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From the Breeze archives: Enthusiastic crowd witnesses dedication of new city hall

By Staff | Sep 18, 2020

“The first City Council and the first city manager laid a stable foundation for this city to grow on,” according to Cape Coral’s first Mayor Paul Fickinger.

“To be sure, we had plenty of problems and there were some clashes of personality on the City Council, but all in all, they did a pretty good job at getting the city off on a firm footing,” he said.

That was in 1971, and Fickinger was sworn in as the city’s first mayor by the City Council. “There were several months in the very beginning when the council ran the city, as we were trying to find a city manager,” Fickinger recalled, “and it was pretty hectic because we were starting literally from scratch.”

“We had no money, and no departments and no city personnel,” he added.

The city legally could borrow up to $500,000 to get started, Fickinger said, “and we eventually borrowed $350,000 which we turned right around and invested at a higher interest rate than we were paying.”

The first ordinance passed by the council included an ordinance which would allow the city to receive its share of the state cigarette tax money. “We had the right to collect the tax as everywhere in Florida, but we had to pass an ordinance before the council could receive it from the state,” Fickinger said.

“That first cigarette tax payment gave us about $60,000 in operating cash, and we never did have to touch our investment,” he continued.

After several months, the council selection committee chose Cliff Ryan as the city’s first city manager, and Fickinger recalls that experience was the key attribute they found in Ryan.

“Experience was the key in the selection of Cliff Ryan,” he said, “and it has been proven to be a good choice because he brought a basic stability and conservativeness to the city government which a fledgling city needed in those early days.”

“Pay as you go,” was the philosophy of Cape Coral city government –a philosophy enshrined in the city’s first charter, which Fickinger recalls was the product of a lot of concerned people and months of work.

“We had a charter drafting committee formed after we had gotten the blessing of the Civic Association and hired Attorney Richard DeBoest to work in the necessary legislative drafts to present to the legislature,” said Fickinger.

State Rep. Ted Randell took that draft and filed with the necessary drafting committee’s of the state legislature, for final legal draft and introduction into the legislature. “The legislative drafting committee’s made few changes in the proposed city charter,” Fickinger said proudly. “They said that it was one of the best prepared city charters they had seen up to that time.”

That city charter formed the basis for the city’s government and was approved by the voters of Cape Coral in August of 1970. “The vote was not lopsided one way or the other but was adequate,” said Fickinger, “and I think that charter and incorporation issue got a good airing in the community before the vote.”

“We probably spoke at every civic and social group in the city.”

After the charter was adopted and the first City Council installed, the council acted as a “receiving agent” for the new city until Ryan was hired.

“After we hired Ryan, he took his time and selected his first department heads, and those people reflected the same stability that Ryan projected,” Fickinger said.

Police Chief James White joined the city that first year, along with Public Works Director Joseph Centrone and Fire Chief Tim Herrick.

“Those were the good years,” Fickinger said wistfully, “and although we were extremly busy and the pace was often somewhat hectic–they were years of stability and progress.”