Cape Coral City Manager Expects to Keep
Job; Council to Vote
By Brian Liberatore
August 4, 2008
As the longest-serving manager in Cape Coral's history,
Terry Stewart has seen historic growth and now an
unprecedented decline in his city.
Whether he continues to
lead the city's administration through its next chapter
depends on a vote today from the City Council. The council
is set to decide whether to extend Stewart's contract beyond
While all of the council members have raised issues about
Stewart's performance, only Councilman Pete Brandt has said
he would push to end the contract.
Stewart believes he will continue as city manager.
"I expect to have a job after Monday," he said. "It is my
desire to remain here. I want to continue to work here. If
they decide to terminate my contract, they will have to pay
me what they owe me."
Stewart's annual salary is $162,000.
It will take five council members to end that contract -
a move that appears unlikely given members' past and current
appraisals of the city manager.
"The jury's still out on some things," said Councilman
Eric Grill. "I do not have a yes or no."
Grill and Pete Brandt were the only two council members
to give Stewart a less than satisfactory review when the
council discussed Stewart's performance in March.
Brandt this week sent a memo to the council outlining his
case against Stewart.
"He (Stewart) has redeemed himself in some areas," Grill
said. "But there are still some issues with accountability."
Grill said he was alarmed with an error in the city's
Department of Community Development that was discovered last
week. The department gave the go-ahead to a commercial
building even though one of the parcels on the site was
still zoned for residential homes.
Dolores Bertolini was the only council member in March to
give Stewart an "excellent rating." Her opinion, she said,
"I put my issues in two columns: - one unforgivable and
one workable," Bertolini said. "Every issue I've had with
the city manager has been workable."
The other four council members in March gave Stewart
satisfactory marks on his evaluation. Despite a few
concerns, including displeasure at Stewart's call to raise
the tax rate, none of the council members have pushed for
"I'm still undecided," said Councilman Jim Burch. "I lean
one way one day and one way the next."
Mayor Eric Feichthaler planned to meet today with Stewart
to discuss the vote.
The City Council in 2002 voted unanimously to hire
Stewart, picking him over three other finalists. Stewart was
fresh from an eight-year tenure as assistant city manager
for Pembroke Pines, a suburb of Fort Lauderdale with about
the same population as Cape Coral.
During his time on the state's east coast, Stewart helped
oversee rapid growth faster even than the Cape's growth
during the same period.
When Stewart got to the Cape, the city exploded. Since
2002, the Cape has added about 55,000 new residents and more
than quadrupled its taxable value. The rise in value meant
the city's property tax revenues went from $26 million to a
high of $102 million in 2007.
With rising population and influx of cash, the city added
150 police officers, 97 firefighters and a total of 707
employees across all departments. General fund spending went
from $67 million to $150 million this year.
But almost as fast as it climbed, the city's taxable
value is starting to plummet - 25 percent this year. Homes
that sold for $300,000 two years ago are now sitting on the
market for half that. And as property values drop, so do
property taxes. The city will take in about $24.6 million
less in taxes next year.
As challenging as it was to hold the reins of city
growing at breakneck speed, it may prove even more difficult
to shrink a city government.
"I told him that he did a good job building up the city,"
said Councilman Bill Deile. "Now I want to see how well he
is at dismantling that empire."
In Stewart's budget proposal for next year, he calls for
cutting 110 positions, 24 of which are filled. Stewart had
asked the City Council to raise the tax rate 6 percent to
offset plummeting tax revenue. The council refused and set
the maximum tax rate at this year's level.
Stewart now needs to find another $4.7 million to cut
from his budget proposal.
Since taking office, Stewart has never had anything but
an overall favorable performance review from the council.
But in that time period, the public's perception of the city
has taken blows.
The price of the city's utility expansion program
skyrocketed during the construction boom in 2005 and 2006.
Minimum assessments to homeowners went from about $12,000 in
the Southwest 3 Assessment Area to about $20,000 in the SW 4
area. The higher costs soured residents' view of the
project. A stinging 2006 audit of the program from Kessler
International further poised that perception.
Stewart disagreed with many of Kessler's findings, and
has asked the council not to bring back Kessler
International for a follow-up audit, despite calls to do so
from some on council and the community.
The Department of Community Development also has faced
criticism from the City Council for errors under Stewart's
leadership. The department handled 7,700 single-family
building permits during the 2004-05 fiscal year. There have
been 170 so far this fiscal year with two months to go. The
crash has meant a reduction in staff, but Grill and others
continue to point to problems.
Councilman Derrick Donnell said the opinion of his
constituents is mixed. But little has happened, he said, to
shake his "satisfactory" assessment of Stewart four months
"He has some strong points and he has some weak points,"
Donnell said. "All of us, including me, have areas we need
to work on. And all of us have our strong points."