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Council could vote on ‘zombie ordinance’

By Staff | Oct 26, 2012

During the March 26 Cape Coral City Council meeting, Councilmember Kevin McGrail took up sponsorship of an ordinance to bring the Community Redevelopment Agency under the umbrella of the City Council as a way to kill the proposal.

McGrail said he did it so it wouldn’t become “a zombie ordinance.”

McGrail helped killed the zombie that night as the board cast a unanimous vote to keep the CRA as is, or so he thought.

Seven months later, however, with Halloween approaching, it’s back. Or maybe it’s a different zombie.

City Council will hold a special meeting Monday at 3 p.m. to further discuss, and possibly even vote on, dissolving the CRA.

But as time goes on, it appears members of council are starting to take a closer look at the ordinance, and not sure if dissolution is the way to go.

McGrail, for one, questioned what he thought was City Manager John Szerlag’s assertion this was an emergency.

“The more I look, the less I see an emergency need,” McGrail said. “We do need to look at overhead and doing business better, but to dissolve the board, I don’t know if it’s in our best interests.”

Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz, who sponsored the original ordinance before withdrawing it (and McGrail taking it over) got a chuckle from the zombie reference. He was serious when it came to what he expected Monday.

“With the current makeup of City Council, I anticipate nothing,” Leetz said. “I always want to see what I’m dealing with.”

That’s news to CRA chairman Rich Greer’s ears, as he continues to contend there is no emergency as Szerlag insists.

“I have more questions than answers. Nobody knows what’s going on. There’s an agenda on the city manager’s part. I don’t know what,” Greer said. “Jumping into it doesn’t work. They have no plan, explanation or discussion. I want to know what’s going on.”

As for the “zombie” reference, McGrail explained the idea was for it to disappear, even though council had the right to reintroduce it.

“I didn’t want an ordinance to just hover. We moved into the stage of getting it ready for vote and I used it as a vote of confidence,” McGrail said. “Now, it’s not a personal or political issue, but financial unsustainability.”

McGrail said there still is a zombie in the house, one that potentially is looking at a long, slow death with the lack of TIF money coming in.

“We have a zombie board. If all you do is pay expenses for five years and hold meetings,” McGrail said. “They can’t do anything. What’s the sense of a board if it hangs on and expires.”

Greer said the CRA’s troubles are nothing compared to the city’s.

“Cape Coral will be out of money in a few years, too. If you’re out of money, who cares what CRA does,” Greer said. “The council has a full plate with the UEP and it wants to take on downtown?”

If the council decides it has enough information and votes to disband the current CRA and absorb the duties, it will then have to vote whether to allow Szerlag to become the director and to terminate the contracts of the current CRA.

City Information Director Connie Barron said it’s up to the council to decide how it wants to proceed.

“We’re keeping our options open to continue it to Nov. 5. They can vote as a majority to move it or ask for more information,” Barron said. “They can choose not to appoint him as executive director.”

Szerlag was the director of the Downtown Development Agency, an equivalent of the CRA, while city manager of Troy, Mich.

Early this month Szerlag informed the CRA of his plans to bring it under city control, citing fiscal unsustainability and a budget that he interpreted would cause the CRA to go broke by September.

The CRA claims it can continue through 2017 with the funds it has, since it has only spent half or less of its budget the last several years.