Cape Coral Mayor Candidates- John Sullivan
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Education- high school, some college (New York Institute of Finance, DePaul University)
How Long In Cape Coral- 2005
Professional Background- Brokerage Industry- Floor Manager, Chicago Board of Trade. Floor Broker License Stock Broker Series 7 License, Commodities Broker Series 3 License
Current Profession- retired
Government Experience-current Cape Coral Mayor
Civic Organizations- AMOA Calusa Chapter, Combat Infantrymen’s Assoc., VFW Post 8463, Elks, Moose Lodge, Irish American Club, German American Club
Government Committees- Cape Coral Utilities Committee
Why did you decide to run for office?
I decided to run for reelection because I felt my job was not done yet. I think I can still be of help. I have a tremendous amount of experience working with different groups in the city. I have made some good connections that will be useful. I am ready, willing and able to contribute more for another four years.
What do you feel is the biggest issue facing the city, today?
Right now, the biggest issue is debt. That is a definite problem. For example, we are about $420 million in the hole with unfunded pension liabilities along with OPEB. That is growing at a very fast rate. That has to be taken care of.
How do you plan to overcome that issue?
The only way to do it is to grow our economy. If we grow our economy, we can increase our revenue streams. Once we increase the revenue streams, we can start paying that down and get into the position where we need to be. It will also take some negotiations with the unions. We obviously do not want to end up like Detroit. If you look at the numbers and the way they are going up, it is absolutely not sustainable. I don’t know if any of the other candidates have a handle on this. It is an issue that is certainly an issue. Look, everyone would like to run on a platform that would be full of nice, flowery comments about how wonderful Cape Coral is. That is a given. It is a wonderful place full of wonderful people. But, there are some problems that we have that can’t be overlooked. I am willing to talk about those problems. This is not Rose City. This job is not a part-time job. It is a full-time job and then some.
Are you for or against the restarting of the Utilities Expansion Project (UEP) at this time?
Right now is not the time to restart the UEP. I think we are restarting it in a part of the city that is very financially weak or economically weak from a standpoint there are many renters in there because those houses have been foreclosed on and bought by speculators to rent out. I think some of those renters are some that lost their homes in recent years. Now, they are going to get hit again.
I have talked to some people, one person in particular, came to me and said they are going to lose their house. This person has an income of about $650 a month. Their bills are going to go up around $320 a month as near as I can figure, at least for the next six years. Then after that, it will taper off some. But, I don’t think there is a lot of people in that area that can withstand that. We have a lot of people in our city that can’t feed themselves or put food on the table. They are having trouble feeding their kids. How we can turn around and put taxes on their backs at a critical time like this, is just beyond me.
Not to mention the fact that it is a deterrent to bringing businesses in here. It is going to raise the utility rates after this go around. In my opinion, contrary to popular belief utility rates will be higher. We have lots that are worth $4,000, $5,000. We are going to hit them with a $20,000 assessment. Those lots are going to be thrown back to the city. The question then becomes, who is going to pay for the pipes in the ground? How are we going to make up for the losses in ad valorem taxes? So, if you are talking about businesses that are high consumers of water, you are looking at something that is very detrimental. They can look at Fort Myers and say, “Well, gee my water bill is going to be X amount. If I open a business in Cape Coral, it is going to be that times two or three.”
If you take restaurants, bars, barbers, beauty shops, any place that uses a lot of water they are going to think twice before coming in here. We already have some of the highest water rates in the country. It actually may be the highest. I don’t know.
Public Service Tax/Fire Assessment- For or Against?
Against both. The Public Service Tax, as a far as I am concerned if I get reelected, I am going to do whatever I can to get it repealed. That is another business killer. You have to remember some of these businesses use a huge amount of electricity. You add 7% to their bill it is not going to be $10 a month. It is going to be a lot of money. Some people are telling me in certain businesses they are paying a $2,000 a month electric bill. 7% of that is a chunk of money.
I am against doing anything that is averse to building up our commercial base. Because, commercial growth is our way out of this mess. I am thinking in terms of the next 20 years. Not 10 years, not 5 years. Right now we are short in terms of where we should be in regards to how much money should be coming in from commercial activity. Right now, we only get 8-9%. We should be getting 25-30%. That means there is a tremendous amount of room for expansion in that area. Which means it is an opportunity to be able to increase our revenue streams considerably. That would get us out of this mess if, at the time when it does begin to happen, we don’t get crazy and waste money.
It was stated that if the city did not generate the additional $20 million needed for capital improvements and infrastructure, it could very well fall into a state of blight. If you do not implement the Public Service Tax and Fire Service Assessment, how do you propose to raise the $20 million?
Well, they didn’t say it was to keep us from blight. As a matter of fact, as I recall they said the city was going to crumble to dust and go away if we didn’t do it. That was one of the biggest propaganda schemes I have ever seen in my life. No, I think we can still do it. We have to be careful how we spend our money. I saw a wish list for $14.2 million worth of heavy equipment. I don’t think we should be buying new equipment. We need to maintain our equipment properly and make it last the lifespan it should.
I talked to a gentleman who has had over 30 years in that business, and he told me that equipment is built to last 20-30 years. We are turning it in at 10 years or less. So, there is something wrong there. The same thing for police vehicles. Automobiles used to last 100,000 miles. Now they last 200,000 to 250,000 miles. We are turning cars in at 80,000, 90,000, 100,000 miles. I think that is because of poor maintenance. I don’t think, I know.
We are not keeping maintenance records on our fleet. I requested maintenance records on all of the rolling stock. There was nothing in the records. I turned those records over to someone who owns three auto repair shops and asked them what they thought about it. They came to the same conclusion. There is nothing in the records. Well, if you don’t know what maintenance has been done on the car how do you know what to do next? That is a problem. I am sure there are other areas we can dig into and find other savings, as well. But, we are not going to get brand new shiny equipment every 8-10 years. We need to separate our needs and our wants. I don’t think we have done that yet.
In your opinion, how can the city invigorate commercial growth?
There is a plan that I would like to see put on the table that I have been talking about for a long time, and maybe someone will start listening. I would like to see our city do is go into other cities that have been here for a long time and have had no growth or very little growth. Towns that have been around for a long time. Find out what kind of businesses are supporting their economies. Then, sort those businesses down to the ones that can survive here. Because, we have some disadvantages. We don’t have a port, cheap transportation, and so on and so forth. If we did that and spent our resources to try and grab the businesses that can survive here than growth does not become the whole cake, but, a cherry on the icing of the cake.
In your view, what is the role of a mayor/city council member?
For the mayor, it is a little different. They each have an individual vote. The council person’s seat is not as busy as the mayor seat. Because you are the representative of the city of Cape Coral and you attend a lot more functions.
One of the roles that is important and people should realize before they run for office, is to go through everything that you are voting on. Looking at the ordinances that are being presented. Look at the land use changes being proposed and look at the money being spent.
They then have to make the determination as to whether it is worth it or not to spend this money. Are we doing a good thing? Are we passing a good ordinance? Are we rezoning property in a proper way? There is a lot more involved in it. You can’t just let someone else do your thinking for you.
Because, somebody throws something up and says vote on it, doesn’t mean you should just automatically vote that way. You really need to get involved. You really need to dig into the issues. You really need to understand what is going on with the residents. You really need to be on the streets talking to people and finding things out. You need to go to church organizations. You need to go to the different organizations that are involved like the Cape Coral Caring Center. In order to get your hands around the pulse of the city. There are a lot of people around our city who are hurting right now. If you as a council person or mayor doesn’t understand that, then you don’t belong in the job. You should be looking to see what is going on in your own community. You need to get a feel for that. You should be out on the street and talking to people.
Recently Lee County reduced their impact fees. There have been calls for Cape Coral to do the same. What are your thoughts on an impact fee moratorium or reduction?
No, we should not follow that. I am not in favor of any new taxes, fees, or assessments. But, you have a situation there, first of all, you just raised taxes to pay for infrastructure. Impact fees are for infrastructure. It is not consistent to raise taxes on one end and lower impact fees on the other end. If we are going to do this, then we need to do it in an intelligent manner. First of all, the purpose was to try and invigorate new construction.
Again, we are trying to depend on the thing that got us in trouble the first time. We need a diversified economy. We need to bring businesses in here that can survive, other than businesses that need growth to survive. The growth, as I said earlier, should be the icing on the cake, not the whole cake. As far as impact fees are concerned, you have to remember we have a slug of people that paid their impact fees. If we reduce those impact fees, we are going to have to make up that money in another way. Maybe by increasing their taxes. That would mean the people who already paid their impact fees, would essentially be paying twice.
I don’t think impact fees will stop somebody from building a house and moving into the city. I do believe, though, there is a potential to stop some types of commercial development. Because you could possibly be looking at impact fees from $3-$4 million and on up from there. In order to take the sting out of that. We should amortize those impact fees over say 10 years. For example, if a store like Walmart wanted to come in here and build a store and they are going to have to pay $3 million in impact fees, tell them we won’t take the $3 million up front, but, instead, we want them to pay $300,000 a year for 10 years.
That is one way we could do it, and at the same time it is fair to all, and we still get the money we need for infrastructure that we will need. And, I would say that it would have to hit a certain revenue limit to determine where you would start the amortization process.
Describe the image of the city today as you see it, and how would you improve it?
I don’t think the image of the city is as bad as some would have you think from a political standpoint. I am out in the street talking to people all the time. They love living here. Although, they are having a problem with increased taxes. Especially in hard times.
In order to improve the image of the city, there are certain things that need to be done. One of the things that need to be done is have people be able to get through the permitting processes in a much more expeditious manner. That is one of the biggest complaints that I get when I am out talking to people. We have created an image of a city that is not business friendly. Although, I do here it is going much better than it has in the past. What we are doing is working. We are not done yet. It is still a work in progress. It is going to work.
Take the land situation where we bought $13.2 million worth of land. That didn’t go over too well with the tax payers. We took tax payer money to speculate in the land market. We shouldn’t be doing stuff like that. For one thing, it is not our job. Our job is to provide safety and security for our residents, not to become land speculators. I think that ticked a lot of people off. Again, that was not very good for our image. We sit up there and start raising taxes on people that can’t even put food on their table. That is not good for your image either.
What is your vision for Cape Coral?
What I want to see is a city that can provide services at a reasonable level at a reasonable price, and provide good services.
How will you work to implement that vision?
Well, we have to become more efficient. Equipment is one of them. We have to be more efficient in the way we distribute our assets, as well. To go out and build these huge fire stations that we spent $3.5 to $4 million on when other cities spend $2 million. These are the sort of things we need to improve on. Building a $140 million water plant we won’t need for a couple of decades. That didn’t make people too happy. Especially, when their rates went through the roof. These are some of the things we have to do. If we can alleviate some of the economic hurt in this town, it will immediately have an effect. They will say, “Wow! These guys are doing their job. They just lowered our taxes.”
These are the things we have to do. We have to get out and talk to the people and find out what they really want, and how they want us to do it. It has to be a government that is listening. I don’t see this government listening. This government is not as transparent as we were a couple of years ago. That is something else that needs to be done in order to give us a better image. We have to be conducting ourselves properly, and listening to the people.
I understand they took chairs out of the chamber so people can’t go in there with certain t-shirts on. This Cap Cape Taxes group, or whatever they call themselves. Those people have a right to come here and say don’t raise my taxes. They had a right to stand in front of this building and collect signatures or demonstrate in the right way. For God’s sake, they can do it in the state capital, but they can’t do it at City Hall in Cape Coral. You talk about wanting to improve the image. You don’t send cops out there to run people off who are having a peaceful demonstration or whatever. This wasn’t even a demonstration, it was a matter of collecting signatures. To run those people off is wrong.
You spoke about the removal of the chairs in council chambers and not allowing people to get up and speak from the podium with political t-shirts on. Isn’t that a standing rule of the council?
There was no political message that I saw there. It just said Cap Cape Taxes. It didn’t say vote for anybody.
Ok, what is the difference between that message and the message on the t-shirts the atheist group that came to council a few years back who were not allowed to speak from the podium because of the message on their t-shirts?
First of all, the atheists were not thrown out because of what was on their t-shirts, but, for another reason. Let’s get that real straight. There was a kid up there who gave the Pledge of Allegiance and they drowned her out when she said the line “Under God”. They totally confused that kid. There were six or seven adults sitting in that row who picked on a 10 year old kid. That is what got them kicked out.
How are you going to work and create consensus with the other members of the council, not only with your vision but all the other visions?
Well, hopefully, some of these seats are going to change. We know at least one will. I am hoping that the control goes back to people that are willing to listen to the residents. It is important. That is what our job is. Sometimes you have to listen to them and say no. other times you have to listen and say that is not a bad idea, let’s try it. You have to make them part of the process.
One of the things every one of us should be doing is working to get everybody out to vote. It is a very important part of our process. A part that not only hits us at the municipal level, but the county, state, and federal level. We all ought to be working toward that. And, I have been. I have gone out to places and made speeches about that. I have told people you don’t have to necessarily vote for me, but get out and vote. Study the candidates and find out who is going to represent you. That is an important part of the process.
I represent the people. I don’t represent myself. I have absolutely no ties to any business or person, nothing. I cannot gain a penny by doing this. All I can do is lose money, because I don’t have time to do the investing I should be doing at my age. But, that is ok, I am not complaining about that.
What is your leadership experience and how will that play a role if elected?
I have run many departments in the brokerage business as an IT Consultant. I have run projects that have made a lot of money for companies that I have worked for. I show a tremendous amount of flexibility. I worked in banking, brokerage, fabricated steel, sporting goods, fast foods. I worked for McDonald’s, the largest fast food company in the world. I worked for the Bache Company, the second largest brokerage firm in the world. It is now called Prudential Bache. I have had some heavy experience. I worked for First National Bank and had over a million accounts with them.
That all plays into the role of being a leader for this city. I understand the bond rating procedures. I understand what makes them and breaks them. In my four years, we saved $93 million on that deal that we did by refinancing our commercial paper and getting our bond ratings up. I understand the financials. I understand big numbers. When you have the kind of business experience that I have you can talk to people at all levels. Whether they are way up or the guy working in the warehouse floor it doesn’t matter. When you are trying to build business, you have to understand what makes businesses work and what will destroy them. It is not the government’s business to be in business, but they lay the groundwork in order for businesses to survive and thrive.
One of the biggest pressing situations we have here and should have mentioned earlier is jobs. We don’t have enough job creation in Cape Coral. The only way we can do that is to bring more business in and ensure they are working in an atmosphere that they can succeed and thrive in. Businesses and the people on the street have a symbiotic relationship that exists between the two. Without the worker, the businesses can’t survive. Without the businesses, the worker can’t survive. They have to work together. When a person gets a job, they get back on the tax rolls, again. They are spending money on goods and services. That money is going into the businesses, and those businesses, in turn, hire more people. It is a snowball effect. When you kick that off and that ball starts going down the hill it is doing nothing but going in the right direction, as long as you are not going to be running a government that is throwing blocks in their way.
We have had that reputation, but that reputation is starting to lift. We had that reputation for decades. Now, through what has been done in the last four years that has changed. It is getting better. That is the feedback I am hearing from people coming in here. I was told by the people who built the newest RaceTrac that it has never been so easy anywhere else they have built. I thought that was a very interesting comment. The Batteries Plus on Santa Barbara told me the same thing. I have also had people tell me it was a nightmare. So, we are hitting good in some areas, but there are still some areas that need work. That is why I want to get reelected and feel that my leadership skills are invaluable to keeping the city moving forward in that respect.
What has been your biggest regret in your time in office?
I have to really kind of think about that. There have been a few things. One thing, I was not really happy about starting the UEP again, for the reasons I discussed before. There are still people in this city who are economically in trouble and won’t be able to handle that extra financial burden.
I regret the fact that taxes got raised even though I didn’t support that or the UEP starting back up. I am sorry to see them trying to bring the Fire Services Assessment. I have some reasons to believe it may not even be legal. So, I am very disturbed about that. I am disturbed about the fact that these increases are not going to help us develop more commercial. It is going to stop us. It is going to hurt us.
What has been your crowning achievement in your time in office?
From my standpoint, I see a lot more pluses than minuses in my three and a half years.
There have been a lot of things that have been good. For example, we figured out an out of the box way to finance the Pine Island Road widening project. I think we saved $52 million on that. The $93 million we saved by getting the bond ratings up due to refinancing our paper. That was a good thing.
I think our economic development is doing better than it did before. That is a good thing. I also believe that DCD, when it comes to permitting and inspections, is much better than it was before. We have passed some really good ordinances. One of the first ordinances I was part of was allowing people to rebuild their home on property that was rezoned. You couldn’t do that before.
Another thing was the ordinance that I got passed that allowed for a local vendor preference. I was told in 2008 that wouldn’t work when I was standing at the podium. But, yet, when I got elected I got it done with the help of the CCCIA. Thank God that they were there and other smaller businesses that pitched in. I think that was very good for the city. It allowed us to keep more of our business here in Cape Coral. It created jobs here.
Those are all achievements. That is just part of the list. I could go on and on. Those are just some of the things. And, from what I have been told people thought we were listening to them more than they were before. People have came in and raised dust about the way the meetings have been run but go back a couple of years before that and take a look at what was going on. There was a distinct improvement in how people were treated, no matter what has been said. A lot of it was political. These are the same people that wanted to change the council. Well, they have changed the council and look what happened. They are in here raising taxes, hitting them in the head with the utilities project. It has been an interesting ride, let’s put it that way.
I have had the chance to help a lot of people. One other achievement was getting the Veterans monument built for the Iraq Veterans. For me, I was so happy to get it where it is now. That was a dream. I really wanted to be the first in the country, but I don’t think we made it. What I didn’t want was the same thing that happened during World War II, was half the people were gone by the time they woke up and built it. That was one of the things that I was very fearful about. I also know that some of the kids came back with heavy injuries both mental and physical, and I thought they should understand and know that we appreciate what they have done for us whether we agree with the war, or not is irrelevant.