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King stands by decision to buy tickets for spouses for banquet

By Staff | Jun 6, 2011

Spending $180 on three dinners for three spouses will go a long way to make sure Cape Coral is at the forefront of Army Reserve Deputy Chief Maj. Gen. Keith Thurgood’s mind, City Manager Gary King said.
And presenting the city as a family oriented destination could help to ensure that the U.S. Army Reserve Center will be located, and built, in the city’s burgeoning Veterans Investment Zone.
King said the land purchase has yet to be “consummated,” and it was important to make a lasting impression on Thurgood during his tour of the city last month.
“The military expects families to present themselves at these kinds of functions, that was the purpose,” King said.
The controversy surrounding last month’s Reserve Officer Association banquet continued to swirl during the Cape Coral City Council meeting Monday, as the public and union officials looked for answers for what they felt was a violation of city policy.
King paid for his own wife, along with the wives of Councilmembers Bill Deile and Pete Brandt, from his own budget for attending the ROA banquet. It was a move that King said was entirely justified because of the potential for economic development. He also said the city’s regulations don’t apply because they were related solely to travel expenses.
“The quotes on the code of ordinances is totally irrelevant and is related to travel and not economic development activities,” he said.
Blue collar union leader Wally Ilczyszn said employees have been “beaten down” over the last 18 months. And following a 3 percent pay decrease, a 2 percent increase in pension contributions and 32 hours of furlough, Ilczyszn added that the dinners send a bad message to the city’s blue collar workers.
“I understand the concept of economic development but there are rules and regulations that need to be addressed,” he said. “This is a failure of leading by example.”
Councilmember Derrick Donnell, who did not attend the banquet but had a ticket purchased in his name, said he plans on paying back the $60 per person price and a miscommunication led to the purchase.
Donnell spoke to a larger issue, though, saying that the council paychecks don’t allow for wives to be brought along to these kinds of functions, and that he is embarrassed by the amount compared to other municipalities.
“There is a significant issue about policy and we’ll address that … but they didn’t go down there to have some party, they went there for economic development,” Donnell said.
Deile said it didn’t matter whose budget the money came from, since it all comes from ad valorem taxes anyway.
Having spent much of the day with Thurgood touring the city, Deile echoed King’s words and said the purpose of the day, and the dinner, was to put the city in a good light the general’s eyes
“The intent of this whole day was to put a favorable face on the city and show what we had to offer,” Deile said.
Councilmember Marty McClain said he still wants the city attorney to check into whether or not it was a violation of city policy.
Attorney Dolores Menendez did not offer an opinion during the meeting.