Civic Association pushed for incorporation
On March 1, 1962, the Cape Coral Civic Association was formed. On April 2, 1962, when Cape Coral had the remarkable population of 1,605 people, the Cape Coral Civic Association, with 228 members, elected its first board of directors. The Cape Coral Civic Association is the oldest civic organization in the city.
The first general meeting of the Civic Association occurred at the yet to be dedicated Cape Coral Yacht and Racquet Club pavilion on Monday, June 4, 1962. President Verne Schiegel proclaimed to over 300 people in attendance that “The Civic Association is for the benefit of Cape Coral.” Vice president Edward Jay gave a report on the association’s efforts to secure a Post Office and board member Don Graf furnished a report on the association’s efforts to have a medical facility in Cape Coral. Graf later became the first city wide elected mayor in the early 1970’s after the city was incorporated. Since then several mayors, many council members, many county commissioners and our current lieutenant governor can all be counted has having membership in Civic.
The Civic Association is proud to have a long and rich history of accomplishments that includes being “the engine behind the incorporation of the city of Cape Coral” in 1970. In commemoration of the organization’s 20th anniversary in 1981 the Cape Coral Breeze published the following article:
“Civic a Forum for People”
“In the beginning there was a Taxpayers Association. In the middle there was the Civic Association. And now there is the mayor-council manager city government.
From 1962 to 1971, the Cape Coral Civic Association was the representative of the residents of Cape Coral. Faced with an unsympathetic and sometimes hostile county government, the Civic Association was the one outlet and forum the people of Cape Coral had that exercised any functional power.
Born in March 1962, a splinter group of the old Taxpayers Association, the Civic Association first tackled the issue of whether to build a Cape Coral Bridge. The bridge, which seemed to many at the time, essential to ensure growth in Cape Coral and prosperity for area residents, was the stage for a bitter fight between two factions of the Taxpayer Association.
Through the years the Civic Association has tackled problems such as the Cape Coral Bridge, a lighting district for Cape Coral, attempts to make GAC stick to their promises, and a civic center.
Charles Brady, a resident of Cape Coral since 1968, recalled the incidents surrounding the proposed civic center for Cape Coral.
“Tom Gray initiated the ideas of a civic center at a Civic Association meeting,” Brady remembered. He called the day in 1972 that Cape Coral voters rejected a $600,000 bond referendum for a civic center “the sorriest day in Cape Coral’s history.”
“It was at the Civic Association that Charlie Blackburn presented the idea that Cape Coral should incorporate,” Brady recalled. “All those persons who thought incorporation was a good idea were asked to volunteer for committees to study the problems involved.”
The Civic Association studied incorporation as early as 1963 and issued reports at the beginning of both 1964 and 1965 stating that incorporation was not the wisest idea at the time. It wasn’t until 1969 that the organization fully endorsed incorporation and proceeded to “get the ball rolling” according to Brady.
The Civic Association’s importance as a policy making body in Cape Coral diminished as the city government took over the day-to-day government. Membership in the organization declined as more people became more interested in a legal governing body.
“Up through my term we had a pioneer feeling.” Brady was president of the Civic Association in 1972. “We had a large, active membership who could see the problems in Cape Coral and question those who caused turmoil. Once we became a city, the Civic Association was still fighting for things such as the civic center, and sometimes we had to fight for our own existence.”
In the past few years we have become more of an information group,” Brady said. “Strong discussions, like 600 people who participated in the discussion about the utility rate hike that GAC requested just don’t surface anymore.
The role the Civic Association will play in “. the future of Cape Coral will be determined by the interest of the residents of Cape Coral.” Brady feels there are many areas that the Civic Association, in a new form as a ‘watchdog’ for city government.
“I am definitely fearful that if we don’t get industry in Cape Coral, our taxes will become prohibitive and our growth will stop,” Brady predicted. “I don’t agree with some of our city fathers that Cape Coral should be a bedroom city for Fort Myers.”
Now almost three decades after the Breeze anniversary article, the Civic Association remains a strong voice for the community as we celebrate another anniversary this month. Civic has weathered all that any opposing factions have thrown its way. In recent years a City Council with baseless allegations tried to destroy Civic and squelch the public’s voice. They removed Civic from the taxpayer funded city web page. They singled out Civic, and only Civic, in an attempt to silence the organization. Their action merely strengthened the Civic members’ resolve and resulted in an improved Civic sponsored web page www.capecoralcivicassociation.org. Once again it is the members and residents who make Civic strong and successful.
What does the future hold for Cape Coral Civic Association? We are reminded of Charles Brady’s words; “. the future of Cape Coral will be determined by the interest of the residents of Cape Coral.” With this in mind Civic continues to be “a Forum for People” to discuss and inform the public on a variety of issues. Civic prides itself on understanding the issues and the positions it has taken in support or in opposition to them. Civic provides the individual citizen with a collective voice to our local elected city and county officials. Civic general meetings are held at the Cape Yacht Club on the fourth Tuesday of the month from 7-9 p.m. and the meetings are open to the general public.
Civic continues to provide a venue for candidates’ forums with discussion and questions of the issues. This gives our residents the opportunity to meet the candidates up-close and personal. Civic is proud of this non-partisan tradition that attracts standing room crowds at our forums.
As the city grows and the population becomes more diverse, Civic must focus on the core issues that affect the quality of life of our neighborhoods, such as city services, sensible growth, property values and a vision for economic development that will benefit everyone. As such Civic has communicated with other civic and neighborhood associations to encourage a “coalition” of organizations to speak with one voice on broad based issues facing the city. One messenger with many, many of your voices held within his message can accomplish much more than your solitary voice.
Civic will continue to increase its presence in the community with more use of the internet, web pages and emails to keep our members, friends and public officials informed in a more timely fashion.
Remember, it was the combined voices of the original 228 Civic members in 1962 that created this, our city of Cape Coral.