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The path ahead

By Staff | Mar 16, 2023

To the editor:

The Cape Coral City Charter states in provision 4.05 (b), “Any person eligible to hold the office of Council Member may have his or her name placed on the ballot as a candidate for Council Member for the Council district in which he or she resides upon filing with the City Clerk a sworn statement of qualifications…” At Wednesday’s regular Council Meeting, the Council voted to hire a third-party investigator to determine if the District 4 council member resides in their district.

Unfortunately, this Council has been placed in an awkward situation early on in its term, but at least their discussion remained civil while discussing this highly-charged topic. Two things were made noticeably clear in the discussion. First, City Attorney Menendez said, “You need to be in your district the whole time, it does not stop the day after you qualify or elected.” Second, this Council wants to find out the facts, no matter how those facts play out.

So, where do we as a city go from here? We, as the public, must allow the investigation to run its course and report its findings back to our Council. This will then give Cape Coral two paths forward. The first path demonstrates the council member resides in the district and thus meets the requirements to hold office. The council member would be cleared of any alleged wrongdoing, removing the dark cloud over our city, and allowing the business of the people to continue.

However, if the investigation leads to discrepancies in what was stated to the public by the council member, the Council will have some difficult conversations in the future. While discussion from the dais may lead to a public hearing by our Council, I believe this would prove burdensome not just to the Council but to the residents of Cape Coral. Politics could potentially play a significant role in this and, as many fellow long-time residents may remember from the Mickey Rosado situation in 2007, this could cause rifts in our community. There is a different course of action for the Council, though. If the investigation returns with inconsistencies that may be against the Charter, this would be enough for our Council to pass a resolution to send the results of the investigation to the Governor’s Office to look into the situation further. This would allow an unbiased party, our Governor, to decide if there is evidence to suspend the council member or not. This removes the burden off of Council from having to decide whether a fellow member is removed from office or not.

While this scenario would be a worst case and an unfortunate one, if it were to come to fruition the residents and council will have another decision to make. Who will replace the council member? While Council would interview potential candidates, I believe we the people made the choice for them just four months ago. The runner-up in the immediate past municipal election, if she would be willing to step up, and take on the role once more as council member for District 4. This will allow a person with experience and knowledge of the issues that this Council faces over the next few months to hit the ground running without a learning curve. The Council has a full list of items to address that requires a fully educated board. We are still rebuilding from Ian, the decision of the UEP moving forward, a vote for a new city manager and a city attorney, and the budget is just around the corner. Having an experienced council member will matter.

No matter the outcome, during this test of our government, we shall become a stronger Cape Coral because of it.

Richard Leon

District 4 Council member, 2013-2017