Candidates weigh in on city manager’s performance
Editor’s Note: Each week, The Breeze will ask candidates for city council their views on an issue of interest to the voters. Each candidate is asked the same question in a phone interview. This week’s question, suggested by a reader, is:
What kind of grade would you give City Manager Terry Stewart? If the choice was yours to make, would you renew his contract, not renew his contract or consider terminating him early?
Mayoral candidate, retired police officer and former mayor Roger Butler, 74, said he has had little interaction with Stewart and is reluctant to pass judgement.
“I’ve only met him once and I don’t want to grade him without knowing him,” he said. “But what worries me right now is, he is a pretty good spender.”
Butler said he also is put off by the recent interest Stewart has shown in the vacant county manager’s position.
“He’s always looking for another job, and I really don’t like that. I don’t know where his interest is, but it’s not with the city,” he said.
Candidate Stephen Lovejoy, 51, who runs a document management company, said he’s not happy with Stewart’s performance and calls Stewart’s pursuit of the county job a “slap in the face” to the current council and the city.
“I give him a failing grade, I wouldn’t extend his contract,” he said. “He has already applied for another job and I hope he gets it. I say ‘good luck.'”
Also seeking the mayor’s seat is Robert Pizzolongo, a 46-year-old Comcast employee who has a similar point of view.
“What kind of grade would I give him? T. As in terrible. He’s been looking for other jobs and he’s really not been concentrating on the city,” he said.
Pizzolongo also take issue with Stewart’s fiscal record.
“Everything he has proposed has been bad for the city. Everything he has done has cost the city money,” he said. “He needs to go, no questions asked.”
Candidate John Sullivan, a 66-year-old retired broker/IT consultant, said he wouldn’t consider extending Stewart’s contract and might consider terminating him early.
“He’s in over his head. Take a look at all the money we owe and he is the one who spent it. Everyone wants to blame the council, but he’s the one who spent it,” he said.
Incumbent Jim Burch, a 58-year-old land surveyor, said discussing Stewart’s future with the city is unnecessary and inappropriate.
“There would be no need to evaluate him right now. He would have had to do something to put the city in absolutely dire straits and there is nothing to create that impression right now,” he said.
Jim Martin and Marty McClain are both seeking the District 1 city council seat.
Martin, a 77-year-old a retired aerospace engineer, said Stewart’s tenure with the city should come to an end.
“I think the man is brilliant in spending money. He is a failure on controlling spending and unless he could get control I would have to let him go,” he said.
McClain, a 51-year-old construction consultant, is a little more sympathetic.
“The few conversations with the man, he has been more than willing to provide the information or request. I think he’s a very intelligent man based on what I’ve read and the documentation he prepared for me. I would probably be willing to extend his contract,” he said. “I think he has been dealt some pretty gnarly cards.”
However, he said, the fact that Stewart has been pursuing other employment is a cause for concern.
“But I certainly wouldn’t hold it against the man for trying to better himself,” he said.
District 4 incumbent Delores Bertolini said she has no issue with the city manager’s performance
“The last evaluation I gave him was satisfactory. He has performed all the duties I’ve asked of him,” she said.
Her opponent, 53-year-old Realtor Chris Chulakes-Leetz, said Stewart has thumbed his nose as state statutes regarding utilities expansion and has repeatedly had to amend the city’s annual budget because his projections missed the mark.
Like many of the other candidates, Chulakes-Leetz is not happy with Stewart’s job search.
“He’s made it clear he has no desire to be in Cape Coral,” he said. “When it come to deciding to extending terminating his contract, I don’t have to. He’s made it for me.”
District 6 candidate, 67-year-old Frank Antos, Jr., a retired publisher, said Stewart has always done what council tells him to do and terminating him would not be good for the city.
“The bottom line is, we have a two-year contract and to get rid of him would cost us,” he said. “Firing him now would be a foolish thing to do. We could only fire for cause and that would be nearly impossible.”
Also seeking the District 6 seat is 69-year-old retired police detective John Cataldi, Jr., who said terminating Stewart would only add more strife to an already difficult situation
“The public has enough to deal with,” he said.
Still, he said, the current city manager might not be the right man for the job,
“He’s a very capable man and I’m not trying to minimize anything about his ability, but the direction he’s taken us is not the right direction,” Cataldi said.
Antos and Cataldi are facing off against Kevin McGrail, 53, a medical technologist. McGrail said he is withholding judgement on Stewart until he has had the opportunity to work with, and get to know, him.
However, he said, council must always do what is best for they city.
“If the city decides to terminate the contract, the last thing they should do is get into a buyout situation with the city picking up the tab for a gold parachute,” he said. “There has to be trust between residents and their city manager and right now I don’t think they think is looking out for their best interest.”