CAPE CORAL, FLA — UPDATE 5/13/2020:
Victoria Bateman has released the following a statement through her lawyer Benjamin 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.
"Do we still have confidence in our city manager?"
Original Story (aired 4/29/2020):
It's a question that the newest Cape Coral city councilwoman, Lois Welsh, asked at a January 2020 council meeting.
The question comes after the city manager, John Szerlag, was linked to several investigations, some of which include accusations that he encouraged an employee to do something unethical.
At this Monday's council meeting, councilman John Carioscia said that an independent investigation into those accusations, done by the Tampa-based Brown Law & Consulation, was done.
"...Our city manager and our city business manager have been vindicated," said Carioscia.
Fox 4 combed through the 60 page report to see what they found.
The report focuses on four main accusations brought up in a December 2019 letter to the city council, by suspended city finance director Victoria Bateman.
In a January 2020 council meeting, Szerlag denied the accusations stated in Bateman's letter.
"I do not concur with anything in that letter," said Szerlag.
According to the firm's report, the first accusation from Bateman says that in 2019 Szerlag and city business manager Jay Murphy, tried to pressure her into signing-off on documents that showed the city would save millions by using a different maintenance company for city golf courses.
Bateman claimed that wasn't true.
The second accusation says that same year, Szerlag and Murphy tried to pressure her again, this time to sign-off on using a city insurance fund to pay for a city employee health center.
Bateman claimed the plan would have wasted millions in public funds.
The third accusation says that Szerlag gave Bateman a hard time when she asked to use FMLA to take some time off from work in 2019.
And the final accusation says that Szerlag knew about a major issue between the city's finance department and the IRS and did nothing to support Bateman as she tried to fix it.
The IRS payment mistakes led to a fine of several hundred thousand dollars for the city late last year.
Bateman was suspended with pay following the IRS mess-up, but she claims szerlag did as retaliation for their previous bad-blood.
Despite this, after requesting dozens of documents and interviewing almost 20 city employees, the law firm says there either isn't enough evidence to support her claims and it calls others false.
The Cape Coral police department is still carrying out its own investigation into the mishandling of those IRS payments.
There is also a separate FDLE investigation that is going on.
Bateman is currently on paid leave while these investigations continue, we're working to reach out to her for comment.