Decision on Kessler rehiring put off

By Jacob Ogles
Originally posted on January 28, 2008

The decision on whether to rehire auditor Michael Kessler divided the Cape Coral City Council. Ultimately a decision was put off.

Kessler in 2006 released an audit of the Cape Coral utility expansion which resulted in a Department of Justice investigation and incited fractious debate in the community. The report was decried by city staff as biased, and after District 2 Councilman Pete Brandt called for a cost query on a new Kessler audit, City Manager Terry Stewart reiterated concerns.

“I and my staff have strong misgivings about bringing Mr. Kessler back here,” Stewart said. “I think it would be difficult for anybody to do an objective audit with the atmosphere that existed here.”

Council members Tim Day and Bill Deile joined Brandt in calling for Kessler’s return.
“I don’t think true professionals can’t work together, even if don’t like each other,” Day said.

Day also reiterated frustrations he had with contractor MWH regarding excessive redaction of information in documents provided for the audit. MWH officials have said they provided all required by contract.

District 5 Councilman Eric Grill said he felt a new audit should be done by someone with no past relationship with the history so that an untarnished report is returned.

“If you want to talk about perception, we need a clean slate across the board,” he said.

Brandt also called for a full review of the city finance department and an audit of all construction contracts in the city.

But ultimately, council voted 5-3 to postpone any votes on new audits until after a report comes back from the state Auditor General, which also audited the city in 2006.

Financial services director Mark Mason said that officials from the state are scheduled to come to Cape Coral on Feb. 4 and discuss progress in responding to that audit.

In a memo received by the council on Monday, Mason wrote that the city has complied with or is taken positive action to evaluate and implement 91 percent of the recommendations in the report.

“Although the City had a difference of opinion with many of the findings… the vast majority (42 of 46) of the recommendations are valid and were either in place, are in process, are being evaluated due to some future event or has since been put in place,” Mason wrote.

9:07 p.m.

The Lee County School Board will offer business skill classes at the city-owned business park by Cape Coral City Hall.

The City Council unanimously approved the use of space at no cost to the school district, which is providing equipment and faculty for the courses.

The classes were once offered at High Tech North in Cape Coral but have recently only been offered at the school district’s main office in Fort Myers. Officials from the district said there is still a demand for classes in Cape Coral.

8:34 p.m. – Shops at Chiquita plans unanimously Ok’d

Plans for the Shops at Chiquita won unanimous approval from the Cape Coral City Council tonight.

The shops, intended to look much like the Shops at Santa Barbara, are planned on about 2.5 acres of land at the northeast corner of Chiquita Boulevard and Gleason Parkway.

Officials from Avalon engineering said no tenants have been announced, but that the center is expected to house mostly restaurants and boutique retail stores.
The center can house as many as 12 units with 1,800 square feet, though larger customers could get more than one unit.

8:26 p.m. – Expanded powers for Cape budget committee OK’d

An expansion of powers for the city’s budget commitee was approved 5-2 by the Cape Coral City.

Now renamed the Budget Advisory Commitee, the advisory commitee was granted input on long-range financial planning issues and increased oversight on budget matters. The change also created a city council liaison to the baord.

District 5 Councilwoman Dolores Bertolini, who voted against the change, was appointed as the liaison to the commitee.

7:33 p.m. – Move to reconsider fire station contract denied

An attempt failed to put a $4.4 million contract for construction of a new fire station on Coronado Parkway back on the City Council agenda tonight.

The council two weeks ago voted to approve the contract, but only after a bitter fight and a reduction in the contingency fund for the project. The contract with the full contingency fund failed 4-4, but when Mayor Eric Feichthaler proposed reducing the costs, it passed unanimously.

District 1 Councilman Jim Burch said tonight he wanted to reconsider the vote. But his motion to do so failed 5-3.

District 7 Councilman Derrick Donnell, who had voted against the fully-funded contract, voted against bringing the contract up for a new vote.

6:44 p.m. – Cape council ‘open-minded’ to building purchase

Mayor Eric Feichthaler said a Cape Coral City Council vote will be held before the end of February on purchase of the Mid Cape Corporate Center from McGarvey Development.

“If the council shoots it down at that point, then that is the way it is,” Feichthaler said.

The city’s Public Safety Building committee recommended that the building be purchased and renovated by McGarvey for use as a police administration building.

Feichthaler said he generally supports the proposal, but much of the council has shown skepticism.

At a workshop on the public safety building Monday, four members of the eight-person council said they favor building a new police station on land near City Hall acquired from VK through the eminent domain process.

But a majority of council members say they remain open-minded and will hear out the proposal.

“I’m still open-minded to the idea (of purchasing the McGarvey building) but am skewed more toward no,” said District 7 Councilman Derrick Donnell. “I have major issues with the VK property that I don’t think we are going to overcome.”

The discussion came after representatives from McGarvey said they would allow the city to defer payment for three years. Company president John McGarvey said that would shave $600,000 off the price.

“We are team players here,” McGarvey said. He also said the city is not going to purchase the building, he needs to know so he can start marketing the structure in the private sector.

The Public Safety Building committee recommended in addition to buying the Mid Cape Corporate Center, the city pay for McGarvey to renovate the structure to meet police needs and build a second building on the Pine Island Road site, and purchase land for expansion in the future.

The total cost for the recommendation, including construction of a fire headquarters by the existing Emergency Operations Center, is an estimated $40 million. That includes 29.7 million for the McGarvey structures and renovations and $5.1 million for land for expansion at the Mid Cape Corporate Center.

Feichthaler said he will talk with McGarvey about whether the sales price can come down further. If those negotiations go well, he said, he could bring the matter back for vote in the next two or three weeks.

District 6 Councilman Tim Day said he supports the purchase because it could get the police in a new building before the end of the year in an existing structure in the geographic center of the city. The McGarvey structure is located near the intersection of Pine Island Road and Hancock Bridge Parkway.

“We have to get our folks out of the facility they are in,” Day said, referring to the existing police headquarters on Nicholas Parkway. “We have had people get illnesses from being in that building.”

But District 4 Councilwoman Dolores Bertolini said she was concerned that fire administration, which is now housed in the same building as police, does not get a new home out of the McGarvey purchase.

“If this is a sick building, nobody should stay there,” she said.

District 5 Councilman Eric Grill also said he felt the cost of the building may be excessive. “I think $240 per square foot at build-out is extremely high,” he said.

But John Miehle, a member of the Public Safety Building committee, was confident the McGarvey purchase made the most financial sense.

“If they decide to build it themselves and 36 months down the line they come up with a cost per square foot that is higher than this, what will they tell the taxpayers?,” he said.

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