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Council hears from China trip protestors

By Staff | May 22, 2019

Just one week after Cape Coral City Council narrowly approved a taxpayer-funded trip to China for a city delegation of five, residents took to the podium Monday to express their displeasure.

Council voted 4-3 last week to approve the trip at a cost of $17,000.

The trip, which added an additional stop in Chengdu for a day before heading to Baise for two as part of a sister-city exchange, was not on the May 13 meeting agenda. Mayor Joe Coviello had tabled discussion the previous week in the wake of some Council concerns.

Those who voted against the trip – Councilmembers John Gunter, Jennifer Nelson and Jessica Cosden – had expressed concerns about transparency and protocol as not only was the matter not on the agenda, it also was not added at the start of the meeting as council rules state.

Resident Lynn Rosco was the most critical speaker this Monday, bringing up those issues and others, including possible public meeting violations and international concerns.

“You ignored the people’s rights, your own rules and Florida law on transparency. If citizens broke your rules, you would be bent on penalizing us,” Rosco said in an exchange with the mayor. “Why do you insist on this trip in the middle of a trade war? What about the American companies we could be pursuing?”

John Karcher of the Northwest Cape Neighborhood Association said public input was everything but it was apparent last week’s “public” was loaded with those who spoke in favor of the trip.

“Public input was hijacked by an invited few who ensured the measure passed on an improper vote. Being sneaky only reduces people’s respect for you. Three council members stepped up and said we needed transparency and suggested an alternative (such as a special meeting). We thank them for their integrity,” Karcher said.

Former mayor Marni Sawicki also spoke, saying that when the sister city idea started in her administration and it was simply a proclamation.

“If this trip had been brought to me, I would have asked questions such as what are the benefits and where would they go,” Sawicki said.

After public comment, Council-member John Carioscia asked City Attorney Dolores Menendez her legal opinion on whether council a violated state Sunshine Laws with its vote.

Menendez said council did not.

“The statutes require citizen input before most votes are taken. That does not have to happen right before the votes are taken, nor at the same meeting,” Menendez said. “There have been ample opportunities to do that. In fact, there have been 10 or 15 times to do that since the trip was proposed.”