Sawicki asked for, rejects, apology for comments made at Beach council meeting
Expressing embarrassment as a Cape Coral City Council member, Rana Erbrick said Mayor Marni Sawicki should extend an apology to the Fort Myers Beach City Council for her verbal exchange last week at a Beach council workshop meeting.
“For too long we have condoned actions by our silence, but after news reports about what happened at the Fort Myers Beach Town Council meeting I can no longer remain silent and look the other way and hope that things go away,” said Erbrick. “I’ve been criticized for sending an email, not an apology, to the Beach council expressing my disappointment and concern for a council member’s actions inside another council’s meeting that this council would not allow here has taken us back to where we were as a laughingstock in the county.”
Erbrick said she has attended various functions representing council in the last two weeks and had to just “grin and bear” it when approached.
“I’m embarrassed. I’m dismayed and disappointed in that council member and for this community,” Erbrick said. “I think an apology is due to this council, this community and also an apology to that (Fort Myers Beach) council.”
Erbrick said it is a matter of the city’s image which council has spent several years trying to clean up.
“This reflects on all of us,” Erbrick said. “Every time we go through these doors in the public in an official capacity we need to be above reproach.”
Though not mentioned by name to that point, Sawicki responded, “Thank you for your opinion, but you were not there and there will be no apology from me and that’s all I am going to say about that.”
When asked by another council member if she was at the meeting or just reacting to media reports Erbrick responded, “I was not there, but I saw the video. Anybody can go to the Fort Myers Beach council website and watch the video like anyone watching the video of these meetings.”
Sawicki then added, “I’ve received calls from two county commissioners and others thanking me for speaking up. I am not happy with the constant undermining of some council members trying to make me look bad. I thank the rest of the council for their support and understanding.”
Sawicki became upset at the May 16 meeting with the “tone” used by Fort Myers Beach Council Member Tracey Gore during the portion where current water quality issues were being discussed, particularly during a presentation by Sanibel Island Mayor Kevin Ruane.
Ruane has been the chief local spokesperson for a coalition of mayors spearheading the need to address issues related to water discharges from Lake Okeechobee, which affect the Caloosahatchee and Gulf waters. Following a staff PowerPoint, Ruane provided a big-picture view, including why exercising an option to buy U.S. Sugar lands was not a short-term solution. Gore questioned Ruane, stressing her concerns that waters to be stored in the Caloosahatchee River (C-43) West Basin Storage Reservoir may still contain pollutants and so not fix the problem, at least not locally.
Following the presentation and related Town Council discussion, Sawicki, who also is part of the mayor’s coalition, came to the podium and chastised Gore.
“Your response and how you respond to people won’t get you very far in this future of how we get things done and you can either be an advocate and work with us and let us know when things aren’t working or come up with your own solution and do your own thing,” Sawicki said to Gore. “But I personally, speaking for myself, do not appreciate the tone that you use – it does nothing to grow us or bring us together.”
“Are you trying to be adversarial?” Gore responded from the dais.
“Kind of,” Sawicki said. “Kind of like you.”
Gore then asked “What is your problem?”
Fort Myers Beach Mayor Dennis Boback called for order, saying, “That’s enough, that’s enough. Let’s move on” as Sawicki, Ruane and other members of their party left the council chambers.
At least two members of the Beach council took issue with Sawicki’s comments.
“I don’t care if you’re the president of the United States, you’re the mayor or a resident of Primo Street,” Vice-mayor Summer Stockton said after a short recess. “I am not going to sit here and tolerate that kind of behavior from any public comment. So please, I want the people kicked out and I don’t want them welcomed back, when people are acting like that.”
Boback said Sawicki owes an apology, perhaps two.
“I think she does,” Boback said Tuesday. “I feel she was out of line reprimanding councilwoman Gore, especially when she (Sawicki) wasn’t the one giving the presentation. What Ms. Gore was asking was much the same as what councilwoman (Anita) Cereceda did when Ray Judah gave his presentation the meeting before. Both had the right to ask questions and it is imperative that they feel they’re allowed to do so.”
“I’d like to add that I don’t believe it’s right to come to someone else’s meeting and do something like that,” said Boback. “She definitely owes an apology to the entire council and certainly to Ms. Gore.”
Gore, meanwhile, wants focus returned to the issue.
“We’re all passionate about the quality of our water,” Gore said Tuesday. “Let’s not lose focus.”
Fort Myers Beach Observer editor John Morton contributed to this report.