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Cape Council joins resident wrangle with District 6 rep

By Staff | Jul 21, 2020

Cape Coral City Councilmember Rick Williams came under fire Monday when criticism from a resident’s group within his district was picked up by some his fellow council members, one of whom agreed it may be time for him to step down.

John Bashaw, president of the Northwest Neighborhood Association, told the elected board he has seen a change in Williams over the past two years, with the issue over Tropicana Park — the “canary in the coal mine”– as a prime example of that change.

“It started a couple years ago and it has escalated since then to the point we’re concerned about his ability to perform his function as council member,” Bashaw said. “Tropicana was when we saw exactly what kind of behavior was troubling to us and the other council members.”

Williams took an opposing view to the association’s desired development of the park, which opposed water sports amenities not outlined in the original design plans.

Bashaw recommended the council take up a code of conduct and ethics for its members.

Councilmember John Gunter agreed with the concept.

“We have to keep ourselves to a high standard and we need a set of expectations and set that level as a council, which have not been spelled out,” Gunter said. “Things come up. But if they become a habit, we need to address it.”

Councilmember Jessica Cosden said she and Williams were once close, but something has changed.

“It seems like your heart isn’t in it. I think you should consider resigning. Something has changed in the last year or two,” Cosden said, adding short of that, Council can consider taking away assignments, such as Williams’ appointment to the board of directors for the Florida League of Cities.

Mayor Joe Coviello said council consists of eight people and that all members need to pull their weight.

“If you’re not keeping up your end, I have a problem because it reflects on our body. It’s time to step up or step down,” Coviello said.

Williams defended himself, saying that of the 30,000 people he represents within District 6, it’s only the small handful from the NWNA that seem to have a problem with him.

“They’re all passing around lies on social media. I’ve done a good job. I’m not resigning,” Williams said. “I hope we can make up, but I can’t if we keep up the lying that’s been going on for three years.”

The citizen clamor and Council comment centered on what critics claim is behavior hampering William’s ability to serve.

During the July 2 special city council meeting to discuss whether the city should require residents wear masks in most public situations, Williams left the meeting he was attending remotely, contributing to a lack of a quorum and the meeting being continued until the following week. Councilmember Jennifer Nelson announced after a break called by the mayor due to audience interruptions that she also needed to leave the meeting, which had stretched longer than planned.

Williams said due to the length of the meeting, his phone died. The special meeting was called during council’s summer hiatus as so he was out of town as well.

Four days later, while attending the continued meeting in person, Williams pulled a face mask up over his eyes during public comment. Critics posted the image to social media, saying Williams was sleeping, resulting in calls for him to resign.

Williams said he wasn’t sleeping, his eyes had started tearing from something in the room.

Adding to the controversy, Williams then sent an email from his City Hall address to a local businessman, who then shared it, copying council as he said it was threatening in nature. Williams said he has apologized for sending the email.

Williams has had some recent health issues.

In May 2019 he missed time following a stroke.

Since the pandemic began in March and so the start of remote meeting attendance, Williams has reportedly left other meetings early. How many, if any and why, could not be determined as no formal record was immediately available from the city Tuesday.

Bashaw said he was happy the council recognized the situation and took action.

“I’m pleased the behavior issue was acknowledged by council,” Bashaw said. “I’m also happy they locked on to my code of ethics and behavior would be established so they would be held to a higher standard.”

The council will soon meet to determine what the expectations are for a sitting council member, including the mayor, things that are not specifically spelled out in the city charter.