By Brian Liberatore   July 18, 2008

An audit, which two years ago blasted the city’s handling of its utility expansion program, continues to poison the public’s faith in their government, some council members say.

One local city government watchdog group and more than 1,500 residents say the only way to restore that trust is to bring back Michael Kessler, author of the controversial audit.

John Sullivan, who heads the Cape Coral Minutemen, has so far helped collect more than 1,500 signatures from residents demanding the city rehire Kessler to take a broader look at its utility expansion program.

While there is support on council for another audit, others are soured by the thought of another visit from Kessler.

“I want him back,” Sullivan said. “He’s the only one that had the guts to stand up to the city staff and to MWH (the company overseeing the UEP). The best thing that can happen is they bring this guy back and he finds nothing wrong. If this city is ever going to be run right, it needs the trust of the people.”

Mayor Eric Feichthaler agreed the 2006 audit still casts a cloud over City Hall, but wanted a different auditor. He claimed there were errors in Kessler’s 2006 audit, bad blood between Kessler and city staff and shaky allegations from Kessler of wrongdoing.

“I would be very interested in conducting an additional audit from an independent third party,” Feichthaler said. “I think we need to get another set of eyes.”

Accusations in Kessler’s audit, which suggested bid rigging from contractors working on the utility project, spurred an investigation from the FBI. Nothing has come of the investigation yet.

Councilman Pete Brandt, who earlier this year pushed to bring back Kessler, offered support for the Minutemen’s survey.

“I think the number (of signatures) was significant,” Brandt said. “I think people are fed up with a lot things. They feel that Kessler coming back can help them get over some of their frustration.”

Kessler said he would be willing to take a second look at the UEP to see where improvements have been made and whether problems still persisted.

“There is follow-up work that could be done,” Kessler said. “Normal course is once the deficiencies are pointed out, it would be routine to go back and be sure that deficiencies are being addressed and the same that things that were done in the past aren’t being done now.”

So far, Kessler said he hasn’t heard from the city

Sullivan said his group would continue to collect signatures until the city brought back Kessler.

“We’re going to keep running up the score,” Sullivan said. “They (council members) are either going to have to listen or look pretty foolish.”

Kessler gets definitive answers.

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