Cape city council member questioned for not living in district she represents

Reporter: Samantha Johns Writer: Matthew Seaver
Published: Updated:

A Cape Coral City Council member is accused of not living in her district.

District 4 council member Patty Cummings was elected to the Cape Coral City Council last year. Then an anonymous letter claimed that Cummings did not live in District 4.

Cummings is now being asked to set the record straight.

The accusation was sent to Lee County Property Appraiser Matt Caldwell, who forwarded the claim to Governor DeSantis’ office.

“I was advised as a result of that being an anonymous complaint that the governor’s office or any other state agency was not going to investigate it,” said Cape Coral Mayor John Gunter.

Cummings claimed to live at a home in District 4 on Palm Tree Boulevard when she filed her candidacy last year. The house is currently owned by a couple whose relation to Cummings is unknown.

A homestead exemption was submitted for the property last year, which according to law, should have been disqualified if the home was rented for more than 30 days.

“The only thing to me is getting to the truth and getting to the facts and understanding. Are you living in your district? Or aren’t you living in your district,” asked Cape Coral council member Tom Hayden during a meeting.

The allegation claims Cummings lives at a home on Embers Parkway in District 7.

In a letter to the council before Wednesday’s meeting, Cummings confirmed Hurricane Ian forced her to live outside the district while looking for new housing temporarily.

Council member Hayden still felt that was not an acceptable excuse. “I don’t believe there are any exceptions for living outside of your district, even in these incredible circumstances that we just went through.”

For other council members, there were other concerns.

“It has to do with; were the election rules followed,” said council member Bill Steinke.

A majority of the council voted to uncover if that is the case with the help of an outside party through a formal investigation.

Keith Long was not among the majority because the tipster is anonymous. “I don’t want to be here setting a precedent that anytime that we receive one, we’re going to spend x amount of dollars in an investigation.”

“There are plenty of instances in law enforcement where folks are encouraged to come forward. And, you know, report the details, any knowledge they have, essentially have about a crime anonymously,” said Matt Caldwell, the Lee County Property Appraiser.

Caldwell said he validated the claim by meeting with the accuser in person, which council member Jessica Cosden said doesn’t matter. To her, the allegation did uncover the truth.

“We do have evidence with a name attached. And that is the council member saying to the newspaper that they live part-time in their district. And that is not allowable under our charter,” Cosden said.

Some members of the council raised the question of investigating an anonymous tip like this in the first place. The original tip didn’t go to anyone in the Cape Coral government. Instead, the tipster sent the allegation to the Lee County property appraiser.

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