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Question of the Week, Week Five: City manager review

August 23, 2013
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Each week through the primary, The Breeze will ask the candidates for Cape Coral City Council an issue-related question. In the interest of fairness, each candidate is limited to the same amount of space, about 100 words, for their response. The question for Week Five is: How would you grade the efforts of the city manager? What is the administration doing well? What, if anything, would you change?



I believe that city manager Szerlag is a very qualified individual. Mr. Szerlag came into a very difficult situation and has tried to change the direction the city was heading. The administration has been wise to create a three year budget forecast and we will realize many operational efficiencies by implementing the Zucker report suggestions. I have offered similar ideas during this campaign, as detailed in my plan.

I disagree with the speed at which revenue diversification has been pursued. Although I support diversification, it MUST be revenue neutral and not add any additional cost to our residents.



After working with two City Mangers during my nine years on council, it would not be fair, to the current City Manager, if I was to weigh in on how I believe his performance is without ever working one day with him. I could make judgement by what I have either seen at the council meetings or read about him in the newspapers but either way it would not be a fair way of assessing someone's performance. One thing I would like to see is the City Manager working on is a unified building code system with the county. I think things could run more efficient and smoother in the building department if the codes were the same. Now that the Zucker report is done, maybe it could be used as partial guide. We need to make things less confusing and easier to do business in Cape Coral.



The City Manger has earned the grade of a C. That was the goal of at least our current Mayor to provide an acceptable level of service. For a grade of a B, we would not follow other cities and level taxes we don't fully understand, and force projects upon citizens they can't afford. To get an A, our city would be lead, and accomplish what no other city has accomplished in response to the economic disaster imposed upon our city. Our waterfront has been polluted for months, and has leadership even seen the economic impact to our city and asked for FEMA reimbursement?



I believe that City Manager John Szerlag's performance has exceeded community expectations. He is the first chief executive to present a three-year budget. His actions have produced long-term predictability in municipal spending. Our City Manager has fulfilled his duty to meet the comprehensive needs of city government. His administration supports tax liabilities being distributed among all residents who live here. Pressing the city towards a stronger union from north to south, with a tax burden lessened on homestead property owners, should be the ultimate goal of our local government management team.



The City Manager has a mixed grade. He has combined the strategic plan and the budget process changing it from a one- year to a three-year projection. We now have a clear understanding of what projects may have to be delayed if expected incomes are not achieved. He has also been successful in obtaining grants that help defray the cost of projects and began rebuilding the relationship between management and our labor organizations; however, his proposed "three legged stool" approach wasn't fully vetted requiring Council to backtrack on plans to diversify our income in the 2013-2014 budget cycle. With all things considered, my overall grade would be a "B".


JOHN J. SULLIVAN (incumbent)

I am not happy with his performance. I believe he is missing the big picture. Increasing taxes is not good for our business community nor is it good for our resident taxpayers. One of the effects of higher taxes is to stifle job creation. It hurts our business community. Increasing taxes derails efforts to bring in new business and create jobs. We need to position ourselves to create new revenue streams not to continually extract money from the same taxpayers and label it revenue diversification. I believe the rank and file is doing a fine job. I would put more emphasis on taking suggestions from the rank and file as to how the departments can be run in a more effective manner. I would put more emphasis on our customized incentive programs, Patriots Plaza & The Veterans Investment Zones to bring in new businesses. This will create new jobs and widen our revenue streams. As this happens we should lower taxes rather than increase them.


District 1 - PRIMARY


We lost a good City Manager, almost all of our Directors, as well as an acting City Manager (and many more) during 2010 and 2011, so I am hesitant to publicly evaluate the current Manager. It is a lesson to be learned, that all of the folks in those positions ended up in equal or better positions and our loss was others' gain. In addition, this City Manager came into a situation where the inexperience and style of the former administration and subsequent policies put him in a delicate position with statutory requirements and operating deficiencies difficult to overcome. The staff was at the lowest level of morale ever seen in this City as well. My advice to this manager is to understand that advice can be good, staff is competent but his staff cannot be tasked to answer all of the policy questions, he must be a part of that equation.



We pay a City Manager $197,000 and he proposes to pay someone else hundreds of thousands to figure out what is wrong.

Mr. Szerlag or any other City Manager should be elected not selected. The "Good Old Boys" selected. This is not to imply that Mr. Szerlag has done anything inappropriate, but he certainly owes the "BOYS" his job. As recently as this week Police Chief Murphy's antics are direct results of the "BOYS" helping one of their own.

I have made it clear our way out is taxing the Snow Birds, not the full time residents.

Giving the investors 30 days to sell their investment homes at market value, not to hold them to the market recovers while we sink deeper. We no longer have the luxury of being a sleepy community.



When I started this campaign, I was asked my opinion of the city manager. I thought about it for a moment, and realized that I had not formed an opinion. He had not hit a home run, but he had not struck out either. That was then and this is now. The manager and the council rushed through an energy tax two weeks before the revised Grand List was published which reflected an increase in the ad valorem values almost double what was estimated in the justification for the tax. WHY? Shortly after that, they awarded a bonus to themselves. WHY? We are just coming out of the worst recession since the great depression and we still have a high incidence of unemployment and under employment. I am beginning to form an opinion of our city manager! It is one of concern.



I would grade the city manager's efforts and plans as ambitious. While this is a great, admirable, and necessary trait to simultaneously repair and move a recently fatigued city forward toward a brighter future, ambition can likewise hinder that progress if not met with equal measure of anticipation and prudence. This idea has been recently demonstrated by how a snag in an admittedly ambitious timeline for bond validation seems to have altered the earlier solidarity present among a relatively unified quorum that sought to achieve sustainability/revenue diversification simply by affirming the existence of uncertainty. However, I do believe that overall there is much potential present for the administration and the professionalism of the city manager is encouraging.




I have twice been refused the right to evaluate the City Manager since his May 28th anniversary date. (Excuse given: his evaluation form has not been produced) Due to the fact I have not been allowed to evaluate him privately, public evaluation would be improper at this time. I stand by my dissenting vote regarding the City Manager's initial contract. I believe I was the only one who voted correctly on that excessive and very expensive contract. Return on investment has so far been zero.



Overall Mr. Szerlag has performed well in his first year as our city manager. He has set a professional example by handling the affairs of the city in a fair and impartial manner. The city manager has been able to implement policy set by our council. As well as offering assistance in the decision process made by our governing body without overstepping his scope of directives set by the city charter.

One of the thoughts that I have for our city manager is the enhancement of the use of social media. I would like to see greater development in this type of communication. The goal would be to create an even more open dialogue with residents that may not know exactly how to reach city leaders or would like to do so in a more convenient environment.



KEVIN M. McGRAIL (incumbent)

I would rate our current City Manager a 9 on a scale of 1-10 at this point in his tenure. He has brought the three year budget view to Cape Coral which prevents Council from "can kicking" year to year to get through a budget cycle. This is exactly WHY the Council had to address our capital needs that have gone waiting for seven years. The three year view forces you to look at sustainability year to year instead of just squeaking by each budget cycle. The City manager gets the extra 1 point by successfully negotiating our fire service pension contract as successfully as the Police and General workers contracts.



I would give our current city manager a grade of B for his efforts. He is looking for ways to solve issues in our city - but is relying too heavily on expensive, external consultants. He needs to change the mindset of his staff and concentrate on using common sense to look for more cost savings and spend less time creating new taxes. City managers and council should treat the city budget like their own personal budget, trying to save EVERY dollar possible. Staff should remember that revenue is limited and they may be spending away a co-worker's salary. Council should stop accepting the city manager's every recommendation at face value and dig deeper for more alternatives, greater savings, and always the best value.


Voter registration, early voting

* Voter registration:

Applications are available

online at,

at all Lee County libraries, and other locations including Cape Coral City Hall at 1015 Cultural Park Blvd., Cape Coral Chamber of Commerce at 2051 Cape Coral Parkway, Department of Motor Vehicles offices, and all Lee County Supervisor of Elections offices including the one in the Cape at 1031 S.E. 9th Place, Suite 3. A full list is available at

* Early voting locations:

- Lee County Elections Cape Coral Branch Office 1031 S.E. 9th Place, Suite 3 (behind the Lee County Government Center).

- Lee County Elections Main Office at the Constitutional Complex in Fort Myers at 2480 Thompson St., third floor.

Important dates

* City of Cape Coral

Primary Election: Sept. 10

Voter Registration Book

closes: Aug. 12

Early voting Aug. 31, Sept. 3-7

* City of Cape Coral

General Election: Nov. 5

Voter Registration Book

closes: Oct. 7

Early voting Oct. 28-31, Nov. 1-2.

Cape Coral City Council races are non-partisan,citywide elections meaning registered voters can cast a ballot in each race, no matter party affiliation, no matter the district in which they live.



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