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Mayor asks council member to respond to accusation she is not living in district

Cummings cites Ian, says she meets city charter residency requirements

By VALARIE HARRING - | Mar 7, 2023

Patty Cummings

A Cape Coral City Council member accused of failing to meet the residency requirements to seek and hold office has responded, saying Hurricane Ian forced a temporary relocation.

Councilmember Patty Cummings responded to Mayor John Gunter who, on Monday sent the District 4 representative a letter stating that the city was notified of a complaint filed with the Governor’s Office alleging that she currently does not reside in her district as required by the city’s charter.

As the charter vests council with the authority to judge the qualifications of its members and to determine grounds for forfeiture of office, Gunter asked Cummings to respond to the city elected board within seven days, including an explanation if an issue does exist.

Cummings said the only issue is the damage wrought by Hurricane Ian.

“As you all are aware, many of us in Cape Coral have been affected by the recent hurricane that swept through our community and I am no exception,” Cummings said in a written response to Council Tuesday. “I am currently a part-time resident in District 4 with the full intent to be living in District 4 full-time by March 22, 2023.

“I relocated from my full-time residence due to hurricane damage and I have been actively looking for a full-time residence since then. Unfortunately, it’s been difficult due to the housing shortage.

“At one point, I was presented with an opportunity on a home but had to decline due to severe mold growth throughout the house. To further articulate, my family has recently experienced a problem with mold which hospitalized one of them. Thus, it was highly important we find a home that was clean and safe.

“I am still a part-time resident in District 4 with a driver’s license and voter’s registration card that displays my District 4 address. Additionally, I receive my mail at this same address.”

She provided an address she said will become her “full-time permanent address” by March 22.

“This will fulfill my residency requirements as a full-time District 4 Councilmember,” she wrote in the response also copied to the city attorney, city clerk and interim city manager.

The complaint, which also alleges Cummings was not a resident of District 4 when she submitted paperwork to qualify to appear on the municipal ballot in 2022, was received by Matt Caldwell, state committeeman for the Republican Party of Florida.

Caldwell, a state representative from 2010-2018 and the Lee County property appraiser, said Friday he forwarded the letter based on the seriousness of the allegation and the supporting documentation received.

He said he was obligated to pass it on.

“This is a fundamental question regarding the electoral process and anytime anyone brings up a situation like this it needs to be investigated,” Caldwell said when reached by phone. “One way or another, it needs to be resolved.”

He said he received the complaint, written by a Cape resident and forwarded without a name, about two weeks ago.

“I took the information to the Governors’ Office when I was in Tallahassee a couple of weeks ago working on some tax proposals,” Caldwell said.

He did not contact Cummings.

“It’s the kind of thing that when you receive that type of allegation, you are not the one to investigate it,” Caldwell said. “Obviously we are a society where everyone is innocent until proven guilty, but I do have a duty to forward that type of information when it’s provided to me.

“I took it and passed it along to the Governor’s Office. I suspect at this time they are investigating it,” he added.

He did not keep a copy of the letter but provided a general overview of the allegation which is that Cummings was not a resident of the district at the time of election and that she still is not a resident of District 4.

The complaining parties had conducted their own investigation and provided “several pieces of information” to back up their complaint, Caldwell said.

“They had investigated and done their own research as collaboration for their conclusion and it was credible information,” he said.

Since being notified of the complaint, Cummings has said there has been no abridgment of city residency requirements pertaining to her qualification to run or serve.

“Everything I’m doing is legal,” she said when reached by phone last Friday. “I have a part-time residence in District 4 and I’ll be full time in less than six weeks. And we had a hurricane that wiped out the other house.”

She updated on Tuesday morning the time it would take to move, providing the March 22 date to the city.

“People need to understand we just had a hurricane,” she said. “This is why it’s frustrating to me; we still have people displaced.”

She said her response to the mayor would constitute her statement on the allegations.

According to documents attached to Gunter’s letter requesting a response, Cummings’ drivers license and voters registration card both bear the address of a residence in District 4 which Cummings has said is her residence of record albeit part-time post-Ian.

Gunter also attached Cummings’ Statement of Candidate form and other paperwork she had filed with the City Clerk’s Office to qualify to run for the District 4 seat; city legal opinions related to the charter residency requirement and situations that could result in forfeiture of office dating back to 2002 and 2013; and information obtained from the Lee County Supervisor of Elections Office regarding a change in her voter’s registration shortly before the 2022 candidate qualifying period.

According to the dateline, Cummings, who previously ran in District 7, updated her address from one in District 7 to one in District 4 on May 9, 2022.

“On May 10, 2022, you filed a ‘Statement of Candidate’ to be a candidate in the 2022 Election for a Council member in the district 4 race and Qualified on June 14, 2023,” Gunter wrote.

The District 4 address, on Palm Tree Boulevard, is the address Cummings said she has maintained as a part-time address since Hurricane Ian hit on Sept. 28.

The Governor’s Office had not responded by deadline to email and phone requests for comment on the status of the complaint.