One investigation leads to another, then two more. A so-called can of worms was opened at a special Cape Coral City Council meeting on Thursday evening. Right now, we know of four investigations that are underway.
Cape Coral Mayor Joe Coviello said the investigation for unpaid federal taxes dates back to December 2018. The mayor said the city faces penalties and fines, which total over $400,000, and that he has lost trust in the city manager’s office.
“It first came to us,” Coviello said, “was there was some improprieties in our IRS tax payroll taxes that were not paid by a lower level payroll supervisor.”
Coviello said, as the investigation progressed, they found out more about fines and penalties.
“I believe that will ultimately all go away,” Coviello said, “But what it did do was open up other areas of discussion regarding how personnel is dealt with, who is put on leave.”
John Szerlag, the Cape Coral city manager, is confident the rule of law is on his side.
“I welcome an investigation in that respect,” Szerlag said, “Because I’m primarily not here to save a job or save myself from going on leave.”
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and the Cape Coral police and fire departments have separate investigations. The city auditor, who is also looking into the manager’s office, said her main concern was the unpaid taxes. She said on Thursday that there is nothing criminal about what she is looking into.
The city council said it had no idea about the financial issues in the manager’s office. When the manager knew about the problem and why he did not tell the mayor and the council until confronted are still unknown.
There was also a motion on the floor to put the city manager on leave, but at this point, he still has his job. But, three people from the city finance department are on leave.
“I’m not even so concerned quite frankly with the stuff that took place in the finance department, although it’s important,” Coviello said. “There were a lot of layers of things that came about, investigative reports that were done on high-level employees that were accused of creating a hostile work environment, that were considered bullies, that, that wasn’t addressed either.”
There is another council meeting on Monday. That is when they will talk about getting an outside investigator to look into these issues with the city manager’s office.
Cape Coral Police Chief Dave Newlan told the mayor he believes this discussion is inappropriate right now because it is all under active investigation.
Szerlag has been the city manager since May 2012. Szerlag served as the city manager of Troy, Michigan assuming his role in Cape Coral.
“I’m here to maintain my reputation,” Szerlag said, “which is and has been stellar.”