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City manager gets good review

By Staff | Oct 22, 2013

Cape Coral City Manager John Szerlag was brought into town with a primary goal in mind: bring the city’s fiscal house in order.

According to a majority of the city council members who performed his evaluation during Monday’s regular meeting at city hall, he has done just that.

Szerlag got high marks from most on council, while his two most vocal critics, Mayor John Sullivan and Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz, sat silent.

Perhaps the highest mark for the city manager came as a result of telling city council what it didn’t want to necessarily hear, but needed to, and that was the need to stabilize and diversify revenues.

“We put you at the helm of the ship that was out of control and you’ve done a god job reining it in,” Councilmember Marty McClain said. “You’ve shared your surprises whether we wanted to hear them or not.”

“We would talk about things at strategy sessions and accomplish nothing. It was a wish list until now,” Councilmember Kevin McGrail said. “We enhanced financial sustainability and diversified revenue, got a lower cost on the UEP, and created a master plan for road resurfacing. I haven’t always liked the news, but you made us face the truth.”

In the end, Szerlag asked that his contract be amended so he can have the option of being in a 401 (a) pension plan or a general city employee plan and to have his housing allowance eliminated, since he decided to rent out his house in Troy, Mich.

The motion passed unanimously.

In other business, the council discussed what it wanted to do with the Golf Course property, owned by a private developer.

In 2009, the property was appraised at $8.7 million for residential and $10.2 million for commercial use.

Szerlag sought direction on how to proceed and was told it couldn’t hurt to have the property appraised again to see if the city had the financial wherewithal to buy it.

“There’s nothing wrong with an updated appraisal. This is a different age from 2009,” McGrail said. “The new body in office will have the numbers. Where the funds will come from is the big question.”

Chulakes-Leetz volunteered to offer appraisers to do the job, while Sullivan suggested maybe 20/20 Conservation funds would be a good way to buy the land.

20/20 Conservation funds are taxpayer-approved tax dollars specifically earmarked for the purchase and maintenance of environmentally sensitive properties that can be acquired from a willing seller. In a highly contested move, the Lee County Board of County Commissioners, for the first time voted to use the money brought in this year to help pay for general county operations rather than land purchases.

McClain said he didn’t think the city would get a fair price, and that it has been seven years since anything was done with the site.

“I can’t support something we don’t have a clear cut direction in,” McClain said, who was the lone dissenter in a 7-1 vote to have the land appraised.

In other business city council voted to reappoint Duane Clayton Adams and Gary Celestino to the Civilian’s Police Review Board and to promote Joseph Cobb from an alternate to a fulltime member.

It also named five people to the South Cape Community Redevelopment Advisory Board.