Saturday, November 22, 2008

Burch hopes to build consensus as Cape mayor


Jim Burch is still in the process of transistioning from his role as District 1 council member to the mayor of Cape Coral, and he inherits a city facing a myriad of challenges.

Some of the transition is physical — Burch is still moving his personal items into former mayor Eric Feichthaler’s office, and he’s parking his truck in the mayor’s spot at City Hall, which he says is harder to get into than the District 1 spot.

The rest of the transition is mental — the mayor’s seat carries no extra real power than being a council member, but it does carry extra responsibilities, such as running council meetings and being a spokesperson for the city.

“You do have to lead the meeting, but at the same time you have to listen to what everyone is saying,” Burch said.

High foreclosure rates and rising unemployment plague the city, and pulling the council together to address problems will be Burch’s main focus.

“Honestly, the most important thing to me is you need to try and build that consensus so that they’re talking and not fighting,” he said.

That consensus will be key to solving the city’s pressing issues, such as the controversial utilities expansion project.

Burch said he understands opponents of the 6/7 portion of the UEP want to see lower costs for the project, but waiting now will cost more in the long run.

“I don’t want to be the mayor that somebody calls me in 2010 and says, ‘Why did you do this to us? Why did you stop this when we had the lowest prices?’ I won’t have an answer for them,” he said.

In dealing with the housing crisis, city staffers will submit a proposal outlining how the Cape will spend the $7 million in federal funds to buy foreclosed properties, but Burch also pointed out the city is working to reduce the blight that neglected foreclosed homes bring to the city.

The city is mowing vacant lots in an effort to mitigate the effects of rampant foreclosures.

“It makes people feel better when they go down streets like that and we need some feel good things right now,” Burch said.

Preserving the Cape Coral Golf Course as a functioning course is also on Burch’s to-do list.

The Cape Coral Community Redevelopment Agency floated a proposal to buy the course this week during a town hall meeting hosted by Councilmember Dolores Bertolini. The current owner, Florida Gulf Ventures, wanted to use the land to build residential, retail, and office space, but those plans are currently on hold.

“If we do something different with that property we’re doing a disservice to our community in the long-term,” Burch said.

Preserving the golf course will be a way to invest in the city’s future by tapping into its past, Burch said.

“For our city, that’s important. That’s where we grew up,” he said.