Even before a formal presentation was delivered Monday night, a dozen people paraded before City Council favoring the establishment of a domestic partnership registry in Cape Coral.
Registry backers are seeking such basic human rights to make health care and funeral decisions for their partners, hospital and jail visitation rights, guardian designation and dependent education decisions. These rights are gender neutral, for both opposite sex and same sex relationships. One person spoke against the registry's creation.
After Ken Shelin of Sarasota informed council of the purpose of a registry citing that half of Florida's population already live in communities with an established registry, at least two council members had to favor the petition in order for it to move forward.
Mayor Marni Sawicki and Councilmembers Rick Williams and Richard Leon voiced their support, and Sawicki directed the city attorney to draw up an ordinance and bring it before council for a public hearing at a future council meeting.
Councilmembers Jim Burch and Rana Erbrick said a registry at the city level would be ineffective.
"While I don't disagree with the registry, it does not belong in the city," said Erbrick. "It should go before the County Commission across the river. We only control what is inside our city limits. When you leave our borders your rights go away."
"I'm all for basic human rights," Burch concurred. "I don't think this level is a good one for government to jump on this slippery slope. It should go to the county level. There are so many loose ends because we don't have one statewide system. I will not support this petition, but I do support you."
Burch added that local government should not get involved because many people have different problems and all have different interpretations of those problems.
Shelin corrected Erbrick's point that the registry does extend beyond the city boundaries.
"It's all in how you write the ordinance," Shelin said. "There is reciprocity in other areas that have a registry."
More than 40 people attended Monday's meeting wearing red clothing showing their support for the petition, which has nothing to do with the state's current laws opposing same sex marriage.
"I have an appointment on Aug. 20 to meet with the Lee County Commission chairman," Shelin said in response to council's belief that the registry petition belongs there. "I just don't want the county to be an excuse for the city not doing something. The city can assure there is a registry if the county fails to adopt one."
Shelin also is trying to schedule a meeting with Fort Myers Mayor Martin Henderson, but so far he has not responded to his inquiries.
Domestic partner registry ordinances have been passed in Broward County, Gainesville, Key West, Miami Beach, Miami-Dade County, Orlando, St. Petersburg, Tampa, Sarasota, Sarasota County, North Port and most recently Punta Gorda.
"We have tried for six years to get the state to act on this, but we haven't been able to get it out of committee," said Shelin.
Proposed millage rate
Council also passed a resolution setting the property tax proposed millage rate for Fiscal Year 2015 at 7.7070, the same rate as the current fiscal year which expires Sept. 30.
City Manager John Szerlag's proposed budget for 2015 was calling for a 0.75 mil rate reduction, but that was contingent on the implementation of the Fire Service Assessment. The FSA methodology is being challenged in court by a group of residents maintaining that the assessment is not legal. The court case is before the Florida Supreme Court for a ruling on appeal after a Circuit Court judge ruled in favor of the city. There is much uncertainty about when a ruling might come down from the Supreme Court, which is scheduled to go on summer hiatus on Aug. 1.
The millage resolution passed Monday night by a 6-2 vote can, however, be reduced before the Sept. 18 deadline for setting the final millage rate if the Supreme Court issues its ruling on the case in time. The FY 2015 budget goes int effect on Oct. 1.
Street light installation
Councilmember Williams revisited a petition from 2013 regarding a street light installation at the intersection of Old Burnt Store Road and Jacaranda Parkway that was rejected by council.
"That intersection is very dark out there and it is a school bus stop, so it is a dangerous situation,." said Williams. "That area has been trying for four years to get a street light there. The only reason I bring this up is every time I talk to city staff I am told that the petition rejection would keep a street light from ever being installed there. I'm just trying to clear that action."
Williams even went so far as to make a motion for the city to install a street light at the intersection within three months or at least be placed on the street light list when the city resumes its street light program in the 2015 budget.
After much confusion on council, particularly Mayor Sawicki, the discussion was long and drawn out trying to pin down what exactly they needed to do.
City Attorney Delores Menendez, acting City Manager Steve Pohlman and Public Works Director Steve Neff each tried to clear up the confusion in their own way.
Neff maintained that the intersection in question does meet the guidelines to be placed on the street light priority list when, and if, the funding is made available. It was rejected previously because there was no money in that budget for street lights.
Pohlman said he was certain that Szerlag, who was out of town, would agree that the intersection deserves a street light when the street light program resumes, hopefully in 2015, dependent also on the FSA court ruling.
Menendez stated that she was hearing from all parties that the intersection meets the criteria to be on the street light list when the funds are available and that the petition rejection would not stand in the way so no further vote by council was required.