Kuehn ready to help tackle city issues
Erick Kuehn is used to seeing the dais from the other side, where he often shared his views on the city with sitting council members.
As the newly appointed District 5 representative, he’ll have to get used to listening to people like himself, taking praise as well as scorn for the decisions he’ll make.
Kuehn said when his name was called last Monday and he took his seat, he was numbed by his sudden leap into local politics.
“I had no clue about anything on that side (of the dais),” Kuehn said. “I was stunned … it’s still hard to comprehend.”
Kuehn takes the reins of District 5 ahead of several high-profile decisions council will make this year.
The massive land use changes, reducing debt on the Kismet water plant, the national swim center proposal and the upcoming budget cycle are but a few of the hurdles Kuehn will have to face.
He said he’s not intimidated at all by making hard choices, or he wouldn’t have pursued the seat.
But he did say he will approach those challenges as he has everything else in his life: with dogged honesty — and communication.
It’s that belief in the healing power of communication he feels will help to carry the city forward.
“The most important thing is communication, everything hinges around communication,” Kuehn added. “With communication comes everything, transparency, accountability … everything revolves around communication.”
Kuehn came to Cape Coral in May 2003, when he retired from a career in insurance sales in Elkhart, Ind.
He was an insurance agent for 32 years, following a five-year stint as a German teacher.
He said he attended his first council meeting to speak out against a proposal the city was floating about metered irrigation systems, and it simply piqued his interest on the local political scene.
He became what he describes as a “self appointed community activist,” admitting that council meetings almost became his obsession.
But it was an obsession that paid off, as he was selected, partially, on the strength of his attendance of council meetings.
His selection was a controversial one, as he beat out several other people some considered to be better qualified, and more accomplished.
There were 17 applicants for the seat left vacant by Eric Grill, who is awaiting adjudication of a felony charge related to his construction business.
If Grill is found not guilty, or if the charges are dropped, Grill can be reinstated by Gov. Charlie Crist, who suspended him.
If Grill is not reinstated, Kuehn’s appointment lasts at least until the 2011 city election.
Kuehn has taken that criticism in stride, saying he’s had as many supporters and naysayers.
“It’s good, it means they’re getting involved,” Kuehn said of people who have spoken against him. “I wish they would channel their anger differently, but at least they’re getting involved.”
At the heart of the controversy surrounding Kuehn’s selection could be the so-called “Contract with Cape Coral,” which Kuehn signed.
The “contract” is an informal document that promises reform in the city, and was central to Mayor John Sullivan and Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz’s campaigns last year.
Along with Councilmembers Pete Brandt and Bill Deile, Kuehn becomes the fifth sitting council member to have signed the contract.
The document — which calls for completing the Kessler audit, reducing city spending and restoring public trust, among other things — falls in line with Kuehn’s own beliefs, he said, as a fiscal conservative.
“Some people are making a mountain out of a molehill,” he said of the contract. “I signed it because it’s a written commitment to the people of Cape Coral, and it’s a philosophy I’ve followed all along, which is less government, and smaller taxes and fees.”