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Single-member district referendum request fails to garner support

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Apr 11, 2024

Cape Coral City Council said thank you — but no thank you — to a resident-proposed single-member district petition Wednesday.

Council members questioned whether there would be any benefit to residents as currently, voters cast a ballot for every member of the elected board where, under the proposed charter change, they would only vote for two — the mayor and “their” district council member.

“We make decisions for the entire city, not just our particular district,” Councilmember Tom Hayden said. “I believe voters should have a right in deciding eight winners because they are making decisions for everybody.”

Hayden said he believes voters do their due diligence to understand what candidates have to offer. He said if the city moved to single-member districts, they may only look at their district and not know what other candidates’ platforms may be.

With that said, Hayden said he would be willing to put it before the voters to decide, a decision with which Councilmember Dan Sheppard agreed.

“I think we should let citizens decide. There are pros and cons for both,” Sheppard said.

John Bashaw, who brought the request for a referendum forward, said he thought the topic of single-member districts was both important and timely.

“My ask is really, pretty simple. You allow the qualified electors to vote on changing from at-large to single-district voting for council members,” he said. “I am not asking you to make the change. You are, however, on the critical path to making the change.”

Bashaw said at-large voting dilutes the voting power, as there are 20,000 qualified electors in each of the seven districts.

“I live in District 6. In 2024, I am going to be voting in races in Districts 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7. I don’t live in any of those,” he said.

Two council members, Richard Carr, and Robert Welsh, said they could entertain a hybrid model, having four at-large council members and four single-member districts.

“I would like to entertain what it would look like for a hybrid model,” Welsh said.

Other Council members expressed this was not the time to move to single-member districts.

“The difference between at-large and single-member has a lot to do with maturity and uniformity of the city. Cape Coral is developed from the outside in a lopsided way. Each one of the districts doesn’t have the same infrastructure, same amenities. In my opinion, the at-large design breathes more of a ‘we are all in this for the entire city.’ Those (single) district citizens would be expecting that Council member to put their interest above and beyond — that is what they are electing them to do,” Councilmember Bill Steinke said.

He said district council members having to live in their district is important for geographical diversity.

“Until we get to that point where we have equal distribution of infrastructure and amenities it has to be a leadership team, rather than seven individuals looking out for seven locations fighting for the dollars, resources, and assets trying to win for their folks,” Steinke said. “I would not be in favor of looking at single-member districts at this point.”

Mayor John Gunter agreed this was not the time to move to a single member district, as the city is only 55% built out.

He said his opinion may change once the city is completely built out.