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Cape mayor shared concerns about school district’s plans to hire CCPD chief for new safety and security post

By VALARIE HARRING - | Oct 21, 2020

Mayor Joe Coviello

Lee County School Board members who expressed concerns Tuesday night about the prospect of the district hiring a new executive director of safety, security and emergency management were not the only elected officials who had issues prior to the board’s vote.

Cape Coral Mayor Joe Coviello called the board chair in advance of its discussion and expressed concerns about the school district administration’s hire of choice for the newly created position, Cape Coral Police Department Chief David Newlan.

School Board Chair Mary Fischer confirmed Tuesday that Coviello had contacted her to share some personal concerns about how Newlan had handled a Sunshine violation of which the mayor had been accused.

“He has some concerns about Chief Newlan’s participation in that,” Fischer said in a telephone interview Wednesday morning.

The mayor did not make any recommendation, she said when asked.

“No, he did not, he just wanted to share his opinion and thoughts, which I passed to the superintendent,” Fischer said, adding Coviello provided contact information, which she was invited to share.

“He was willing to answer questions or willing to talk to anybody,” she said. “I felt that that was my responsibly to share.”

Fischer said she spoke with School Superintendent Dr. Greg Adkins and then, in followup to that conversation, sent an email that included Adkins, the district’s Executive Director of Personnel Dr. Angela Pruitt, and other members of the school board, providing the mayor’s cell and office numbers.

According to a followup email, Pruitt spoke with both Coviello and Newlan.

“To All,

“Mr. Coviello contacted Ms. Fischer this morning to say that he wanted to share his opinion about Chief David Newlan. I spoke with Mr. Coviello and he stated that he has ‘issues’ with Chief Newlan,” Pruitt’s Oct. 19 email states, in part. “He believes that Chief Newlan was involved in a report to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) about Mr. Coviello’s Sunshine violation. I have attached/provided information about the violation in case you are not aware. Mr. Coviello said (that) he ‘does not have faith or trust in Mr. Newlan’s ability to be fair.’ I asked Mr. Coviello if he had concerns about how Mr. Newlan ran the police department. His response was ‘I do not do his evaluation, that is done by the City Manager. The city has stabilized over the last three years.'”

Pruitt said she told him she would “share his thoughts with the Board.”

She then contacted Newlan, who was the district administration’s recommended hire from among the 89 candidates who had applied for the position posted by the district in September.

“I spoke to Mr. Newlan about Mr. Coviello’s remarks,” Pruitt said in her email to Adkins, members of the school board and copied to Coviello. “He responded that two days prior to the media attention surrounding the Sunshine violation, Mr. Coviello asked Chief Newlan if he would stay on as Chief. However, after the media attention, the relationship between the two was not the same.”

She said staff was standing with its recommendation that Newlan, who was retiring from the CCPD as per the requirements of his retirement benefits package, fill the new executive position.

“The Operations Division followed proper procedure in recommending Mr. Newlan for the Executive Director position. The former City Manager, John Szerlag, who did Mr. Newlan’s evaluations since he has been Chief, provided an outstanding reference.  Also, former Chief Bart Connelly, who did Mr. Newlan’s evaluations for several years, also provided an outstanding reference.

“Human Resources supports moving forward with the recommendation of Mr. David Newlan.”

The email included links to news stories concerning the Sunshine issue, which ultimately resulted in Coviello receiving a non-criminal citation and $100 fine in exchange for a no-contest plea to one count of having a private conversation with a fellow member of the Cape Coral City Council “out of the sunshine,” i.e. outside of a public meeting. It also included the court documents, but not the FDLE report that led to the citation.

The school board approved filling the position Tuesday night 4-3 with school board members Melisa Giovannelli, Gwyn Gittens and Betsy Vaughn dissenting. Each said that while the new position had been previously budgeted, the funds to compensate the new executive post could now be better spent in the classroom.

The salary range for an executive director position within the district is $102,000 to $128,000 annually. Now that the position has been approved, HR will determine the compensation rate, a district official said Wednesday.

The start date for the position is Dec. 1.

Coviello could not immediately be reached for comment.

Newlan, who has accepted the position with the school district, declined comment on the mayor’s actions, opting, instead, to say he is looking forward to his new role.

“I do need to retire but I was not ready to retire yet,” he said by phone. “This position came up, and I look forward to keeping our schools safe.”

His last day with the city is Nov. 20.