Welcome – and thank you
On Nov. 16, Cape Coral residents will see four of our neighbors sworn in to serve on the city’s elected board.
One, Jessica Cosden, is a returning member who will begin her second term on the Cape Coral City Council. Three, Dan Sheppard, Tom Hayden and Robert Welsh, will be newcomers but each has long tenure in the Cape, a good thing to bring to the seats to which they were elected on Tuesday.
Added to the current Council makeup — Mayor Joe Coviello and council members John Gunter, Jennifer Nelson and Rick Williams — the returning and incoming reps will be part of a new board dynamic, all the more important as Cape Coral also has a new administrative chief, Rob Hernandez, who became the Cape’s city manager in August.
We wish our newly elected officials well and we commend them, newcomers and tenured vet alike, for their willingness to serve or serve again.
Public service can be a daunting and is too often a thankless task.
To the newcomers, let us offer much the same advice as we did a couple of years ago prior to this changing of the guard:
One, we are not among those who demand “full-time council members” for compensation that is part-time — as it should be.
Bring the same dedication to reviewing the issues each of you demonstrated during this pandemic-impacted election cycle and carve out time to listen to input from supporters and critics alike and you will have a foundation for serving our city well.
If one good thing has come out of the restrictions, social rules and common sense limitations imposed by COVID-19 it is that we, the residents, and you who sought our votes through unique and innovative communication methods, have learned that there are various ways to solicit or share public input.
It’s not necessary to stay in your office. It is necessary, though and please, to stay connected.
Two, if you have committed to “full-time” service, thank you; we will not criticize either the choice or the dedication.
We will, however, re-offer one key cautionary to all: Resist the temptation to become enmeshed in the city’s “corporate culture.” Incoming council members, all of whom have business backgrounds, no doubt know exactly what we mean. Still, let us stress this because we firmly believe it is a trap that, while easy to see, is also oh-so-easy to fall into anyway.
A council member’s role is not that of administrative supporter or staff advocate. Those who work for the city have, in fact, appropriately adequate advocacy. That includes the unions to which they pay dues, their supervisory personnel, the city’s own employment policies and practices and, if all that fails, the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission.
City Council is not part of that process, at least not in the “team” or “corporate family” sense.
According to the city’s own organizational chart, “the people” are at the top of its structural hierarchy. Below that is the mayor and the other seven members of the Cape Coral City Council, followed by the top tiers of the city administration, including the city attorney, the city auditor, the city manager, and the various appointed advisory boards. Next are all of the city departments, which report directly to the city manager.
The city manger reports to Council and Council reports and is answerable to “the people” — the stakeholders who elected them, the stakeholders who work or have businesses here, the stakeholders who own property and pay taxes in the Cape.
Put another way, City Council is a board of directors that reports and is responsible to the stock holders in the multi-million dollar “business” they oversee in terms of policies, planning, expenditures and revenue decisions.
That means hard questions, strict scrutiny and measured decisions to benefit our entire community — not because “there are problems with staff,” or because staff recommendations are to be doubted, but because that is Council’s job.
Council’s only job.
We’ll add one more cautionary admonition this year.
While Council may be likened to a board of directors, there are two key things that differentiate elected boards such as commissions and councils. One, City Council is a public board whose business — virtually all of its business — must be conducted publicly, i.e. “in the Sunshine.” That can be a hard concept, especially for those with private-sector honed concensus-building skills. It’s also hard for those loathe to throw the sausage ingredients into the grinder in front of those they expect to ultimately consume the finished product. But palatable or not, Government-in-the-Sunshine is a mandate, not an option. We urge both new and seated members of Council to take your Sunshine training to heart and err, if you err at all, on the side of both caution and those who trusted you with their vote.
To those who have served and are leaving City Council, our thanks — our thanks to Councilmember John Carioscia, term limited out following long and dedicated service; our thanks to council members Marilyn Stout and Lois Welsh, each of whom served well but opted not to seek another term. Your service is much appreciated.
Our welcome again to the new board members.
May your tenure be as successful as your campaigns, may your service for the next four years be as happy for you as hearing the election results come in Tuesday night, and may our community come together in support of the voter mandate you received.