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Investigative report related to employee complaint added to Monday’s Cape Council agenda

By Staff | Apr 18, 2020

An investigative report ordered by the Cape Coral City Council in the wake allegations raised in an employee complaint letter has been added to Monday’s Cape Coral City Council agenda.

Deborah Brown, contracted to conduct the administrative component of a four-pronged probe into alleged employee actions, including those of the city manager, has finished her interviews as well as the transcripts. The final report was delivered to the city Wednesday and added to the agenda as an addendum late Friday.

Councilmember John Carioscia, who brought the matter forward, said Council members were advised by the city attorney that they are not at liberty to discuss the findings until Monday’s meeting.

“I asked why couldn’t we make it public, and the city attorney said that city council had to digest it first, which is fair enough,” Carioscia said in a telephone interview Saturday. “It’s going to be a long meeting, so bring a sandwich.”

Carioscia said he found the report to be “extensive and thorough.”

The report focuses on allegations raised concerning City Manager John Szerlag and the city business manager and former police chief, Jay Murphy, a contract employee with the city.

The investigation was ordered in January after Mayor Joe Coviello accused Szerlag of lack of transparency after the city had more than $370,000 in expected gas tax revenues taken by the IRS, which had levied $402,000 in fines and penalties for the city’s failure to pay payroll taxes on time.

The situation came to light after Coviello and Szerlag had negotiated an extension to Szerlag’s contract, the last one before Szerlag’s announced retirement this November.

Meanwhile, Szerlag had placed three employees from the Finance Department, including Finance Director Victoria Bateman, on administrative leave while an administrative investigation was conducted into the payroll snafu, a mistake allegedly made by a Finance Department employee who has since resigned.

City officials have said they expect the fines will be rebated.

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

Brown’s firm was hired to investigate the allegations in that letter.

“Whatever was in the letter, which were the allegations, will be discussed at the meeting,” Carioscia said.

The Brown investigation, which City Attorney Dolores Menendez expected would take four weeks, took more than three months. That, along with another administrative investigation by the Police Department regarding the Finance Department which had not been concluded by the last Council meeting earlier this month, raised the ire of Coviello.

“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 during the April 6 meeting. “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.”

In a second addendum, there will be a discussion on reopening parks in the condition of continued social distancing.

Cape Coral City Council will meet Monday at 4:30 p.m. at City Hall in Council Chambers. The meeting is both broadcast and live streamed. For those who choose to attend, social distancing will be observed.

City Hall is at 1015 Cultural Park Blvd.