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Szerlag: Brown report a vindication

By Staff | May 6, 2020

Cape Coral City Manager John Szerlag has issued a statement saying the results of a city council commissioned investigation released late last month vindicates him of accusations that were “baseless and false.”

“The investigation into the serious accusations of wrongdoing leveled against me by Finance Director Victoria Bateman has been completed by Deborah Brown (Brown Law & Consulting),” he said in the statement released late Tuesday afternoon. “As I expected, the investigation initiated by the Mayor and City Council has shown Ms. Bateman’s accusations to be baseless and false.

“The outcome of the investigation completely vindicates me. This report is only one step toward restoring my reputation, which has been stellar through my 25+ years as a city manager. These false allegations combined with the attacks on my integrity during Council meetings have been repeated multiple times by the news media and shared on social media. One needs only to Google my name to see the damage that has been done.”

Cape Coral City Council commissioned the investigation after its members received a letter of complaint from Bateman, alleging retaliation for flagging what she said were administrative improprieties involving Szerlag and the city’s contract business manager and former police chief, Jay Murphy.

Szerlag had placed Bateman, and two other members of her department, on paid administration leave after the IRS levied more than $400,000 in fines and penalties for a payroll tax payment snafu attributed to a no-longer-employed employee in her department. The city has said most of those fines and penalties would be rebated.

Brown concluded in her April 14 report that was submitted to the Cape Coral City Council and then released late last month that “the evidence does not support a conclusion” that Szerlag retaliated against Bateman by launching an investigation into the problem within her department nor by delaying his approval for federally mandated leave time by not signing her paperwork for two days, another allegation.

Brown also concluded that the evidence did not support any finding that Murphy’s actions related to the outsourcing of golf course maintenance or involvement related to the city’s employee health clinic were improper.

Szerlag said he is prepared to move forward and looks forward to continuing his work in the city until his retirement later this year.

“Moving forward, we must focus on the issues that affect our community and work to maintain our economic sustainability, he said. “We have some challenges, but I am confident we can address these challenges in a professional manner.

“Last year, I announced my plans to retire this upcoming November. After more than 45 years in public service, I knew it was time to call it a ‘career.’ I look forward to spending these next months working alongside our excellent crew of City employees with the support of our community.”