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City Council addresses revival of bike patrols, employee reclassification, more

By Staff | Dec 16, 2014

The close of Monday night’s City Council meeting ushered in a four-week holiday hiatus for members of the board. They don’t meet again until Jan. 12, 2015.

“I urge you all to take time off,” Councilmember Derrick Donnell told colleagues. “Relax, refresh and recharge. The work will still be here when we get back.”

Council business Monday night included making changes to public input regulations, passing a resolution to urge state lawmakers to address problems facing pre-platted communities like Cape Coral, a partial passage of employee reclassification and a proposal to create community gardens.

Cape Coral Police also brought council up to date on its newly revived pedestrian/bicycle safety initiative. The revival of the Police Bike Unit consists of 12 officers specially trained on bicycles to patrol city streets and bike paths as well as special events.

The unit made its debut recently at the Holiday Festival of Lights in South Cape. Some of the unit’s duties include educating the public, especially younger riders, about proper bicycle rules of the road, bike handing and bicycle/pedestrian behavior.

Police Capt. Mike Torregrossa outlined the initiative’s three-pronged approach for education and awareness, enforcement and reformation of the unit. He pointed out that of the estimated 3,600 crashes in the city each year, less than 1 percent of those involve bicyclists or pedestrians. The caveat is that there is a higher chance of injury or even death in those cases.

The initiative is based on helping overcome the city’s limited bike lanes, sidewalks and street lighting across its 110 square miles.

“It’s a citywide problem and it affects us all,” Torregrossa said. “Bicyclists have to adhere to the rules and motorists need to realize that where we live promotes people riding bicycles. They need to be conscious of bicycles sharing our roadways.”

The department will work with other organizations in educating the public, especially children. Donations from relationships with BikeWalkLee and Cape Coral Bike-Ped have enabled the department to distribute more than 100 bike helmets and bike lights to cyclists who didn’t have them.

“This is a growing effort,” said Councilmember Rick Williams. “This is in response to the fact we can’t put lights and sidewalks everywhere overnight. It looks like a lot has been done, but there is still a lot more to do.”

The education process starts with public service announcements and social media campaigns. Then there is distribution of educational material, lights and helmets and partnering with Lee County Sheriff’s officials to conduct safety programs aimed at school-aged kids.

Law enforcement will target high bicycle and pedestrian traffic areas, hand out information and focus on all bike and pedestrian laws. Officers will patrol in two-man teams and serve as visible reminders and role models for safe operation of bicycles.

Employee reclassification

Some council members were not in favor of the employee reclassification proposal because it included a retroactive pay provision, but were all for the reclassification of the positions.

“My problem is not that they don’t deserve the retro, it’s with the many months of time it took to get this done,” said Mayor Marni Sawicki. “I wish there had been two separate resolutions, one on the employee moving from non-bargaining to a bargaining position.”

Human Resources Director Lisa Sonego said the retro pay would cost the city $15,500 for the months in the Fiscal Year 2014 budget and annualized out to a total of $29,000.

City Manager John Szerlag offered to withdraw the methodology used for the reclassifications of the six positions covered by the resolution and in particular the pay grade change for the position moving from class 123 down to class 118 at the same rate of pay.

“I think we can get a reclassification study started by outside sources in January and be done by March or April,” said Szerlag.

Councilmembers Rana Erbrick, Jim Burch and Donnell cast the dissenting votes in council’s 5-3 passage of the resolution as amended by Szerlag.

Public input changes

Burch and Donnell also cast dissenting votes on the resolution to change rules on public input time. The resolution seeks to streamline public input time at council’s regular meetings by eliminating the need for citizens to fill out a form before the meeting to participate.

Currently, the form is required but few people wishing to speak actually sign up ahead of time.

Erbrick proposed abolishing the sign-up rule due to the lack of enforcing it.

“It may stop some of the confusion we see almost every week,” said Erbrick. “Going back over eight or nine months I found that only once did we exceed the 45 minutes allotted.”

Pre-platted community problems

Council unanimously passed the resolution, proposed by Burch, asking state legislators to recognize the problems facing pre-platted communities and provide additional financial resources from the recently approved Amendment One at the last election.

“I spent the last year working with the Florida League of Cities and traveling to other pre-platted cities lining up a coalition,” said Burch. “It has been my top priority. Our state legislators support this resolution and it’s exciting to see them willing to take this through the legislature as a priority this year.”

Burch said the resolution will be passed around to the other cities in the coalition to use or establish their own resolution to be presented collectively to Tallahassee.

“This city still has a build-out under 40 percent,” said Burch. “We can’t tax people enough to fix our problems” with infrastructure, water and sewer, and the environmental health of the city.”

Community gardens

Burch also proposed, and council agreed, to further explore creating community gardens on city-owned properties. Other cities’ gardens produce vegetables, fruit and plants maintained by groups of citizens.

“Trafalgar Middle School has its own garden,” said Burch. “It’s amazing what they have done. After school, those kids run to it to see what needs to be done. This will not happen overnight, but we need to take a look at getting grant money to do this. It is a very worthy cause.”