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Civic forum draws packed house

By Staff | Aug 25, 2011

Despite a torrential downpour, hundreds of people filled the Cape Coral Yacht Club ballroom to get a look at this year’s candidates for City Council, a packed field that includes incumbents, lawyers, public safety personnel, former teachers and retirees, to name a few.

Yet, regardless of their past or present lives, many of those who attended the forum, hosted by the Cape Coral Civic Association, wanted new leadership for the city, with some in the audience wearing T-shirts carrying an anti-incumbent message.

Jane Longo, a Civic member, said she was impressed with the slate of candidates, many of whom she said have grown stronger as public speakers since their first forum appearance in July.

Longo wanted to hear more solutions and less platitudes from those seeking council seats, but she also wants candidates to approach council meetings in a professional manner, if elected.

“The conduct and rhetoric among council members, and with the public, are a disservice to the citizens,” Longo said. “The meetings have become a disservice to the community.”

Sixteen of the 18 candidates running for office fielded questions from moderator and former councilwoman Alex LePera.

Some of the questions leaned toward smaller, hypothetical issues, while others tackled some of the larger problems the city is facing, including long-term debt and the UEP.

When asked how he would handle the discovery of a register that was missing money, District 7 candidate Dave Stokes said, “I don’t think we should run to the media before we take care of it I think we should investigate it fully.”

District 7 incumbent Candidate Derrick Donnell said council’s role was to set policy and act as a liaison for the citizens.

Donnell also said that while each of his opponents are formidable, his biggest hurdle is being an incumbent. Donnell reminded the audience to check his voting record before making their decision, as he was with a council minority on issues including selection of the city manager, his contract, and the appointment of Erick Kuehn to the District 5 seat.

“I want to break that cycle where voters just want to vote everyone out,” he said.

LePera asked whether the city was fostering a sense of isolationism with Lee County and if Cape Coral was becoming an island amid Lee’s other municipalities.

No candidates offered specific solutions, but many agreed that the city could not strive, or exist, outside the bounds of those relationships.

“Anything we can do to be with the county, we should do it,” said District 5 candidate James McManus.

Fellow District 5 Candidate William “Scott” Morris said, “It’s time to repair those relationships, whatever it takes.”

When asked what he thought of the job code enforcement was doing, District 3 candidate Alan Sheppard said the department might be better served if it were taken back under police department rule.

District 3 incumbent Bill Deile didn’t agree, saying that code faced a tough assignment.

“Code has a difficult job and they’re understaffed,” Deile said. “It’s not an easy job.”

Deile was the subject of one direct question by Civic, which asked other candidates their position on his efforts to ban the group from using the Yacht Club for their meetings due to a controversy over who could tape the open-to-the-public seasons.

Deile defended his actions, saying the group excluded a credentialed reporter from videotaping a meeting at the Yacht Club.

Deile also joked that he was one of the city’s public information officers.

“The city has three PIO’s and I do a better job than all of them,” he said.

LePera said it was important to ask candidates their thoughts on banning the organization from the Yacht Club.

“This group has been meeting here before Cape Coral was even a city,” she said. “It’s important for our members that members of council don’t use the dais to discredit a civic organization.”

LePera said there will be a “survivors” forum later for the candidates who make it through the primary election, and the questions for that forum will be more difficult.

District 2 candidates Pete Brandt and Dan Sheppard did not attend.

Sheppard had a conflict.

Brandt previously wrote in a letter to the editor the Cape Coral Breeze that he felt Civic fosters misinformation.

Cape Coral City Council races are non-partisan, citywide elections meaning registered voters can cast a ballot in each race, no matter party affiliation, no matter the district in which they live.

The City of Cape Coral Primary Election is Sept. 13

Early voting is Sept. 3 and Sept. 6-Sept. 10

The City of Cape Coral General Election, which will feature the top two vote getters in each primary race is Nov. 8.

Voter registration book closes Oct. 11

Early voting will be held Oct. 31 through Nov.5