Accusations, counter accusations and comment clarifications were fired back and forth Monday among Cape Coral City Council members saying they wanted to get to the bottom of an allegation that the mayor may not have signed a required document related to the city's planned fire assessment.
The issue was placed on the agenda by Councilmember John Carioscia, a retired law enforcement professional, who said any claim that Mayor John Sullivan did not sign the document during an Aug. 26 city council meeting would constitute forgery as the document is signed with his name.
"This isn't about a witch hunt. This is about integrity," Carioscia said. "You (Sullivan) said you didn't know how your name got on that document."
Carioscia sent a memo to councilmembers on Oct. 10, stating that Sullivan said in a Lee County Court proceeding on Oct. 9, that he "did not sign the document titled 'Certificate as to Public Meetings' and that the signature appearing on and signed by seven of eight current councilmembers and dated Aug. 26, may have been signed by someone else."
It was at the Aug. 26 meeting where the city council voted to pass the fire service assessment; the bond validation hearing requested by the city in regards to that was held Oct. 7 to 9.
The memo also said that Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz "stated under oath on Oct. 8th in Lee County Court, that the document presented in court as evidence, does not bear the Mayor John Sullivan's signature" that appears on the document.
Caroscia said that constitutes forgery and that if proven, a special council hearing would be requested.
Sullivan, though, read a statement from the dais saying it was "troubling that we are discussing this matter when a ruling on the bond validation hasn't come down yet," and that Carioscia was never in the courtroom "yet has made serious allegations. Anything he has to say is no more than hearsay."
Sullivan said his mindset to not sign the document was based on six council members sponsoring the same ordinance, and that one council member stated publicly that another council member, not present, had stated how he was going to vote.
"I never said a thing about forgery. I didn't say I didn't sign it. I want the (court) transcript, not verbiage and talk," Sullivan said.
Those asking for clarification cited a broadcast news report.
In an interview with NBC-2 reporter Steve Campion after the bond validation hearing, Sullivan said, "If it is my signature is on there, I don't know how it got there."
The report also compared that signature to other documents he had signed and they all looked the same.
Councilmember Marty McClain said the mayor did sign the and called allegations of Sunshine Law violations the pot calling the kettle black.
"I saw you sign it. No question. He signed it and told people he didn't," McClain said. "You talk Sunshine laws and there's no bigger revolving door and you and Leetz."
State Statutes commonly referred to as the Sunshine Laws prohibit elected officials on the same board or appointed to the same committee conducting public business from discussing voting issues off the dais or out of the "sunshine."
The controversy had come council members shaking their heads, including Derrick Donnell, whose comment that he "knew" how the board was going to vote on the fire assessment is at the center of the Sunshine issue brought up at the bond validation hearing.
"I get angry because we waste time like children. It's disheartening. We spend two hours on pertinent stuff and all people will talk about is this foolishness," Donnell said.
Councilmember Kevin McGrail said such arguments make the city look bad to businesses looking to locate here.
"I'm happy the legal team from Sam's Club didn't see this. This does not put our best foot forward," he said. "The Beatles said it best - let it be."
Carioscia told his fellow board members he wanted to see excerpts of what Sullivan and Chulakes-Leetz said during testimony at the hearings.
Sullivan did not want a partial transcript; he said he wanted everything from the hearing laid out, though the total transcript would come at great expense.
Carioscia made that motion, but it failed 5-3. He amended it to have just the excerpts released, which passed 6-2, with Sullivan and Chulakes-Leetz in dissent.
"If we pick and choose what we want to hear, it becomes silly season. I won't support the excerpts except if it includes (Councilman Lenny) Nesta," Chulakes-Leetz said.
Nesta testified during the hearing that he didn't remember what the people's reactions were to the fire service assessment.