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Bateman stands behind allegations made

By Staff | May 8, 2020

The city of Cape Coral’s finance director, Victoria Bateman, stands “firmly behind” her statements written in a complaint letter that launched an investigation into the city manager’s office.

Bateman, in a letter sent to the mayor and other members of the Cape Coral City Council in December, alleged that City Manager John Szerlag retaliated against her by suspending her during the course of an audit and administrative investigation into a FICA tax payment snafu. She said he also retaliated by delaying his signature on her request for federally mandated medical leave.

She further alleged improprieties concerning the city administration’s bid to outsource maintenance at the city-owned golf course and its proposal to open a health clinic for city employees, naming the city’s contract business manager and former police chief, Jay Murphy. Bateman said Council was not properly informed as to the purported saving associated with either project and accused Szerlag of lying to Council as to when he became aware of the payroll payment issue in her department, which resulted in more than $420,000 in IRS fines and penalties.

The city has said most of that money has been recouped as a Finance Department employee, who has since resigned, paid late, but the city did not underpay the taxes remitted.

Bateman released the following statement through her Bonita Springs-based labor attorney, Benjamin H. Yormak:

“Ms. Bateman stands firmly behind her allegations. The City Manager has not been ‘exonerated’ or ‘vindicated.’ Instead, the Brown Report substantiates much of Ms. Bateman’s claims. And yet, the City Manager has banned her from the buildings and access to documentation contained in her workplace. She stands firmly behind her statements and remains resolute in her position that the City Business Manager has been unethical, dishonest and violated city policies and procedures. After all, during all this, the City Business Manager had no contract and was not an employee. Mr. Szerlag was aware of all Ms. Bateman’s concerns and did nothing to prevent her from being bullied and mistreated. The Vicki Sproat report confirms the City Business Manager violated City Ordinances.

“Ms. Bateman urges the citizens of Cape Coral to read the Brown Report for themselves and believes that upon doing so, they will disagree with the Council Member who stated that the City Manager and City Business Manager have been ‘vindicated.’ Far from it. The FDLE investigation remains ongoing, and the Brown Report demonstrates that questionable actions took place, which Ms. Bateman opposed in the face of being bullied and pressured to do unethical things. Ms. Bateman believes Council should have many questions themselves as to how the City Manager and City Business Manager have behaved, especially towards Ms. Bateman, who has steadfastly safeguarded the Cape Coral’s public funds.”

Szerlag denied the allegations in January when Mayor Joe Coviello brought the matter to the Cape Coral City Council.

Council agreed to hire Brown and also referred the allegations to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for a criminal review. That report has now been referred to an out-of-circuit State Attorney’s Office where, city officials said Wednesday, it remained under review.

Brown concluded in her summation of the report dated April 14 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 medical leave time by not signing her paperwork for two days. Brown also concluded that the “evidence did not support” any finding that Murphy’s actions related to the proposal to outsource golf course maintenance, or his involvement related to the city’s employee health clinic, were improper.

On Tuesday, Szerlag issued a statement saying the Brown report findings “vindicated” him of allegations deemed “baseless and false.”

A third investigation, administrative in nature, was referred to the Cape Coral Police Department by Szerlag. It, too, was pending as of Wednesday. A fourth administrative review, referred to the Cape Coral Fire Department by Szerlag, is said to be complete but has not been released.