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Burch responds

October 25, 2013
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

To the editor:

There they go again,

I take greater exception to Pete Brandt accusing me of distorting my record and of being "a spender" in an opinion piece published on Oct. 18th. I see the same pattern in opinions such as these that I have seen on the City Council that the City endured from 2010 to 2012, some of that Council having been those editorial writers as well. Many in Cape Coral have learned a valuable lesson through the "soundbiters" over the past four years that just saying "no" without solutions is not an option, (indeed the 2011 elections that removed Mr. Brandt are a good example). Much of what you see below has been shared before but these "Naysayers" don't try to learn or listen, they just try to hurt others. The saddest part of this game that the naysayers play is that many fine people are injured in the process. Cape Coral has lost much of its institutional knowledge (see below) as a result of the terror and chaos created from November 2009 to November 2011 and fielding qualified candidates has become increasingly difficult due to the hatred and negativism of this vocal minority.

As for my record, there is nothing to hide and much to be proud of and I am humbled by the help from staff, residents and Council in working through these issues. In a terrible economy with the "Misery Index" higher than it has ever been in this country, I was able to accomplish some landmark individual achievements and collective Council achievements such as described below. All of the following were possible because of teamwork and positive thinking people working together and saying "yes, let's find solutions" and not "no, but I have no solution"!

1. Avatar settlement that eliminated the third party negotiator and lawsuits pending that I along with City Attorney's office Mark Lupe participated in (Mark has left the City). This negotiation had been in contention for over 40 years and I am proud to have been the one to bring it to a successful conclusion.

2. Zemel Property negotiations whereas, I, along with Carl Schwing, Wyatt Daltry and others boarded a van on Primary Election day at 4:30 in the morning to Tallahassee, negotiated with State Secretary Tom Pelham of DCA and prevailed over a state staff that was "dug in" when we got there to side in favor of Lee County but was convinced to negotiate in our favor by the end of the day. That was a 16-hour day that was grueling but one that produced results that will benefit the City in coming years when development resumes at a higher pace. (Carl is no longer with the City) I am proud to say that the development restrictions now associated with this large tract of land provide for better land use while still providing for conservation and park lands that we must have to maintain our quality of life.

3. Hours of negotiations by me along with some members of the Construction Industry and CCCIA in an attempt to resolve the decades old controversy of the UEP. Those negotiations yielded a $4 million reduction in fees and costs for the Program Manager, (MWH) relative to the SW 6/7 project, as well as an agreement that provided an exit strategy for MWH and subsequent transition of responsibilities to the City within a year. Another $4 million in savings was added by MWH as a result of the recognition that the economic market should yield better prices and the subcontractors agreed to review their pricing. The SW 6/7 project, alone, was reduced from $85 million to $77 million as a result. Unfortunately or not, the Council chose not to proceed, due to the weak economy. Subsequent to that, in 2010,(I was not a member of Council at that time) the City did not have an amicable departure with MWH and are now (amazingly four years later) faced with a new firm to assume the responsibility of the construction plans and rebid the entire project. Time will tell whether we will benefit from that delay and that animosity for the Program Manager instead of working towards a responsible transition, although we do know that we will have to pay (hundreds of thousands of dollars, at a minimum) for others to assume the liability for the MWH plans at the very least. We also know that an agreement such as the verbal agreement we negotiated for MWH's phase out would accomplish the purposes that all had wanted: That is -a new approach at a lower cost with a seamless transition eliminating the liability costs and liability assumption for the SW 6/7 project. We also know that we would be collecting revenue from those end users and managing our utility rates better , as well as providing for a more efficient system that could utilize the pump stations and infrastructure already put in place anticipating SW 6/7 as a result. Those features were designed to pump higher volume that included SW 6/7 and have operated at a lesser efficiency as a result. A transition of all data collected and design performed for future phases of the UEP. Time will tell whether the work already done in design by MWH will be transitioned to the City thereby saving hundreds of thousands, possibly millions) in design fees for the North Cape that have already been performed.

4. The alternate Work Shop/City Council meeting format for Council meetings was instituted because I felt that some members of Council were not prepared and that those same were "brow beating staff" and grandstanding for style rather than for substance. This format allowed time for review of the agendas and staff time to answer questions prior to a vote which allowed for positive results for the city. I will never forget the incident when a staff member collapsed at the dais while under intense questioning by Council ( I was one of those Council members). I remembered, then, something that I had always believed to be true while exercising responsibility and responsible charge for any event. That is - "words matter," research and fact finding is essential and personal responsibility to respect one another while debating, teaching, learning or disagreeing is what makes us what we are as human beings. Some never understood that to this day and evidence of that exists in the remnants of the 2010 Council and some of their editorial writing friends.

5. Attendance at the U.S. Mayors Conference in Washington, D.C. where I was allowed to speak at a committee meeting in which I explained the plight of our City as designated "Ground Zero" for the affects of this economic downturn. I went to the Conference for five reasons. 1.) To bring attention to our City as a great place to live, in spite of the downturn. 2.) To lobby for any federal funds to be distributed to help distressed areas specific to the recession. 3.) To explain that these federal funds, earmarked for this downturn should not be based upon conventional criteria such as demographics but based upon needs directly related to the recession such as our "Ground Zero" label so that our demographics did not impede our possibility of obtaining those funds. 4.) To insure that any funds that were sent to Florida were sent directly to the Cities that were intended and not to the Counties and State level that would then determine how much and where to redistribute. 5.) To prohibit the States from using the funding to balance their budgets and use only to provide for jobs and economic growth. I managed to accomplish the first four, to some degree with the NSP funds, and indeed the fifth was written into the bill to be introduced to Congress. Unfortunately, that item was taken out of the Bill prior to passage. I lobbied hard to get a moment of their time to speak and after that moment, I am proud to say that the Committee Chairman, Ron Dellums, representative from Oakland California, asked me to take his chair for the remainder of the meeting as he had been called away. Chairing a National Committee with Congressional members participating along with many notable government officials and Mayors from across the Nation after having given a brief speech about our great City raised the bar for our respect amongst our neighbors and I am very proud of that. Those meetings brought national attention to our City via syndicated columnists in the Chicago Tribune, LA Times, radio interviews with National Public Radio and an interview with foreign journalists as to the merits of Cape Coral. That one conference was the beginning of my not so well known marketing statements then - "that Cape Coral has affordable housing, an educated work force and a great quality of life" for any that may want to relocate. That mantra has been used often and in many other places locally since then. After all of that, we also received the $7 million Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP1) fund. The unfortunate thing is that there was another $14 million NSP2 fund allocation that was imminent and was expected to come later. I was not in office at the time of submittal for that second allocation but I was told that the NSP 2 fund was re-routed to another City. I am not sure why we did not get that second installment but I do know that we were the most qualified, we expected it and we were told that it would be coming and I am still very disappointed that we did not get what we were expecting and what we deserved. Make no mistake, those targeted funds were very beneficial to the City in its attempt to mitigate deteriorating properties and other associated ills with distressed and abandoned properties. (The Finance Director and others that helped prepare the paperwork for NSP 1 have also left the City)

6. The first foreclosure workshop in the State of Florida being held in Cape Coral in conjunction with the State CFO's office in an effort to reach out to those that could not get heard from their lenders. I will never forget speaking with the many that came to speak with banks just to have their voices heard and hope to get some resolution to their "underwater" properties. I also remember the sad fact that Bank of America and Country Wide were "no shows" and that spoke volumes, in my opinion, of their lack of commitment to helping people that had never asked for help before. These were proud and hard working people that had done all the right things that were left standing at the chairs when the music stopped on Wall Street, in real estate and in the banking industry. At the very least, the workshop allowed some to have a place to talk about their challenges, at best, some were actually helped by those lending institutions that were listening and participating.

7. The first Mayor to call attention to the Chinese Dry Wall and ask for an assessment of all City owned structures built during those years that it was used. None was found and although that was comforting, it was not comforting to know; however, that I was powerless to do anything more than lobby the Congressional representatives of our State to do more for the residents that had the drywall problem in their private homes. I did lobby hard and long but resolutions were slow in coming.

8. Fire Station #1 which was constructed at over a half million dollars under the Contractor price as a result of my asking the Construction Manger to rebid due to the downturn in the market. Along with healthy debate and positive citizen input, changes were made to lower the overall cost as well as the rebid reduction to bring a structure that we can all be proud of. This Fire Station was long overdue to replace the older and outdated station that we had simply outgrown to say the least. Our Fire Fighters /First Responders, as well as the residents that they serve, deserved better.

9. The Police Building that was constructed for $19.6 million dollars, (many millions less than the $110 million referendum called for) and was a primary reason for me to run for office in 2007. At the Council where approval for the Guaranteed Maximum Price was approved I urged the Construction Manager to conserve and bring a finished building in under the GMP and under $20 million which to their credit occurred. I am very proud that the best Police force in the State of Florida that has kept our City in the top two most safest Cities category (year in/year out) were finally able to move from the cramped and over utilized space that was never designed to house law enforcement, evidence, labs, and forensic science technologies to name a few of the deficiencies. (Unfortunately, a very good Police Chief also left the City but, fortunately, we had a highly qualified replacement that has been on the force for many years.)

10. The Charter High School construction that was completed for an unprecedented low fee and that completed the vision of my predecessors for a complete Charter system. This was a vision of the City Manager (no longer here) and some of the previous Council members that were very vocal supporters throughout the process for the Charter System. It should be noted that some of the same people that editorialize on a regular basis, including members of the Council from 2010 that currently remain on Council were not in favor of the High School (nor any other progressive ideas) until after it was constructed and demonstrated its value with waiting lines to get into the Charter System. "Hindsight is always 20/20" is it not?

11. The budget reduction of over 20 percent from over $177 million to $137 million and staff positions reduced in excess of 20 percent from about 2,000 to about 1,500 that reflected and reacted to the loss of appraised value in this City from over $20 billion to under $9 billion. These reductions in both spending and staff levels as a result of that overall value loss, also unprecedented anywhere else, stand as the largest that I know nationwide to date and allowed the future Councils to operate and maintain the quality of life of the citizenry of Cape Coral. The courageous actions taken by the majority of Council during this time saved the City from deterioration while preserving the wonderful quality of life that we have become accustomed to. While staff reductions were difficult, many open positions were simply not filled and others were offered incentive to retire that benefited the City and provided dignity to highly qualified staff that made this City the beautiful place that it had become. The millage rate, budget numbers, actual tax dollars assessed and spending have been virtually unchanged from those 2009 initiatives to the present including the current proposed budget (exception to revenue neutral FST and CST). I have always said the millage rate and ad valorem taxes are the biggest "shell game" in the country. They are used as soundbites for tax pledges by politicians without regard for the true barometer of fiscal conservatism which is spending. When I came to office, the overall budget was $1 billion, operating budget was in the $170 million range. When I left office in 2009, the overall budget was $379 million dollars and operating was $137 million. Today the overall budget is $440 million dollars and operating $145 million. While I don't judge this Council on spending, don't let the soundbite politicians of today tell you they have not raised taxes because they have raised their spending levels significantly as you can see. Unfortunately, many of the courageous and talented staff and management that helped navigate those trying economic times and saved this City from economic disaster have since left the City and are thriving in other governmental organizations. (The City Manager, Assistant City Manager, City Clerk, Public Works Director, most of the City Attorney's office, Financial Director and much of the staff that worked on these initiatives are gone)

There are many more accomplishments that the "record" shows and that this City can look back on as defining moments in a City besieged by economic disaster created by the worst recessionary downturn that we have ever known. It is long past the time to suspend the "gotcha moments," accusatory and inflammatory posturing and mean spirited attempts at tearing down the City, its institutions and its highly qualified staff and management. Let's hope that on November the 5th, the new Council will aspire to more than the authors of the editorials that I refer to in blaming others and get on with the City's business with fresh ideas and a positive approach. Although they have lost many valuable resources in quality staff that chose to leave the City or were run out of the City, I, for one, think that they will stay on the higher road, rebuild the "talent pool" and produce lasting results that will benefit the City for many years to come. Let's take this vehicle out of neutral and begin moving forward again. "Stalled out" for four years is enough, lose the blame game and get on with the City business. Our citizens deserve more.

 
 

 

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