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Mayor apologizes for meeting walk-out

By Staff | May 2, 2017

Mayor Marni Sawicki has apologized for her meeting walk-out last week.

“I do apologize for my, I think, what happened for that meeting. I let the negativity get in, and I’m human,” Sawicki said. “So, I just want to let you all know that.”

Council was mostly silent on the incident, which included name calling directed at two members as Sawicki stormed out of the joint workshop with the Cape Coral Charter School Authority last Monday.

“We all make mistakes, and I’m glad you apologized,” said Councilmember Jim Burch, the only City Council member to address the issue from the dais.

Resident reaction to Sawicki’s apology was mixed.

Sawicki was relatively quiet and expressionless as residents levied criticism during public input. That soon stopped, however, when one resident, Jack Mattachione, said Sawicki was embarrassing the city and questioned how to address her before Kenneth Retzer, a former city firefighter and briefly Sawicki’s husband, stood up and shouted back at him before being restrained.

Mattachione was removed from the meeting.

Other residents lent the mayor their support.

Vanessa Metzger, though not condoning last week’s outburst, said Sawicki had been provoked.

“The charter schools are a mess. The board needs to go. It’s been nothing but BS the last eight years,” she said. “I don’t blame the mayor for doing that. If it had been me, it would have been worse. I don’t keep my mouth shut.”

Last week’s joint workshop between Council and the appointed School Authority was called so City Manager John Szerlag could present best practices recommendations for the city-owned charter schools. The discussion, however, quickly veered off course with the mayor bringing up issues that began last August between Sawicki and the previous charter schools superintendent. Sawicki took particular issue with the authority terminating Nelson Stephenson’s contract without cause after he turned his notice in, grilling charter school governing board vice chair Robert Zivkovic on why the authority supported Stephenson in the midst of the controversy, giving him four month’s severance and a letter of recommendation.

As Councilmember Rana Erbrick and Councilmember Richard Leon attempted to call a point of order, Sawicki began gathering her things, pointed to the audience where she called out former Cape council member Dolores Bertolini, and then lobbed parting shots at Leon and Erbrick as she left, reportedly calling Leon a “dumbass” and Erbrick another derogatory name.

The incident left Council and authority members visibly stunned, then lit up on social media, evolving into a petition to Gov. Rick Scott for her removal and a called-for a protest outside City Hall before Monday’s meeting.

But only a handful of those displeased with her efforts attended as did supporters, who say Sawicki has been unfairly criticized.

Sheila Sweeney was among the critics. Saying she was tired of the outbursts, she carried a sign that read “No More Tantrums, No More Pottymouth, Please Resign.”

“It’s almost like she’s crying out for help. Her personal life is really getting involved in the City Council, and it’s sad,” Sweeney said. “I didn’t like how she runs Council or her rudeness toward other people.”

Others took a different view.

Linda Prince said Sawicki has done a great job, and that everyone makes mistakes.

“Marni is a very strong woman and they’ve been pushing her buttons. If that happened to me, I’d walk off as well,” Prince said. “The problem is when you have someone in the audience who was a council person screaming at you. That was wrong. She should stay and represent the people.”

Bob Mason said the main problem is that people have stopped listening or looking at the record.

“It’s an us versus them situation. It’s all over the country and it’s come to the local level. People want their way and nobody else’s instead of compromising,” Mason said. “If you take a look at who’s motivating the city and who isn’t. The record speaks for itself.”

Other public input topics included watering restrictions, the golf course property and the possibility of turning it into homes or green space, an eminent domain controversy that has gone on for more than a year, and the city’s own budget, targeted in the wake of some on Council accusing the Charter School Authority last week of being fiscally irresponsible.

Former mayor John Sullivan made an appearance to voice his protest over the city budget which he said has risen by double figures annually since he left office.

Sullivan narrowly lost his re-election bid to Sawicki 3 1/2 years ago.

In other business, the City Council filled some seats on its advisory Youth Council, which began meeting in February, as seniors have graduated and there is a need to find incoming members. Two junior and seven senior positions were voted on, nearly all by narrow margins, though when they came up for official approval, they were approved unanimously.

Council also unanimously approved an ordinance, that will be sent to the state for approval, that will amend the land use maps for about 2,900 acres in the north Cape from single and multi-family to single-family.

During comment, Wendy Blake asked how many people had bought commercial property there expecting utilities to arrive.

“Don’t change the finish line. You’re indiscriminately taking away their rights,” Blake said.

The city also approved a consent agenda item that will fund an emergency purchase order of $140,000 to Southwest Aggregates, a reservoir in Punta Gorda, so it could pump water into the canals of Cape Coral for a period of 90 days.

The city will also pay 10 cents per 1,000 gallons of water in the form of a credit to the reservoir owners, B.P. Limited Liability Co.

The mining pit will bring an additional 17 million gallons of water every day into the city’s canals to help residents water their lawns and firefighters to service their fire hydrants.