious theory as to why this was going.  Jim speculated that the contractors were clearing wildlife without a permit for the benefit of builders and developers, allowing them to clear out natural obstacles without applying for the proper permitting and doing it in an environmentally sound way.  Solid Waste Manager Terry Schweitzer disputed this claim, saying the contractors were not being used to “promote [urban] growth.”

The Friends of Wildlife asked the City Council to enforce current environmental regulations, either through Park Rangers or Public Works.

Public Works Director Mike Ilczyczyn wanted to be clear that the City has heard their concerns and has actively worked on them. Ilczyczyn said he has gone out to contractors in the field to ensure compliance, though it came with a heaping side of sass, noting that when this was done in prior hurricanes, the Friends of Wildlife were nowhere to be found.

“We’ve done this in the past,” said Director Ilczyczyn.  “Their level of advocacy has not been here in those previous storms.  They’re here now and we accept what they are advocating on behalf.  They are part of our community, just like any other group.”

According to Director Ilczyczyn, the wildlife removal is necessary to clear the hurricane debris, and therefore the destruction is inevitable. 

“It’s not perfect,” said Director Iczyczyn.  “I understand what they’re advocating and we realize that.  The contractors and the debris monitors, their job is to make sure it’s not the free-for-all that is being described.  The end result of that is going to be they’re going to saw-cut it, they’re going to remove all of that green canopy plus anything to get to it, and then they’re just going to fold it back.”

He explained that contractors are authorized to clear wildlife to get to debris, saying they were advised by the Natural Resource Conservation Society that the activities are “eligible activities for shoreline refurbishment.”  Unfortunately, a quick Google search comes up with 0 results for the Natural Resource Conservation Society.  

He may mean the Natural Resource Conservation Service, a federal agency within the US Department of Agriculture, but Director Ilczyczyn said the Natural Resource Conservation Society would need federal funding to assist Cape Coral, which wouldn’t be an issue if they were dealing with a government agency already receiving federal funding.

So who is the Natural Resource Conservation Society?  I am inquiring with city staff and will bring you more as it develops.

District 7 Councilwoman Jessica Cosden grilled city staff on this issue, starting by asking if contractors can be cited for violating city ordinances, including environmental protection regulations.  Terry Schweitzer confirmed they can if it is outside what is allowed in the emergency permit.  

Councilwoman Cosden then cited a specific video of a contractor driving over an owl burrow. This prompted a dodgy response from Director Ilczyczyn, who said they needed to check Governor DeSantis’ executive order to see whether or not they can cite a contractor for destroying a burrowing owl habitat unnecessarily.  That way, when they say they can’t do anything, they can make Governor DeSantis the scapegoat.

Councilwoman Cosden asked if contractors were allowed to drive on private lots, which Schweitzer confirmed they cannot, and asked if contractors have any wildlife expertise or certifications.

“They’re not required to be biologists or any type of certification like that,” said Schweitzer.  “We provide them early on information on burrowing owls, gopher tortoises, things like that, and then if there is a question that comes up about some sort of wildlife, the work stops and we talk about it.”

Finally, Councilwoman Cosden asked if the city was coordinating with the Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife to mark unmarked owl burrows.  The answer was quite surprising.  Terry Schweitzer told the Council that they were not coordinating directly, using the 3-1-1 tip line to identify the burrows, and then sending city staff to verify.

The Friend of Wildlife have traditionally worked with the City of Cape Coral to mark these locations, though Director Ilczyczyn explained that he “talked” with the CCFW about their activities. He told Council that because the CCFW is not a government agency, they can be arrested for trespassing if marking a burrowing owl on private property, but admitting that their help is valuable because they do not have enough staffers to mark the burrows.  He confirmed that they are not working with the CCFW at this time, despite this lack of staff resources.

“Something about this just isn’t right to me,” said Councilwoman Cosden.  “I feel like we can do more.  I don’t know how, but maybe reconsider the contracts that we have because what I’m hearing doesn’t match what people are seeing and sending me…videos and pictures and descriptions, it doesn’t match.  So I don’t know if we need to monitor the monitors, or reconsider who’s doing this.  The City just had an event featuring a burrowing owl.  I just don’t think we’re doing enough.”

District 2 Councilman Dan Sheppard thanked the CCFW for “dedicating their time to protect the wildlife.”  But in a twist worthy of an M. Night Shyamalan movie, Councilman Sheppard also praised city staff for “educating us on the process.”

“It seems to me that there’s no intent of malice,” said Councilman Sheppard.  “I think staff respect wildlife as well and it seems to me like they are going to do what they can to improve.  I think they are going to make every effort to improve the process.”

District 4 Councilwoman Patty Cummings asked if the city looks at cleanup sites beforehand to notate wildlife that may need to be safely moved.  Schweitzer explained there is pre-work done to see how the debris can be removed.  

District 3 Councilman Tom Hayden wanted to make sure that mangroves were being protected and, if needed, replanted, if removed.  District 1 Councilman Bill Steinke inquired more about the process, to which Schweitzer explained they use the least time-consuming method.

Mayor John Gunter explained that contractors have strict permits that the Army Corps of Engineers tightly regulate, but that the City must do more to ensure contractors stay within the confines of those permits.  He took offense to Director Ilczyczyn saying that the City was not a stakeholder with the CCFW. The Mayor noted the City Council approved $200,000 in funding for them, some Councilmembers are members of the organization and the recent Ground Owl Festival as examples of the city’s long-standing partnership with the wildlife organization.

Councilwoman Cummings ended the discussion by asking if there was a plan for debris storage during the burrowing owl nesting season.  Schweitzer explained they made the contractors aware of the nesting season.

City Attorney Recruiter Questioned

City Attorney Dolores Melendez is being forced into retirement by the City Council after two decades in service. During last week’s Special Meeting (the one where they gave the City Manager the boot), the City Council hired Narloch and Associates for the City Attorney search. 

Renee Narloch answered questions remotely from the Council.

When asked by Mayor John Gunter what minimum qualifications they would look for, Narloch explained the list included at least ten years of legal experience, with a focus on “local and municipal law,” a preference for Florida municipal experience, and experience in multiple areas in municipal law: environmental, constitutional, land use and zoning, and employment.

They would find someone who wasn’t necessarily risk-averse, but willing to provide all risk options when approaching legal action.  She said the City Attorney would have to be a good fit for the city and who can build trust quickly, noting Dolores’ decades of experience.  

“They are there to serve everyone,” said Narloch. “That’s what public service is.”

District 6 Councilman Keith Long did not want the 10-year experience to be a hard cap, showing concern that they would get an attorney who would see it as a retirement job.  He would rather have someone young but with experience.

District 1 Councilman Bill Steinke says he wants a City Attorney with experience in growing cities like Cape Coral.  He asked Narloch what the time frame should be for this search.  She broke down the 14-week process.

Narloch explained the process begins with a national search, noting that the City Attorney must be licensed in Florida and stating they would target Florida-licensed attorneys out-of-state who may want to return.  From there, they provide candidates with a riddle, and if they solve the riddle, they will be required to fight a dragon for a golden egg which will have a secret message that will tell them where the mermaids took a loved one.  If the loved one can be retrieved, that candidate will be presented to the City Council, at which they will either be approved, or sent to the lions to be eaten…just as the Rosen Brothers decreed back in 1960.*

This process takes about 9-10 weeks.

Mayor John Gunter asked Councilman Long how difficult it would be for an out-of-state attorney to pass the Florida bar exam, in the event they find a highly-qualified candidate without a Florida license.  Councilman Long explained that the process is different for each person, but said he spent 12 weeks of 12-hour days studying for the bar, but said it may take several months for a practicing attorney.

District 3 Councilman Tom Hayden asked how long Florida law licenses are active.  Narloch explained that the license has to be renewed regularly, which is mainly just a fee, but that many attorneys keep it active so they don’t have to sit for the bar again.  She did note that attorneys who’ve been out of the state for a long period of time may not be eligible because of their lack of recent Florida municipal experience.

Councilman Hayden asked how many of Narloch’s City Attorneys stay at least four years.  Narloch could not give an exact number, as she’s been in the recruitment game since the ‘90s, but estimates about 90% stay longer than four years.  She mentioned her longest was the Norfolk County Attorney in Virginia, who left office after 23 years, and his successor, who has been there now for eight years.  She also noted recent examples of one in Broward County (8 years) and Coconut Creek (9 years).

“It’s really about on the front end, assessing candidates for a good fit,” said Narloch.  “We’re good at that, we have a good process.”

Narloch also explained that she usually provides less than 10 candidates to the Council at the end, but all applications will be available for the City Council.  “I do not keep that to myself,” said Narloch.

Mayor Gunter wants to find a city attorney with experience in a city of a similar size to Cape Coral, as well as someone who is well-rounded in terms of legal expertise.  The Mayor wanted to know if they would provide a minimum salary, but Narloch advised against it, stating she would advertise the salary based on experience.  She mentioned the City Attorney’s and City Manager’s salaries are public records, and that City Attorney candidates may request a similar salary to the City Manager since they report directly to the Council.

“I don’t want to lose a candidate because of a number,” she said.  “I don’t like to lock us into numbers on the front end.”

District 4 Councilwoman Patty Cummings asked how the firm will weed out candidates if, hypothetically, several candidates had the exact same experience.  Narloch explained that there are multiple factors they would look at, including personal motivations, potential scandals, career accomplishments, management style, and their behavior in challenging situations.

* identified as satire in accordance with Poe’s Law



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.

Council Watch — Recap of meeting on Feb 8th

Council Watch — Recap of meeting on Jan 25th

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 [].  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.

Council Watch — Recap of meeting on Feb 8th

Council Watch — Recap of meeting on Jan 18th

By Sean Hartman, Cape Coral Watchdog

Many of you have already read the Cape Coral Daily Breeze reporting from Chuck Ballaro about the North 1 UEP assessment increase.  I am not covering that portion of the meeting in this Council Watch because Chuck did a fantastic job spelling it out in great detail and, quite frankly, I am stretched thin with numerous professional responsibilities (and need I remind my readers that I do this pro bono as a public service.

However, I do want to make sure the public is aware that this will be on the agenda at the February 2nd meeting, which will be at 4:30 P.M. at City Hall.  If you are a resident of North 1 and want to voice your opinions on this assessment increase, that would be the time to do it.

Thank you to my fellow journalists at the Daily Breeze for their extraordinary work. – Sean Hartman, The Cape Coral Watchdog

Citizens’ Input Time

(We apologize in advance for any misspellings of names.)

Bruce Marvin, a resident of District 3, spoke about affordable housing, noting a particularly overpriced house that was sold in his neighborhood, along with four others, that were purchased by a private corporation.  

“In last Sunday’s paper, I noticed a home in District 3, about blocks north of my home, selling for $2,230,227.  That sort of got my interest,” said Bruce. 

He continued to describe the average nature of the house, before adding its assessed value, is about $280,000 according to the Lee County Property Appraiser

“While selling one’s home for ten times the assessed value is good for the seller and the realtor that brokered it, I’m not sure this is good for affordable housing,” said Bruce, before expressing concern for money laundering for such purchases.

City Manager Rob Hernandez responded that the LLC in question, Lamco Asset Company 1, purchased numerous homes for the $2.2 million price, which included multiple properties.

There has been a national trend where both domestic and foreign investors purchase homes to turn into rentals.  Some of these foreign investors come from the People’s Republic of China, which has led some states, including Florida, to restrict such purchases.  

Lamco Asset Company 1 is registered as a “foreign limited-liability company” in North Carolina, with an address in Texas.  It was registered in December of last year, making the company barely a month old, yet somehow able to make multimillion-dollar real estate purchases. 

Nothing to see here, though.  Move along.

New EBDO Director, Who’s This?

Cape Coral’s Economic and Business Development Office (EBDO) has a new Director, Sharon Woodberry, who gave her first Economic Report with a stellar welcome from District 4 Councilwoman Patty Cummings.  

Director Woodberry let the Council know that Cape Coral continues to have an absurdly low unemployment rate (with the most recent numbers at 3.5%,) a 2% vacancy in commercial and office space, and less than 1% vacancy in industrial space, which the City Manager praised. 

It should be noted there are limited areas where industry can occur in Cape Coral, and even then it is only light industry.  In this case, new industrial development is occurring exclusively in the Pine Island Corridor (there is an existing industrial zone on Viscaya near Cape Coral Hospital).

Retail construction is also centered in the Pine Island Corridor, but retail construction is occurring in every City Council district except District 2 (Dan Sheppard).  These include retail growth off of Santa Barbara, Veterans Parkway, and Downtown Cape Coral.

Woodberry detailed the ‘Open for Business‘ campaign that started after Hurricane Ian to reassure regular visitors that Cape Coral is, well, open for business.

Mayor John Gunter wants to see comparative data between Cape Coral and the Southwest Florida region, particularly on retail, industrial, and office space.  Both Mayor Gunter and District 3 Councilman Tom Hayden inquired about Lee Health’s projects.  City Manager Rob Hernandez said they “have a meeting scheduled” to discuss the developments.

“I’ve always stated that the Economic Development Department here in our city is probably one of the most important departments because it’s the future of our city,” said Mayor Gunter.  He asked what the city will be doing this year to promote Cape Coral.

“We’re on the same page with you,” said Director Woodberry.  “We actually talked about a marketing strategic plan for some of our efforts to get the word out and talk about Cape Coral.”

District 1 Councilman Bill Steinke, who sits on the Tourism Development Council on behalf of Cape Coral, recommended that EBDO and the Parks and Recreation Department make a presentation to the TDC, which they can use as they market Lee County across the country.

But it was District 4 Councilwoman Patty Cummings who put Director Woodberry through the fires of tribulation.  Prior to being elected to the City Council, Patty founded and ran Astro-Durance Bungee Fitness, a fitness enterprise with global reach.

Councilwoman Cummings first asked how much of Cape Coral’s city space should be industrial.  Cape Coral is famously pre-platted, meaning only 8% of the city can be used commercially.  Industrial and commercial zoning are far different categories (would you want to go shopping next to a steel mill?)  Director Woodberry did not know, estimating 3%-5% vacancy as the standard depending on the region.

“But we’ve also seen that industrial [development] has really taken off in the last few years,” Director Woodberry added.  “There’s going to be a lot of onshoring that is happening, so those spaces are being snapped up.  It is a demand that’s there that we’re working to try to meet.”

City Manager Rob Hernandez noted additional hindrances to industrial development in Cape Coral: our lack of close proximity to an airport, railways, or interstate.

“You’ll never see us get to the point where we are comparable with other jurisdictions because we just don’t have the transportation infrastructure,” said the City Manager.

Councilwoman Cummings then asked about where EBDO is marketing and if they are utilizing current businesses and industries in marketing.  Director Woodberry mentioned they spoke to industrial businesses about supply chains and emphasized the Midwest as the target market.

“Based on some of the information we have, I think it makes sense to really hit the Midwest area hard,” said Director Woodberry.  “We see a lot of individuals who are relocating from the Chicago area here.”

When Councilwoman Cummings asked how marketing is done, City Manager Rob Hernandez answered instead of Director Woodberry.  The City Manager detailed a number of marketing strategies, including a number of conventions that the city has attended in the past.  They also market regionally in newspapers and partner with Lee County, “piggy-backing” off of their marketing strategy.

The City Manager also mentioned an advertising strategy at both RSW and Punta Gorda Airports.  “I want the Punta Gorda airport to be known as the Cape Coral airport,” said the CIty Manager.

Councilwoman Cummings asked for more details on their marketing strategy.  City Manager Rob Hernandez responded that normally they don’t provide such detail, just summaries during their reports.  Mayor John Gunter backed up Councilwoman Cummings, asking for a more detailed report on marketing strategies.

District 2 Councilman Dan Sheppard asked if EBDO seeks out manufacturers like Norco, noting that the canals in Cape Coral could attract water-based manufacturers, e.g. boats, fishing supplies. He mentioned marine industries use Cape Coral to advertise their products but do not stay.

The City Manager responded that attracting those industries is “80% advertising,” but they spoke with Nortec and Eco-Labs, the two biggest industrial companies in Cape Coral, about their difficulties, which are primarily supply chain issues. 

But the City Manager wants to focus on small businesses, not attracting “big fish.”

“Our strength is not in going after the big fish,” said the City Manager.  “Because of the challenges we have, we’re not going to land the big fish.  But it’s going after the small ones.”

Council Says NO to Moving Citizens’ Input Time

District 5 Councilman Bobby Welsh brought up his proposal to move Citizens’ Input Time to the end of the meeting.  Councilman Welsh believes this will allow for more citizens to have input because many 9-to-5 workers can’t make it to the 4:30 P.M. meeting.  

Current policy dictates that the Mayor sets the agenda and could theoretically move Citizens Input Time at will.  Mayor John Gunter, who had voiced his opposition to the proposal at a prior meeting, and reiterated that opposition again, wanted to discuss it with the Council as a whole to find “consensus.”

“I think what we need to do is have a consensus moving forward,” said Mayor Gunter.  “If that’s the will of the Council, I’m okay with it.  For me personally, I don’t agree with it. I think we keep it where it is because…there’s some items that we really don’t even discuss, like the consent agenda.  So if we put the Citizens’ Input to the rear of the meeting, those residents that may want to have a discussion on consent agenda items, we’ve already passed [those items].”

Mayor Gunter is right, of course.  Everyone knows that citizens are extremely vocal about such consent agenda items as an agreement with Superior Landscaping to mow the medians off of Nicholas Parkway or approving a space needs study for Cape Coral’s facilities.  And who can forget back in October the dozens of people who spoke out against consent agenda item four, which authorized the purchase and delivery of polyacrylic acid anti-salient?  

District 3 Councilman Bobby Welsh rebutted by noting the Lee County Commission, who he’s using as the template (as they have their Citizens’ Input Time at the end) has a separate comment time for the consent agenda, similar to how there’s separate public input for different agenda item during a normal City Council meeting.

Most Councilmembers agreed with Mayor Gunter.  Councilman Hayden believes that the later time frame will discourage attendance due to the late time, rather than encourage it.  Councilmembers Jessica Cosden and Dan Sheppard recommended an additional Citizens’ Input Time at the end as a compromise.

District 4 Councilwoman Patty Cummings also agreed not to change the time, but agreed with her one-time political rival that residents who work and have families can’t always attend the meetings at 4:30.  

“There is an e-comment link on our website,” said City Manager Rob Hernandez.  “Once we resumed normal operations following COVID, the Council discontinued reading the e-comments into the record.  However, the e-comments are shared with all members of Council, staff, and they are made part of the official records.”

Cummings Stonewalled on Facebook Live

District 4 Councilwoman Patty Cummings has asked the City Manager and city staff about streaming City Council meetings on Facebook Live, and after months of being stonewalled in private, she has decided to bring it up in public.  

Currently, City Council meetings are streamed live via YouTube.  It used to be that the livestream was public and easy to access, but it has since gone private and can only be accessed via a link.  That link can be found on the website, if you look hard enough, because it is not easy to find.

“I know I brought this to you in November and I brought it to you again in December,” said Councilwoman Cummings.  “I know I brought it to you several times so it’s not once or twice, it’s been several times.”

That’s right, Councilwoman Cummings asked in November.  Councilwoman Cummings asked in December.  Councilwoman Cummings asked in a box.  Councilwoman asked with a fox.  Councilwoman Cummings asked in a house.  Councilwoman Cummings asked with a mouse.  And she was stonewalled each time.

“We are on social media as it is now, YouTube Live” Councilwoman Cummings continued, confident her criticisms will correct the communications crisis.  “So it’s the same format except it is Facebook and we’re not asking to interact with the citizens.  It’s just so they can see us.  It’s easier for them, at their fingertips.  If they want to make comments, they can make comments, and we as a dais can kind of see how they’re feeling about certain ideas that we have up here as a whole or individually.”

City Manager Rob Hernandez stonewalled again, saying that they were waiting for a review from the City Attorney’s Office, a review that presumably started back in November when Councilwoman Cummings first asked.  Unfortunately, City Attorney Dolores Menendez (whose tenure in office began back in the George W. Bush Administration) did not take too kindly to being thrown under the bus.  According to the City Attorney, there was a clear “miscommunication” between city staff and her office.

“I was under the impression that it was going to be staff memos and we were going to combine with that,” said the City Attorney.  “The concern of the City Attorney’s Office is not putting the meetings on Facebook Live or to put the meetings on FB live.   The concern has become when people are commenting in real-time during hearings, for example, and they are making comments, especially during quasi-judicial hearings, are you all taking those comments into consideration even though they’re not under oath?  Also, are any of you, in real-time, communicating with members of the public, and are more than one of you communicating?”

If the City Manager hoped for backup from the City Attorney, however, he would not get it.  In her legal opinion, there is no restriction on putting City Council meetings on Facebook Live.  The legal questions arise with the comments themselves.  In theory, if comments are disabled, the Livestream can continue without any legal problems arising.  

“You’re free to put the meeting on Facebook Live,” said Menendez, her words unambiguous and not open to interpretation.  “Great caution should be exercised in terms of the commenting.”

Councilwoman Cummings then asked if the same video posted on YouTube recapping the meetings can be put on Facebook.  Communications Director Melissa Mickey confirmed that they could do that, but she also differed to the City Attorney, who again provided her professional legal opinion that the City can post on Facebook.

There was consensus that the video could be shared on both Facebook and YouTube as long as City Council does not comment directly to those commenting on the livestream to keep with legal constraints.

The Collaboratory Wants to Partner with Cape Coral for Big Goals

The Collaboratory wants to solve all major social problems with Southwest Florida in 18 years and wants to partner with the City Government to achieve this Sisyphian goal.  The nonprofit organization has been around since the 1970s as a community foundation, but has decided to rebrand and become a problem-solving think tank instead of a charity.  

According to the Collaboratory, they intend to solve every problem through “a highly inclusive approach to connect and coordinate innovators and problem-solvers.”  Sarah Owen, CEO of the Collaboratory, noted that most charities try to solve one particular issue, but most issues are interconnected.

“All of these problems are connected to each other,” said the spokeswoman.  “Let’s take a look at economic opportunity.  A number of years ago, our foundation said we could just tackle economic opportunity and things would be much better.  But what we found quickly is it was really connected to the strength of the public schools.  But the strength of public schools is connected to early childhood learning, that’s connected to maternal health.  So if you just pick one of these out and try to solve it and don’t look at all of them, nothing is going to change.”

“There are not a hundred different problems.  There’s one large entanglement with a hundred entangled symptoms,” she concluded.  “It’s all connected.”

Sarah explained that a lot of the issue with social services is there is a lack of coordination between the various stakeholders, e.g. nonprofits, businesses, religious and community organizations, and governments.  She believes a unifying regional goal (in this case, solving every problem in 18 years) and an improved chain of command will resolve this.

The Collaboratory is not asking anything from the City Council, but rather inviting the City Government to be involved in their mission.

District 3 Councilman Tom Hayden invited the Collaboratory to speak.  “Obviously, it turns your head a bit when you hear ‘solving everything in 18 years.’  But you gotta start somewhere.”

“I think we spend a lot of time discussing new ordinances, a budget, land use changes, zoning changes,” Councilman Hayden continued.  “But all of what she just talked about is all interconnected to where we’re at and finding ways to make a difference is important.”

Parks GO Bond Update

City staff presented its regular update of the Parks GO Bond progress, with three parks completed: Cultural Park, Gator Trail, and Giuffrida Park, all three of which are under budget. However additional costs will be accrued to replace trees damaged by Hurricane Ian and add shaded structures at Cultural Park and Gator Trail.

The Del Prado Linear Park and Sands Park are 95% complete and Joe Coviello PArk is 60% complete.  All three parks are experiencing supply chain delays, specifically for the restrooms that would be installed.  

Yellow Fever Creek is set to be completed in August.  Lake Kennedy Racquet Center will begin construction in March.  Festival Park will begin bidding next month, followed by Lake Mead and Crystal Lake in March.  

Mayor John Gunter pulled a 2018 ordinance that appropriated $2.4 million for both Cultural Park and Gator Trail and asked why the current budget for both parks was more than double that amount ($5.3 million). Specifically, Mayor Gunter was inquiring when City Council approved the increase.  He asked the City Manager to follow up with Council on those and other discrepancies.

“I’m well aware our cost overruns are going to be higher than anticipated,” said Mayor Gunter.  “That’s a given.  I’m just trying to see where we are with these inflated costs for each one of these parks.”

Financial Services Director Mark Mason did not have an answer, but noted that the costs were still below the $60 million bond rate, implying that Cultural Park and Gator Trail were more important than the dozen other parks receiving GO Bond funding.  City Manager Rob Hernandez noted that there was $12.5 million in reserves that can also offset costs, approved by the previous Council.

District 1 Councilman Bill Steinke pointed out that the GO Bond was for $60.15 million to be used for 31 parks including the Yacht Club, but costs are now $73.8 million WITHOUT the Yacht Club.  Paul Clinghan, Director of Capital Improvements, said that the Yacht Club has spun off into his own fund, which did not sit well with Councilman Steinke, whose district includes the historic Cape Coral club.

“So the money that was initially allocated from the GO Bond that would be contributory to the Yacht Club was moved to the other initiatives inside of the GO Bond,” said Councilman Steinke, “and on top of that we’re $13 million over the GO Bond.”

District 3 Councilman Tom Hayden asked about a new eagle’s nest at the site of Tropicana Park which may hinder building the park, but Paul Clinghan explained that when the eagles are gone they will destroy the nest in a process known as “taking.”

Council Watch — Recap of meeting on Feb 8th

Council Watch — Recap of meeting on Jan 11th

By Sean Hartman, Cape Coral Watchdog

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Del Prado & De Navarra Have Too Many of De Crashes

At the request of District 7 Councilwoman Jessica Cosden, discussions on a traffic light at Del Prado Boulevard and De Navarra Parkway were moved before Citizens’ Input Time to allow city staff to make the necessary excuses before the Gator Circle residents chastised them.

City Manager Rob Hernandez wanted to “put everything into context” for citizens coming to speak about the intersection and had Mark Mason and Mike Ilczyczyn explain why the City Government responsible for roads can’t do anything about their roads.

“There’s a lot published on social media that makes it seem like the City is either unaware of the issue or just not interested in resolving the issue and I can tell you that is pure fiction,” said Rob Hernandez. 

Mark Mason explained that the chaos began on January 31, 2005 with a planned development called “Entrada.”  The Entrada was to be responsible for financing the traffic signal, which at the time was deemed unnecessary.  In a textbook example of government genius, the City was prohibited from adding traffic lights, thereby preventing them from solving the problem, or possibly just allowing them to place the blame elsewhere.

Fast-forward.  It’s 2023.  A lot has changed.  Cell phones have become smartphones, we are out of Afghanistan, we’ve had both a black AND an orange President.  Most importantly, the intersection of Del Prado & De Navarra now needs a traffic light.  

So naturally, the Entrada Community Association, responsible for the light, is ready to go with a traffic light.  They have the design.  They have a contractor.  What they don’t have is the $120,275.85 to pay for it.  

So they are asking the City Council to loan them the money to build the traffic light, which will take a year or more to be installed, as it has to be constructed and customized to the specifications of Del Prado & De Navarra, which itself could take 6-9 months.

Gator Circle residents are tired of the delays, as the City Council is keenly aware from the angry emails.  A temporary traffic light has been discussed, similar to those used after Hurricane Ian was approved, but they are not without their problems: temporary lights don’t have options for turns and there are no backup operations like regular lights, so if there’s a glitch, the whole traffic light will be down.

The City Council unanimously agreed that a loan was appropriate and necessary to expedite the traffic light and directed city staff to move forward with drafting the appropriate ordinance.  An additional intersection, Del Prado and Averill, had a traffic light approved in December.  That intersection is not under a ridiculous agreement with a developer, so the city can actually act on it.

Citizens Input Time

Several North Cape residents spoke about the dangerous Del Prado/De Navarra intersection.  The intersection, close to Island Coast High School, has become one of the most dangerous intersections in the county.  District 7 Councilwoman Jessica Cosden, who represents Northwest Cape Coral, requested an explanation from city staff prior to Citizens Input Time.  

But the staff’s explanations did not placate the well-organized Gator Circle residents.  About a dozen came with horror stories from accidents, including one where someone was amputated in front of a driver.  

But the most succinct and passionate speech came from Sarah Kyle, an admin of the Facebook Group Gator Circle – In The Loop.  

“We are asking today for the City of Cape Coral to put in the lights,” Sarah began. 

“Cape Coral citizens of Northeast Cape have been promised stoplights at Del Prado and De Navarra and Averill intersections by the City of Cape Coral for years.  Our area continues to grow exponentially and both of these intersections continue to become more and more dangerous to the residents in these neighborhoods…to the wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, grandparents, children, the students driving to Island Coast High School, employees of area businesses, and those just driving through on their daily commute.”

She continued with details of recent car accidents in just the last month.

“We just had another accident this morning,” said Sarah.  “In December, we had an accident on 12/7, 12/15, two at the exact same time at De Navarra AND Averill, December 23rd, and we finished out the month on 12/29.  We are tired of the years-long promises, we are tired of the blame game, pushing accountability onto others.  We are tired of continual accidents.”

Sarah ended strongly, making it clear the Cape Coral City Government is responsible for the vehicular carnage that has plagued those intersections.

“City of Cape Coral Government…YOU are responsible for each and every ignored plea, each and every injury,” Sarah said forcibly.  “It is time to do your job and put in the lights.  Hold the developers accountable and send the bill, but we need you to put in the lights. How many people need to get hurt?  How many people are we waiting to die?  How big does the lawsuit have to be to get attention, that we citizens will have to pay for when the inevitable happens?”

Councilwoman Cosden, who represents Gator Circle, was very defensive about what the city perceives as misinformation on Facebook (because the government is always good at labeling misinformation on social media, just ask Hunter Biden.)

“First of all, I don’t lie about traffic lights or anything else to my constituents,” said Councilwoman Cosden, responding to a comment made by Sarah about her saying the lights would come two years ago.  “When it comes to passing along information, Council doesn’t construct traffic lights, Council doesn’t even approve them as far as I’m aware.”

A shocking revelation that the City Council does not have the power to construct traffic lights on their own roads!  Councilwoman Cosden continued by throwing staff under the bus, though making it absolutely clear that’s not what she’s doing.

“I’m not throwing staff under the bus,” said Councilwoman Cosden, “but the information I shared with you is the information I’m getting from staff, and I trust them.  Obviously, we were delayed on these lights for many reasons.  I wish we could have come to an answer sooner but I do think this new solution will help a lot in bringing accidents down to zero.”

District 6 Councilman Keith Long would like it to be a matter of policy in the future that the City could loan developers funds to make immediately-needed improvements.  Mayor John Gunter added to that, suggesting a “performance bond” that the City could tap into if a developer or responsible party is unable or unwilling to pay for improvements.  

Mayor Gunter also dismissed the speed limit request because it requires a traffic study to move forward and apparently the City Council is powerless to pass a resolution bypassing the traffic study to move forward with the speed limit change.

Michael Batali spoke for Cape Coral’s forgotten vagabond community, opposing a recently passed ordinance that prohibits solicitation and peddling on public streets and private property.  The ordinance, similar to the Lee County ordinance, was primarily to protect the safety of residents, as many vagabonds would place themselves in dangerous positions where they could be hit.  However, Michael argues the ordinance is unconstitutional.

“Solicitation has time and time again been ruled a constitutionally protected activity,” said Michael.  “This ordinance criminalizes a constitutionally protected activity.  Every section of this ordinance itself weaponizes the police to cite someone and arrest somebody for just hearsay statements.  I really think the Council should revisit this considering the neighboring Fort Myers ordinance was deemed unconstitutional and pretty much any ordinance that restricts speech in Florida has been shut down.”

Gabriel Denny, a new resident of Cape Coral and early frontrunner for the position of  “Cape Coral’s resident libertarian” was “not stoked” about hearing the $35,000 bill for the Utilities Expansion Project.  “I don’t want to get a bill for $35,000, inflation-adjusted,” said Gabe.  “That’s not okay.”  He noted that city water has had 220 boil water notices last year, though in different areas.

Gabe had just spoken after some Gator Circle residents and “If we can’t handle a traffic light, you’re going to ask me to pay $35,000 for a water system.”

Councilwoman Cosden asked Gabe to reach out to her office so she can explain the Utilities Expansion Project and why he’s S.O.L.

Lake Kennedy Improvements Move Forward…Pickleballers Rejoice!

A $10.7 million bid from Charles Perry Partners to improve the Lake Kennedy Center, which will include 32 more pickleball courts, 12 tennis courts, restrooms, a concession stand, a pro shop, as well as future plans for a massage parlor, hibachi restaurant, a casino, and a cross-dimensional transportation hub.

The main takeaway is the doubling of pickleball courts for Cape Coral’s pickleball enthusiasts, of which there are many.

District 3 Councilman Tom Hayden asked if they could reduce the tennis court to make room for a stadium, as well as suggesting a second-floor restaurant above the pro shop.  Expansion is possible according to city staff, either by eliminating parking or tennis courts.

But District 6 Councilman Keith Long stole the show (as much as a five-hour City Council meeting could be called a “show” to be stolen) with his inquiries.  Utilizing the skills he’s obtained as an alcohol attorney, he grilled the City Manager and staff about cost overruns,  additional funds, and even catching them in the middle of a blatant lie.

During his questioning, he asked city staff which projects using the GO Bond Parks have been 100% completed.  After much shuffling, one city staffer tried to claim Cultural Park was completed, which Councilman Long immediately called out.

“Cultural [Park]’s not finished,” said Councilman Long.  “Not 100%.  The answer is Cultural is not completed.”

The staffer later corrected himself, stating the original improvements are complete but additional improvements are being added…which means, by definition, it is NOT complete.

Councilman Long also asked a very specific question that will come into play later.  He noted additional parking in the site plan. 

“Those parking spaces meet the required parking calculations that we would require for that park?  In its totality?” he asked.

The response from city staff: “Correct.”

The improvements were approved with Councilman Long serving as the lone NO vote.

No Wave Pool for Sun Splash

The City Council shot down an amendment to the Sun Splash lease with Pro Parks which would have resulted in a new wave pool, finding the cost not worth the benefit.

The proposal would have had Pro Parks build the wave pool at about a $3 million investment, which would become city property.  Pro Parks estimated the wave pool would generate $22.5 million over 30 years, which comes out to $750,000 each year.

In return, the lease would be updated to reduce the city’s revenue from 15% to 7% once $4 million of revenue is reached.  In addition, the city would have to invest $3-$4 million to expand the parking lot, which City Manager Rob Hernandez would say could also be used for Lake Kennedy.  Unfortunately, this set off Keith Long’s BS alarm.

“I anticipated that staff would make that spin,” said Councilman Long, “which is why I directly asked the gentleman in the previous presentation (involving the Lake Kennedy expansion) if, on the site plans, they determined if we had adequate parking in Phase 2…and the gentleman’s answer was yes.  So stop telling me that we technically do have that but we’re going to have these in the future, we’re going to have these tournaments and we’re going to do this overflow parking lot for the tournaments. To the tune of $3.5 million, that doesn’t make sense.”

Councilman Long approached it as a free market conservative saying that there was a reason the city government got out of the water park business and challenged Pro Parks to invest in their business without government help.  He figured that, even with the competition, there would still be revenue gains, as opposed to consistent deficits from the park.

“Here we are saying let’s basically issue debt so we can help a private enterprise spend $3.5 million on the parking lot,” said Councilman Long.  “To me, it makes no sense how we even got this far.”

The city manager brought up the Great Wolf Lodge water park that will be coming to Naples. The well-known water park brand will, according to the City Manager, be major competitor to Sun Splash, which he chastised as a “tired facility.”

“Why would a parent take their children to Sun Splash which, although this company has done a good job reinvigorating the facility and injecting new life into the facility, it’s basically a tired facility that hasn’t changed much in over 15 years,” said City Manager Rob Hernandez, who is supposed to represent Cape Coral.  “Given the choice of loading up the minivan or station wagon…do you want to go to Sun Splash or do you want to go to the Great Wolf Lodge.”

But District 2 Councilman Dan Sheppard does not feel the city should be saving Pro Parks from free market competition. 

“That’s the whole reason we signed the lease,” he said.  “So we don’t have to worry about things like that anymore.  We have other businesses in the city that have to change their game all the time. As things change, they have to make investments to their business and I don’t see the city bending over backwards to help all those businesses who have to make major alterations to stay afloat. ”

Councilman Bobby Welsh was concerned that they would be reducing the city’s revenue to pay for the wave pool, but Hernandez countered by saying that though the percentage was less, the revenue generated would be more.  

District 1 Councilman Bill Steinke voiced his support for the wave pool, taking a different angle on the issue.

“I see us put millions of dollars into our parks.  We get zero return,” said Councilman Steinke.  “It’s an amenity for our citizens.  In this case, we have a park that we can invest money in that our citizens will gain benefit from and that we have the opportunity to make money in the venture.  We’re not Orlando.  We’re not the amusement parks in Orlando, but every one of them knows they need to remain relevant.”

Pro Parks made it clear this was not a make-or-break issue, noting that profit was still coming in and that they will reassess with different plans for growth moving forward.

Permitting Fees to Return

If you enjoyed fee-less permits from the city after Hurricane Ian, that has now ended.  The City Council approved an ordinance restoring fees for certain permits which were waived by the emergency.  

City Manager Ron Hernandez explained that they were matching Lee County’s direction because we can’t make our own decisions here in Cape Coral.  He also explained the city has incurred a financial burden for the fee-less permits, particularly with overtime from city employees.

District 2 Councilman Dan Sheppard and District 4 Councilwoman Patty Cummings opposed the ordinance, stating that residents are still waiting to find contractors to work on their homes.  They believe the dates should be extended.

District 5 Councilman Bobby Welsh disagrees, noting that a roofing permit is $80 and because inflation was so bad and prices were so high, the $80 doesn’t make much of a dent.  

“I don’t believe that $80, with the costs of a new roof going up, is really going to make or break me or another resident.”

Because what’s another 80 dollars in this economy?  

Rather than focus on costs to residents, Councilman Welsh thinks that he is looking to be a good steward of our tax dollars. “We need to look into what we are spending.  For the city to put out all this extra money for all these employees here, and not be able to collect any money for it because we’re saving a resident a $60 roof permit, I think we’re doing the city a disservice for it.”

Councilman Welsh is right to note the additional costs which would eventually come back to the taxpayer (possibly with a property tax increase), though perhaps it could have been done with less condescension. 

His words seemed to change Councilman Sheppard’s mind, who voted aye on the ordinance.  Councilwoman Cummings was the only no.

A second ordinance was passed which would allow trailers on residential properties until March 24th, 2024, to allow for FEMA trailers to come to Cape Coral.  Residents will still need to get a permit from the city to have the trailers on their property.

Mobile Food Trucks Regulations Gain Opponents

Elections have consequences and the recent election may lead to a different direction regarding mobile food truck regulations.  The once well-received ordinance being proposed found itself without support from new council members who ran on pro-business agendas. Council may put it back to the drawing board if not scrap it altogether.

Three members of the public spoke on the ordinance.  Two former political candidates, Cathy Stout (who ran for School Board) and Gary Aubuchon (a former State Representative who ran for Congress), spoke in favor of the ordinance.  Stout emphasized the help food truck vendors provided after Hurricane Ian as a reason to support.

But Gabriel Denny spoke out against new regulations, questioning whether the government should be involved in market decisions, calling the regulations “absurd.”  He talked about the bratwursts he gets from the Lowe’s food trucks, marking the first product placement ever in a City Council meeting.  

“Why is it of the interest of the city or the government whether or not commerce works?” said Gabriel.  “If somebody has a mobile food truck…and they’re able to sell, that’s the public voting.”

It should be of note that much of the ordinance involves rezoning to allow for it, with most of the regulations dealing with safety concerns regarding mobility, a fact reiterated by District 5 Councilman Bobby Welsh, who saw a false comparison between mobile food trucks in the ordinance and the food trucks at Lowe’s and Home Depot,

“The first word of this is mobile,” said Councilman Welsh.  “To say you’re going to go to Home Depot and miss getting your brat…I can tell you when I go to Sam’s (Club) and that $1.99 hot dog at the end, they put that commissary inside of the building. So if the point of going to Home Depot is for a brat, then I believe they will find a way to put that commissary on the inside of the building and regulate it.”

“We have some bad actors in the city that have turned what’s supposed to be movable into something that’s permanent,” said Councilman Welsh.  “We saw that when the hurricane came, they didn’t even move their trailers. They just took everything out of it and left.  I’m in support of this now and I’m in support of it on the 25th.”

District 4 Councilwoman Patty Cummings, a small business owner herself, spoke in favor of the mobile food trucks and against regulations.  She spoke about how many restaurants went mobile during the pandemic to better cater to customers in “unprecedented times,” and echoed Cathy Stout when she brought up mobile food trucks’ help during Hurricane Ian.

“We had a massive hurricane and it was historic,” said Councilwoman Cummings.  “The next day, those food trucks were out there for each and every one of us residents, giving us free food. They did that for quite some time and I don’t feel like the way we thank them is by telling them ‘now we’re going to put restrictions on you.’  I feel like right now we have other things we need to focus on versus mobile food trucks.”

These regulations have been discussed since last year with a final hearing set on January 25th. 

Councilman Welsh Wants to Move Citizens Input Time

District 5 Councilman Bobby Welsh wants to have a discussion about having Citizens Input Time at the end of the meeting, which has been put up for an upcoming Committee of the Whole Meeting.

The agendas are generally approved by the Mayor, and Mayor John Gunter, though open to discussing it, signaled his opposition to the idea, citing consent agenda items that residents would not be able to comment on.

A Watchdog Report

A Watchdog Report

By Sean D. Hartman, the Cape Coral Watchdog

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.

Watch the full City Council meeting here

*** Identified as Satire in accordance with Poe’s Law

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