Updated: Call for ‘investigation’ into hot-mic flub gets little support
Despite the mayor and some residents initially calling for an investigation, the Cape Coral City Council decided Monday not to take action regarding remarks they allege were made by staffers during a meeting.
On July 18, City Manager John Szerlag met with a handful of department officials and employees to conduct a dry run of a 90-minute presentation on the utilities expansion project scheduled for council. According to Szerlag, it was an informal review of the presentation and an opportunity for feedback.
The meeting was held in council chambers and apparently one microphone was left on, transmitting live audio feed from the meeting over Channel 98, CapeTV. The recording system was off, officials said.
In the following days, some claimed that negative remarks were made by those present at the meeting about two members on the dais, along with implications staff would hide information from council.
During Monday’s council meeting, some in the audience called for a further look into the session.
“The meeting demonstrated an abundance of disdain for our council,” Bill Deile, a resident and former city council member, said.
He argued that the city manager’s focus should not be directed at how the media and public were made aware of the meeting being mistakenly aired, but should be what was said or not said by city staffers.
“The thrust should not be how it got into the public domain,” Deile said.
One man called for an investigation and suggested getting the Office of the Attorney General involved.
“This is a big deal,” he said.
Szerlag addressed the issue Monday and read aloud a four-page memo sent to city council. He denied that any of the presenters at the meeting made comments about anyone on the dais, and noted that none of the attendees questioned reported hearing negative statements or comments made by those present.
The city auditor was called to the podium, where she agreed with Szerlag’s recap of the meeting.
Mayor John Sullivan, who reportedly was one of the targets of the comments, argued in favor of an investigation and asked the public to come forward if they had a copy of what was aired.
“We’re dealing with hundreds of millions of dollars of people’s money,” he said in regards to the comments allegedly made by staff about withholding information on the UEP from council.
Councilmember Kevin McGrail argued that he did not see a “smoking gun.”
“There is no evidence, hard evidence of what was said,” he said. “No one has a hard copy.”
He questioned what the Attorney General would investigate.
“We have no evidence,” McGrail said. “We look like fools chasing ghosts.”
Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz, the other reported target of the comments, thanked Szerlag for the memo explaining what he believed took place at the meeting, but said it was just an explanation.
“He hasn’t denied that statements were made,” he said. “He simply explains that they could be misinterpreted.”
“I know what I heard, I know how I interpreted it,” Chulakes-Leetz added.
However, he called it important to take Szerlag at his word, though he would keep the incident “at the back of my mind” as they move forward.
“I don’t think we need to get into tens of thousands of dollars for an oops,” Chulakes-Leetz said. “It should not be an overriding issue.”