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Charter recommendations move forward

By Staff | May 6, 2015

Of the seven recommendations brought to City Council Monday night by the Charter Review Commission, six changes to the City Charter were allowed to continue to staff to be turned into ordinances in order to schedule public hearings and, if passed, be placed on the ballot in time for the November election.

Two recommendations drew the most discussion – council and mayor compensation, and changing the City Clerk’s office to report directly to council instead of the city manager. The clerk recommendation failed by a 3-4 vote with Councilmembers Derrick Donnell, Lenny Nesta, Jim Burch and John Carioscia casting the dissenting votes.

Councilmember Rick Williams was an excused absence.

Councilmember Rana Erbrick, who served as council liaison to the Charter Review Commission, cited the cities of Naples and North Port as having the city clerk under council supervision while having the same city manager/council form of government as Cape Coral.

Carioscia quickly voiced his opposition, saying, “If it works, don’t try to fix it. I don’t see the logic in this. It’s a very slippery slope that I don’t see as working. The clerk does not need eight bosses.”

Donnell added that if there was a problem with the flow of information from the clerk to council through the city manager, then that should be fixed by council.

“Everyone around us in Lee County, the clerk is under the city manager, Bonita Springs, Estero, Fort Myers Beach, Fort Myers,” said Burch. “Except Punta Gorda, whose clerk said it was a nightmare in that city, especially for a new clerk trying to get up to speed with the council. There were many conflicts, misdirection or no direction from council.”

The commission suggested effective Oct. 1, 2016, that each council member be compensated with a salary of $28,500 per year and $32,500 for mayor with an annual adjustment of up to 3 percent. Council’s current salary is just over $19,000 with the mayor just over $22,000. One reason the salaries are so low is the charter set the council’s rate at 17 cents per registered voter and 20 cents for mayor.

Most on council believed the voters would not pass the increase, but that the panel’s salaries should be increased.

“You get what you pay for,” said Burch. “You have to pay the council for a city this size. It’s called a part-time job, but it’s really full-time. Not many people run for office because they can’t afford to serve. My only reason to go forward with this is to get quality people to serve.”

Burch added that the commission’s recommendation was low and he would prefer it to be $32,500 and $36,500.

“This is one of those subjects that makes people uncomfortable to discuss in public,” said Donnell before the unanimous vote of approval. “It’s time, Cape Coral. We are the 10th largest city in the state. Our sister city across the river pays their council $32,600 and we are much larger, so we should match them.”

The five other recommendations passed – termination of employment of assistant city managers and department heads with a severance payment of up to four months of the employee’s salary or amount otherwise provided by law, whichever is less; removing the two-thirds vote requirement to adopt emergency ordinances; reduction of signatures required for citizen petitions to elected officials to 10 percent of qualified voters; reducing the number of Charter Review Commission members from nine to seven with two alternates; and a language revision to the city’s anti-discriminatory hiring practices.

After a 10-minute break from the lengthy discussions, council unanimously passed two resolutions dealing with the city’s North 2 Utilities Expansion Project (UEP), the next area in the city’s plan upon completion of Southwest 6 & 7.

Council approved adding approximately 656 parcels to the original North 2 area north of Embers Parkway bound on the west by the Spreader Waterway, on the east by Quandary Canal and on the north by Bonefish Canal.

The additions increases the North 2 area to approximately 4.3 square miles serving 8,700 parcels along a narrow strip on the north side of Pine Island Road roughly from Old Burnt Store Road in the west all the way to Del Prado Boulevard.

The second resolution approves the awarding of the North 2 project to Greeley and Hansen LLC for professional design services in the amount of up to $7.9 million. The project is in the design and permitting stage to run through April 2016 when the bidding process begins. The start of construction is targeted for July/August 2016 with anticipated completion by December 2017.

A resolution to approve the city’s strategic plan and performance manual was pulled by City Manager John Szerlag when it came up on the agenda. He said he wanted to bring an amended version before council at the next meeting and because two council members were absent. Donnell had to leave the meeting after the Charter Review discussions.

Council is holding a special workshop session on Wednesday at the Nicholas Annex building to discuss at the city’s employee compensation analysis, pay ranges and job classifications. Council’s next regular meeting is scheduled for next Monday.