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Coviello growing impatient with investigations

By Staff | Apr 8, 2020

Cape Coral Mayor Joe Coviello said Monday that he is losing patience with the time it is taking to complete investigations regarding the city manager and the Finance Department, despite the urging by the police chief to trust the system.

Councilmember Jessica Cosden brought the discussion up toward the end of a more than four-hour meeting Monday.

City Attorney Dolores Menendez said Deborah Brown, who is conducting the administrative component, has finished interviews and is finishing the last of the transcripts, with a final report expected to be filed next week.

The Cape Coral Police Department, meanwhile, is conducting an administration investigation related to the city’s Finance Department. Police Chief David Newlan said they are still seeking to speak with a few more witnesses, as the department has been dealing with the virus and several members of the force are sick.

Coviello wasn’t satisfied. He said the matter has been going on since December and four months later it hasn’t finished while three employees in the Finance Department are sitting home with pay.

“To date, we have $190,000 that’s been spent on three employees sitting home. This is a huge issue in my mind,” Coviello said. “These are taxpayer dollars and we don’t seem to have an end in sight. We need to expedite this and get back to normal.”

Newlan told the mayor that investigations don’t go into the speed round.

“Investigations are not convenient. They are time consuming. There are things that happen that are out of our control. You need to trust the process,” Newlan said, saying that two audits had to be done first, which revealed things that happened years ago.

Coviello reiterated his position.

“We need to get this done. The private investigator was supposed to take two to four weeks and we’ve been talking about this for four months,” Coviello said. “We ratified the unions’ agreements in five days because we had a motive to get it done. There seems to be no motive to move this forward. That’s unacceptable.”

Another investigation concerning the alleged actions of contract employee that is being done by the fire department also is not finished, nor is one being conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforce-ment, which handling a criminal component, if any.

At issue is the city’s failure to pay the IRS more than $400,000 in payroll taxes on a timely basis, resulting in withheld money from gas tax revenues expected by the city.

Coviello has said City Manager John Szerlag knew about the situation but failed to inform him about it at a time when his contract was set to be renewed.

Three employees, including Finance Director Victoria Bateman, were placed on administrative leave by Szerlag in the wake of the payment snafu.

Bateman then sent a letter to the mayor’s office regarding the incident and alleging other improprieties.

Council then authorized the investigations into those allegations, spawning the multiple probes.