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Our endorsements for the General Election

October 19, 2017
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Although the General Election is still more than two weeks away, Cape Coral voters are in the process of deciding who will fill five of eight Cape Coral City Council seats up for grabs Nov. 7.

Mail ballots have begun to flow into the Lee Elections Office with early voting set for Oct. 30 through Nov. 4.

For Cape taxpayers, it is a critical election for a number of reasons.

One, a board majority is up for election or re-election with the mayor's seat along with Districts 1, 4, 5 and 6 to be determined. This means that voters who cast a ballot in the General Election could very well decide the direction the city will take for, at the least, the next two years.

Let us stress this again: The board we elect will make some far-reaching decisions on a number of key issues that are pending- and quickly, too.

Among them?

How to proceed in the wake of a Council deadlock that has left the fate of the old golf course acreage in limbo; how to resolve the continuing city staff-led franchise agreement debacle with LCEC; whether a $60 million-plus parks plan will go to the voters next November; and how to proceed with community-defining projects such as the redevelopment of the downtown Bimini Basin area and the north Cape's Seven Islands property.

But decisions on contracts and projects are not the only challenges the new voter-determined Council will face.

We're back in a growth economy and revenue from property taxes is again increasing as taxable values rise. It will be up to the newly configured board to determine whether the city's "diversified" income streams will be used to hold the line, reduce property tax rates, or be allocated to new projects of which there are many being bandied about.

With these things in mind, we offer the following recommendations for the Cape Coral City Council General Election:

** Mayor's race:

Vote Michael D. Hollow

With Mayor Marni Sawicki opting not to seek a second term, the Cape Coral Mayor's race offers a choice between Joe Coviello, a business consultant with a BA in Business Administration and a five-year tenure on the city's Budget Review Committee, and Michael D. Hollow, an owner of RE/MAX Realty Team and All American Title Services who is a retired lieutenant from the Lee County Sheriff's Office with a master's degree in criminal justice.

Both candidates emphasize their business backgrounds, both are informed on the issues, both have a history of community involvement, both pledge accountability.

Each has a strong and passionate support base which may make this one of the General Election's tighter races. It's certainly among the most hotly contested -and most politicized.

While we agree both Mr. Coviello and Mr. Hollow have qualifications in their favor, we lend our support in the mayor's race to Mike Hollow.

We say this for a number of reasons.

First, we agree with his base premise that "our home is in disarray," and that "leadership and a business mindset" are much needed now.

Mr. Hollow has these attributes.

During his 12-year tenure with the Lee County Sheriff's Office he rose through the ranks, serving as Internal Affairs Commander, Watch Commander, detective and K9 handler.

While head of Internal Affairs, he said his approach was always one of strict analysis with an emphasis on demanding that all findings be well defended by his investigators. Asking staff the tough questions -and expecting them to be fully prepared with solid answers - provides for a fair and objective basis on which to make decisions of whether to move forward or not.

This type of analytical, fact-based approach to staff recommendations is exactly what the city of Cape Coral needs, not because we - or he- distrust city staff or the consultant reports they so often rely upon, but because vetting makes good fiscal sense.

It also makes for sound policy decisions.

Second, Mr. Hollow's involvement with one of the city's top business concerns would provide a needed perspective.

The RE/MAX Realty Team, which he owns with wife Yoselyn, has for the past two years been the No. 1 office in the state. The firm did more than 1,800 transactions for nearly $500 million in sales for 2016, and employs approximately 150 Realtors and 12 staff members.

Finally, the efforts of the company and the couple are to be commended.

RE/MAX Realty Team has donated more than $250,000 over the last eight years through community sponsorships that include three years as the title sponsor of Red, White & Boom, title sponsorship of the Vietnam Traveling Wall Memorial at Jaycee Park and title sponsorship of the Coral Oaks City Championship since 2014.

Mike Hollow has the ability to serve, the skill set and temperament the city needs, and a demonstrated commitment to the community in which he lives and works.

We endorse Michael D. Hollow for mayor

Also running: Joe Coviello

** District 1

Vote Graham Madison Morris

With no incumbent running, the District 1 race offers the choice between John Gunter, a former police officer and CEO and president of Gulf Coast Premier Homes Inc., and Graham Madison Morris, an independent graphic artist and videographer who served three years as a Planning and Zoning commissioner, as an alternate member of the Burnt Store Right of Way Committee, and as a member of city's last Charter Review Commission in 2015 .

Mr. Gunter stresses his business background, Mr. Morris his tenure on P&Z.

Both candidates have done their homework and are informed on city issues, each has attributes that would translate well to Council office.

What tips the scale in favor of Mr. Morris in the District 1 race is not only his P&Z tenure, but his knowledge of land use issues and how the process works.

The city of Cape Coral is in the midst of a Land Use Development Regulations rewrite and update. The project has been outsourced to a consulting firm, Calvin Giordano & Associates, which is continuing its efforts to draft a comprehensive rewrite of city zoning and land use parameters.

Anyone who has followed the angst-laced stories related to land use changes such as the one concerning the old golf course acreage and the numerous and sundry special exception requests for smaller projects can understand why the city is seeking revisions to the existing regs.

Mr. Morris not only understands the issues but he has solutions for the future that could apply to specially designated parts of the city where a walkable, urban feel is desired by property owners and residents.

These types of codes allow for greater development flexibility that also incorporates the use of "public places" with multi-use zoning that could allow for a combination of retail, office and living space such as has been proposed for the South Cape.

As personable and passionate as he is when addressing what could be the tedious minutia of land use sensibilities - - which he says is actually comprise the city's "welcome mat," -Mr. Morris is not, however, a single-issue candidate.

His platform is based on the belief that the first responsibility of any elected official "includes always protecting the public trust, acting ethically, and minding the government's power of taxation in the most responsible way possible."

We agree.

We endorse Graham Madison Morris in District 1.

Also running: John Gunter

** District 4

Vote Richard Leon

The District 4 faceoff is one of two Cape Coral City Council races that include an incumbent.

Richard Leon, a lifelong resident of the Cape who has served on Council for the last four years, faces challenger Jennifer I. Nelson, a resident since 2008 who worked in operations and logistics with Goodwill Industries for 24 years before becoming the executive director for the Uncommon Friends Foundation.

Friendly, personable, and unquestionably sincere in her desire to serve, Ms. Nelson's background includes budgeting and department management. Those are great attributes.

What Mr. Leon offers voters is the experience culled from four years in the trenches at City Hall and an established reputation as a conservative Council member willing to ask the tough questions, require the right answers and only then vote accordingly.

Richard Leon is neither a naysayer nor a rubber stamp, a rare position for any elected official who usually discovers early that there is safety in numbers and lining up with like-minded others and becoming part of the institutional culture is the easiest path to political success.

We endorse Mr. Leon in District 4 for these reasons as well as for his accomplishments on Council during his first term in office.

High among them is his involvement with the rewrite of Chapter 19, the city provisions regarding all aspects of municipal water and sewer utilities operations including payment processing, meter reading, deposits and the like.

Mr. Leon advocated for the rewrite and, ultimately, there were 54 specific changes to the ordinance unanimously approved by Council which have streamlined processes and reduced customer complaints.

It was, perhaps, the most significant change to the city's codes in the last four years.

We also have a final reason for our choice.

There are simply too many projects moving toward fruition this budget year and next to reject historical knowledge and start from scratch simply for the sake of "change."

We like change. Some big changes are needed on Council. This race isn't one of them.

We endorse Richard Leon in District 4. He's earned our respect. And he's earned our vote.

Also running: Jennifer I. Nelson

** District 5

Vote Dave Stokes

With no incumbent running in District 5, the race offers two choices - James Schneider, a real estate broker with a degree in English/Public Administration who is in his third year as a commissioner on the city's Planning & Zoning board; and Dave Stokes, a firefighter/paramedic with Charlotte County Fire and EMS who has served on the City of Cape Coral Golf Course Advisory Board and the City of Cape Coral Parks Master Plan Stakeholders Committee.

Both candidates stress career achievement, both emphasize their community involvement, each takes pride in his involvement in city service.

As well they should.

In the District 5 race, however, our support goes to Mr. Stokes who stressed, through various questions, a commitment to fiscal prudence.

While this is a promise often made by those running for office, Mr. Stokes referred to his background as a past small business owner here in the Cape who learned well how "small" decisions made by Council can have a big impact on those of us paying the bills.

That's an important concept.

In addition, as a first responder, Mr. Stokes has years of experience of dealing with individuals who sometimes may be caught at their worst. Those on the medical side need to be particularly adept at defusing situations, at dealing with issues and moving on.

Cape Coral City Council has a need for "de-escalators," and few are better trained to rachet things down a notch than well-trained medical personnel.

And few develop tougher skins than those on the front line.

We endorse Dave Stokes in District 5. He's a longtime resident whose efforts and achievements have given him the foundation for public office.

Also running: James Schneider

** District 6

Vote Rick Williams

The District 6 race is the second of the five races on the Nov. 7 ballot to feature an incumbent and a challenger.

John Karcher, a Northwest Cape Coral Neighborhood Association board member who had a 34-year career with Hartz Mountain Pet Supplies before retiring, is challenging Rick Williams. Mr. Williams is a 22-year U.S. Navy and Navy reserve vet who also had a career in senior Biomedical Service Management before being elected to the Cape Coral City Council four years ago.

Mr. Karcher stresses his business background and says the consensus building skills he developed there would be an asset on city council.

Mr. Williams emphasizes his career success and achievements made while serving on the elected board.

Let us offer another as we list the reasons we endorse Rick William in District 6.

Mr. Williams is an exceedingly active member of Council whose off-the-dais efforts have been beyond reproach - and in a political environment where every motive has been questioned, every action scrutinized.

In addition to being well prepared for every meeting and up to speed on every issue, Mr. Williams has served our city as Mayor Pro Tem for two years; is the current Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) Board Chairman; the chairman of the MPO Executive Committee; the chairman of the Cape Coral Transportation Advisory Commission; a member of the Florida League of Cities Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Legislative Committee; chairman of the Burnt Store Road Right of Way Committee and Council liaison and advisor to the Cape Coral Youth Council which he founded.

Mr. Williams has completed the three-part Institute for Elected Municipal Officials provided by the Florida League of Cities and has professionally represented Cape Coral at a plethora of county, regional and state functions.

This dedication to duty is to be commended and it certainly is not to be discounted.

While we do not agree with his entire voting record, there are issues where he took a minority -and in our view -correct approach.

His position that the Southeast 47th Streetscape project be done in smaller parts so as to keep the South Cape out of debt; his rejection of a zoning change from professional to commercial to allow a gas station at Veterans Parkway and Country Club Boulevard; and his "no" vote on billboards, excuse us, "entry structures" come to mind.

We endorse Rick Williams in District 6. He has worked hard for our community, going above and beyond what the job requires. And he has done it well.

Also running: John Karcher

Cape Coral council members are elected citywide, meaning voters may cast a ballot in each race, no matter the district in which they live.

Early voting for the 2017 Cape Coral Municipal Election takes place Oct. 30 through Nov. 4 at two early voting locations: the Lee County Elections Cape Coral Branch Office, 1031 S.E. 9th Place, Unit 3.,and the Cape Coral Library, 921 S.W. 39th Terrace.

Hours of operation are 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. each day.

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 7. The polls, at precincts across the city, will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

- Breeze editorial



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