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Council narrowly OKs China trip
May 14, 2019

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The issue was not on the agenda and the resulting discussion contentious, but the city of Cape Coral will fund a five-person delegation to China later this month.

Cape Coral City Council voted 4-3 to approve the trip for which staff has requested $17,000 to cover airfare and other travel-related expenses not covered by the city's sister-city and trip host, Baise.

Council had delayed its decision last week after an extra stop was added to the trip itinerary and the mayor's administrative assistant, who Council previously said should not be included among those going at city expense, appeared on the list of those whose travel costs will be paid for.

Five people are now scheduled to go on the trip set for set for May 31 to June 7 - Mayor Joe Covilleo; Community Development Director Vince Cautero; the city's new economic development manager, Ricardo Noguera; the mayor's administrative assistant, Pearl Taylor; and JoAnne Killion, who was instrumental in bringing the proposal for the sister city exchange forward.

Monday's approval came after several members of the public spoke in support and a testy Council exchange that questioned whether the matter, which has draw some controversy, should be brought to a vote since it had not been scheduled for re-consideration

In the end, Council decided proceed.

"I can't stand communism or socialism, but there is a great opportunity here, a chance to get into their system and to recapture funds that have been hemorrhaging out of this country," said Jason Maughan, city councilman from Sanibel, during public input.

Cape Councilmember Marilyn Stout agreed, saying the trip would potentially pay for itself many times over with one project and that by adding Coviello's assistant, it would add prestige to the trip. She made the motion to approve the expenditure.

Concern was expressed by several council members.

Councilmember John Gunter said he had done some digging, calling city officials in Tacoma to check on the progress of the projects Noguera said he had fostered from China when he previously worked previously on economic development issues with Chengdu, the city added to the trip itinerary. Gunter said that in three years, only one project had started.

Gunter also expressed concern about transparency and the fact a vote was not on the original agenda. He asked they hold a special meeting before next Monday's workshop meeting, but Coviello called for a vote, saying he had already set the time aside to go, and further delay in the vote could mean an increase in airfare, and a delay would mean going to China in the brutal heat, so a prompt vote was of the essence.

Coviello also expressed frustration over how it has taken 'months" to get the trip approved.

"This has been in the plans for months, so for people to say we need more time is disingenuous. It's the same old, same old," Coviello said. "We want to bring commercial development into the city. There are a dozen businesses here that want to do business with China."

Gunter voted against the measure, as did council members Jennifer Nelson and Jessica Cosden, who told the mayor her "no" vote was not against the trip, but the plan the way it was now presented.

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