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City has faced task of replacing council members on several occasions

By TOM HAYDEN - | Jan 21, 2021

The sudden and sad passing of Cape Coral Mayor Joe Coviello, a council colleague and champion for this community, took my thoughts to not only everything he has done for the community, but also to the history of past council decisions when similar events have occurred and a mayor passed away or resigned.

There have been two other occasions when the mayor’s seat became vacant during a term. The first occurred in November 1980 when then Mayor Lyman Moore passed away. The second occurred in 2008 when then Mayor Eric Feichthaler resigned to run for Lee County Commission. In both cases, council decided to appoint rather than conduct a special election. On Wednesday, City Council appointed John Gunter as mayor to replace Coviello. A special election would have cost the city approximately $500,000 for a primary and general election.

Moore was elected mayor in 1977, succeeding Don Graf. According to news reports, Moore experienced health problems in 1980, was hospitalized and missed a ceremony of the senior center expansion on Nov. 3. A commemorative plaque, dedicated to the mayor, was delivered to Moore’s hospital room. On Nov. 5, Moore passed away.

“There just wasn’t anybody else who was more devoted to the city,” said then City Manager Robert Proctor to the Cape Coral Breeze. “He was a true politician in the honorable sense of the word.”

“He worked the hardest and the most,” said then City Councilman Murray Zwerdling. “For every hour we (council members) put in, Lyman put in two.”

To replace Moore, City Council considered incumbent members of the council before selecting resident Bernie Langguth, who served one year.

In 2008, when Feichthaler resigned, 21 residents of the city applied for the position, while council members Dolores Bertolini, Bill Deile and Jim Burch were nominated. Council took to voting to fill the position. Bertolini, Deile and Burch each received two votes, while resident Walter Fluegel received one. Fluegel was nominated by council member Eric Grill, who said after the first round: “I stated earlier I didn’t want to support anyone on this dais, but you guys are backing me in a corner.”

After several votes, Burch and Deile faced each other in a runoff with Burch winning by a 4-3 vote. Feichthaler lost to incumbent Bob Janes in the Republican primary for the county commission race.

Burch was originally elected to the District 1 seat to finish the remaining term of Jim Jeffers, who passed away while in office in 2006. Thomas Hair had been appointed to succeed Jeffers until Burch’s victory. Gloria Tate was appointed to fill Burch’s District 1 seat, serving until the 2009 election. Fast forward 12-plus years, and Gunter also was from District 1. The city is currently taking applications to fill the District 1 seat.

There has been one other death of a seated city council member. Robert South passed away in 1971, less than two months after he was elected to the city’s first council. Preston Currier was appointed to fill his term.

Tom Hayden is a Cape Coral Museum of History board member and a Cape Coral City Councilman, representing District 3. He writes a column on the history of the city twice a month for the Cape Coral Breeze.