homepage logo

Cape to investigate residency complaint

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Mar 16, 2023

Patty Cummings

The city of Cape Coral will hire an independent investigator to determine if a sitting member of its elected board violated residency requirements to run or hold office.

Cape Coral City Council voted 6-2 Wednesday to investigate a complaint regarding Councilmember Patty Cummings to determine whether she was living in District 4 when she filed her paperwork to run for office last May and whether she currently meets charter-mandated residency requirements.

The action stems from a letter sent to Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and copied to Gov. Ron DeSantis and Lee County Supervisor of Elections Tommy Doyle.

It was also forwarded to the Governor’s Office by Matt Caldwell, state Committeeman for the Republican Party and Lee County’s property appraiser.

The complaint alleges that Cummings “fraudulently represented herself as living in District 4, that there is significant evidence that she lived in District 2 when she filed for election, and she lived in District 6 as of the date of the election. At no time did she reside in District 4 as required by the city charter and her certification.”

The city charter requires candidates to reside in the district they seek to represent and to live there when they serve.

Cummings has said she met the residency requirement to qualify for the seat but said damage from Hurricane Ian forced her to temporarily stay outside the district while she looked for new housing. Even so, she continued to maintain a part-time residence in District 4, Cummings has said.

She made no public comment Wednesday other than to join Councilmember Dan Sheppard in a “no” vote to hire an investigator.

Members of Council discussed whether an investigative route was the best course of action and also asked the city attorney various questions.

Mayor John Gunter said because the letter of complaint was anonymous and not a signed affidavit, the state was not going to investigate it.

“What is our next step, if any, is the question?” Gunter said. “There is a process outlined in the charter. We need to make a decision collectively on what our next step will be.”

Councilmember Tom Hayden said what concerned him was Cummings’ address within the district, listed on her drivers license and voter registration, and her current status.

“I don’t believe you are living in your district and the reason is because of the hurricane and you didn’t have a place to go,” Hayden said. “I don’t believe there are any exceptions for living outside the district, even under these circumstances.”

Councilmember Bill Steinke said where she ended up after the hurricane is irrelevant, since many people were displaced from the storm, Cummings included.

“This has nothing to do with her or the storm. Did she reside in the district she ran for when she filed? We need evidence on where she lived when she filed,” Steinke said. “Look up her residency. That’s the only question that needs to be answered.”

Councilmember Dan Sheppard also had an issue with the lack of signature.

“If someone has a complaint and they put their name to it, I think we should look into it. I have no respect for it if there isn’t a name,” Sheppard said.

The only word Cummings said throughout the discussion was to voice “no” during the roll call vote. She did not comment afterward.

Cummings sent a letter to city council last week saying she is a part-time resident of District 4, with the intent to be living in District 4 full-time by March 22.

“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,” Cummings wrote, adding she had an opportunity for a home but declined due to mold.