Cape Council members share priorities going into the new year
When city council reconvenes Jan. 11 its members will confront their first full year as a collective governing body.
Four new faces and four returning members will tackle a series of decisions that will help to steer the Cape’s future for years to come.
A permanent city manager, renewing the utilities expansion project, attacking rising water rates, the possible hometown democracy amendment — these are but a few of the major items council will be making decisions on, all while trying to juggle economic development, job creation and a still deep reservoir of empty and foreclosed homes.
In the midst of that, council will try to repair the image of a city that is the poster child of the recession, a virtual ground zero for the boom and bust of the last decade.
Of course, they might have to repair their own image, too. As the previous council often drew the ire of Cape citizenry, incoming council members have often spoke about restoring public trust in government.
Councilmembers shared a few of their thoughts about these challenges, and the year that lies ahead.
Mayor John Sullivan
The top item of Mayor John Sullivan’s list going into 2010 is settling the city manager search.
He said the council could put out a search for someone while Carl Schwing continues to work.
This would give council the best of both worlds, Sullivan said,adding he does not yet know what would be the best search method to use.
Closely on the heels of the city manager search for Sullivan is reducing the utility rates, followed by the budget process.
He said with so many things up in the air, it’s going to be difficult for council prioritize.
He knows, as a group, they are facing a tough year.
“This is not a one issue situation,” he said. “There’s a myriad of things that are going to have to be worked out, maybe two and three at a time.”
Council will open their year with one of their members facing intense scrutiny from citizens, media, and possibly law enforcement.
He said citizens need to realize there’s no decision council can make regarding the future of Eric Grill, it’s merely something that will have to run its course.
“As a distraction, it’s something none of us would like to deal with,” he said. “But it is what it is. There’s nothing we can do about it.”
Marty McClain, District 1
Councilmember Marty McClain wants council to stick to the strategic planning session they had earlier this month in which they decided economic development and unemployment should be their priorities.
While recognizing the city manager situation also desperately needs to be resolved, he said with all the major decision coming up, it might be wise to keep interim manager Carl Schwing in the seat for a while.
“We have an interim manager that’s doing good job,” McClain said. “Ultimately we’ll have to do something, but right now I feel with everything we have going on I don’t know if it’s a priority.”
He said, too, that the city needs to move forward quickly with a utility decision, so shovels can break ground and jobs can be created.
Also, with talk of completing the Kessler audit still circulating, McClain said he wouldn’t support moving forward with the completion.
“I’ll not support the audit, not unless someone can produce factual information that would justify the cost,” he said.
McClain added that he will also push for development in the downtown Community Redevelopment Area, and is eyeing the village square development. McClain is the council liaison to the CRA board.
“We’re moving forward with whatever development we can get pulled off,” McClain said.
Pete Brandt, District 2
Councilmember Pete Brandt said it’s absolutely vital that council finds a way to service the debt from the north RO Plant to reduce the burden on the taxpayers.
He said that council has received nothing but road blocks when it came to real solutions on how to reduce that burden, but feels there must be a way.
“I’m convinced it’s possible,” he said.
For the next budget cycle Brandt said it was important to start fresh. He doesn’t mean counting paper clips and pencils, he said, but critically examining all functions of the city to find out if things are running as efficiently as possible.
He added that he was not impressed with the additional funds that interim city manager Carl Schwing has found thus far in the 2010 budget.
“He didn’t find low hanging fruit, he found stuff that was already laying around on the ground,” Brandt said.
However, he did like Schwing’s suggestion of forming a UEP committee similar to the Transportation Advisory Committee.
He said council should keep things simple while moving forward with all decisions.
“Look at the Constitution of the United States … it says so many things in so few words,” he said.
Bill Deile, District 3
Land use changes, utility rates, and a permanent city manager are all on the top of Councilmember Bill Deile’s list for 2010.
He said he expects a lively discussion on the subject of the city manager when council reconvenes on Jan 11.
“We all submitted information to the human resources director for what we wanted to see (in the position),” he said.
He said one of council’s biggest jobs will be restoring the trust that citizens feel they lost in government with the previous administration.
Their first meeting of the year, and the decade, could set the tone for meetings to come, Deile said.
He said that new council members equal new ways of looking at things, and hopefully this new iteration of council will be able to move forward as a unit.
He said the feel, and overall movement of the meetings have thus far seemed different.
“The tenor of the meetings has changed. Whether we flip back to our old ways, time will tell,” he said.
Chris Chulakes-Leetz, District 4
Councilmember Chris Chulakes- Leetz said that his vision for 2010 doesn’t stray very far what got him elected.
He said it was important to study how and why the city has found itself in a precarious financial situation. Discovering that, he said, will help to guide the city’s future.
“We need to get an honest evaluation on what has occurred in order to prioritize what needs to occur,” he said. “We’re still lacking an honest history.”
He said he city’s debt, at the hands of the former city administration, has put the city into a tough position.
While he feels the search for a city manager, and the ultimate permanent replacement for a city financial services director, are also on high on Chulakes-Leetz list, he said focusing on the city’s finances should be a top priority.
“They’ve been robbing Peter to pay Paul to hand off to future administrations and the citizens,” he said. “If you’re broke you need to admit you’re broke.”
Eric Grill, District 5
Councilmember Eric Grill thinks the council’s first job ought to be reducing the amount of money the city spends, in order to reduce the burden on the citizens.
He said that projected revenues for 2010 look short, maybe not as short as 2009, but the council needs to start the budget process for 2011 as soon as possible.
He said, too, that the city manager situation needs to be decided quickly, because the city cannot move forward on anything — let along the budget — without solving the manager situation.
“We need somebody in that position, we need a top gun,” Grill said. “The city manager (situation) needs to be put to bed.”
He also said its important that council move forward collectively, and not try to dwell on the past by looking for what he said were “smoking guns.”
With the election season now in the rearview mirror, he said it was time for council to simply not repeat the mistakes of the past, and focus entirely on the present, and more importantly, the future.
“People are holding onto agendas because agendas are pushing egos, and that’s what we’ve got to get past,” he said. “All the agendas that are being pushed, we need to get past that.”
Kevin McGrail, District 6
Councilmember Kevin McGrail has already stated he supports giving Carl Schwing a year to prove himself as city manager.
With that hurdle out of the way, McGrail said, the city can move forward with tackling the UEP, and the hometown democracy amendment, which could cause zoning headaches for Cape Coral.
“He’s got a major task ahead of him,” McGrail said of the work Schwing will have to do on the hometown democracy amendment. “To re-do the land use by the end of April, 2010 … that to me is a major undertaking.”
McGrail said it’s vital, too, that council address water rates.
With citizens who are already hooked up to sewer paying for those who are not hooked up, he said a divided city is a foregone conclusion.
“A city divided is going to have tremendous difficulty moving forward,” he said.
McGrail also plans to address the roads in northern part of his district. He said he’s gotten numerous calls and email from residents in the north cape who are desperate for new roads.
He said he plans on having several town halls in February to discuss options with his constituents.
“I don’t go a day without getting an email about how awful the roads are up there,” he said. “I agree, the roads are terrible. We’re going to have to deal with the issue.”
District 7 councilmember Dr. Derrick Donnell could not be reached for comment.