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Szerlag contract, police body cameras hot topics

By Staff | Nov 18, 2014

By JIM LINETTE

jlinette@breezenewspapers.com

Police body cameras and City Manager John Szerlag’s employment contract renewal with the city were the hot button topics at Monday night’s City Council meeting.

While the body camera proposal got a warm reception, Szerlag’s contract sparked a sometimes heated discussion despite the council’s overall willingness to extend the contract for one year through May 2016. Six months in advance of the contract expiration date, council is required to review the terms and either side can opt out.

Councilmember Jim Burch almost immediately made a motion to extend the contract one year with a 3 percent increase in compensation. With three members balking at the pay increase figure at this time, a hot debate ensued. Burch ultimately withdrew his motion in favor of discussing it again next Monday.

“I will withdraw my motion, but I am not happy about it,” said Burch. “I want council to be united, but I don’t want anyone left out of the process. Personally I think the protocol states we need to do this. The contract is made up of terms, time and compensation and that is what my motion was about. If we do nothing tonight, the contract is extended for one year automatically anyway by the middle of next week.”

Councilmember Rana Erbrick then made a motion to extend the contract with no mention of a pay increase. Debate continued.

“I’m confused here,” said Councilmember John Carioscia. “I think we all are on the same page to extend the contract, but some of you want to debate the 3 percent raise?”

Mayor Marni Sawicki vehemently chided council about the pay raise noting that only six evaluations were submitted by members.

“If we are not going to take the time to go through the process, then why did I fill out an evaluation?” Sawicki said.

The mayor then rapidly read her evaluation into the record, citing goals and achievements that were met as well as those that were not met. She cited the lack of staffing and marketing funds for the Economic Development office, Ford’s Boathouse fees going to Parks & Recreation when she thought they should go to the general fund to help fund the Economic Development office, and the Fire Services Assessment still not implemented. She made a point about assembling a competent corps of department managers, but a lack of direction coming from the city manager.

“We need to work harder to say ‘yes’ and get away from a culture of ‘no’ in our city,” Sawicki said.

She expressed a willingness to put it on the agenda for next Monday to discuss Szerlag’s performance in more detail.

“This is an agenda item for discussion and it should be handled tonight,” Burch fired back.

Erbrick suggested council discuss the raise at a later date nearer to the May expiration of the contract.

“If Mr. Burch just takes the 3 percent out of his motion I think you have an 8-0 vote on that one, but with it you might be 6-2 or 5-3,” said Erbrick. “I have not heard anyone not happy with the city manager. We’re here tonight to say if we want to extend the contract.”

After Burch withdrew his motion, Erbrick made hers and council voted 6-2 to extend the contract and delay the pay raise issue to a future date. Burch and Carioscia cast the two no votes.

Police cameras

Police Chief Bart Connelly’s presentation proposing the initial purchase of 60 body cameras primarily for the patrol division as well as SWAT and investigations units passed unanimously. First-year cost is $88,728 from a five-year contract total of $287,976. Those figures include the hardware, service contract and associated cloud storage of the data collected.

“The good thing is that all of the funds will come from the Federal Asset Sharing fund costing the city no taxpayer dollars,” said Connelly. “They will protect officers, the city and reinforce the public trust while increasing department transparency.”

Federal Asset Sharing funds are seized assets from criminal activities, such as drug related convictions. Connelly calls it Criminal Cams.

“Back when we discussed the review board, I made a promise to increase transparency and trust,” added Connelly. “Recently an incident was captured on video, edited and put on YouTube. This gives us the unedited video unlike that video. I want the unedited version.”

The device attaches to an officer’s eyewear or upper chest area. It is turned on anytime an officer interacts with the public. Connelly said the department will set a very strict policy for when the units are turned on or off. He added that he hopes to come up with a timetable for full rollout after six to nine months of evaluation after the first units go into service.

CRA proposal

Council unanimously approved the CRA’s proposal to institute a military tribute banner program utilizing the street light poles in the Cape Coral Parkway corridor. The vote sends the program back to the CRA and its advisory board to hash out the details.

The proposal included 30 x 60-inch banners honoring military veterans living here or with ties to the Cape.

Other items

The food vendor ordinance, which is expected to be another hotly contested piece of legislation, was removed from Monday’s agenda on the recommendation of Community Development director Vince Cautero. It was delayed until February to afford the city and stakeholders time to meet and negotiate on new tighter regulations.

Councilmember Richard Leon is hosting a live online chat session Thursday starting at 4:30 p.m. Completing his first year on council, Leon will respond to questions from citizens for 60 minutes.

To access the chat, visit www.capecoral.net and open the news item in the “latest news” section where you will find the link to the chat session.

City residents are advised to take advantage of the shred day/donation day in the City Hall parking lot from 9 a.m. till 2 p.m. on Friday. The city has partnered with Goodwill Indistries for the event. Goodwill representatives will accept personal papers and sensitive documents and shred them at no charge. They also will accept monetary donations as well as goods such as clothing, shoes, household goods, linens, entertainment items (DVD/CD), and small furniture, computers and electronics.