City Manager Bob Bartolotta believes the accusation last week that he and another city employee attempted to erase data from their computers is an effort to undermine his management of City Hall. Bartolotta also believes it’s more than coincidental that the computer accusation was made after he complained about the Sarasota City Commission transferring the Information Technology Department from his office to the Auditor and Clerk’s Office.
Last week, Sarasota attorney and former state Sen. Bob Johnson sent an email to Commissioners Willie Shaw, Shannon Snyder and Paul Caragiulo that accused Bartolotta and Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown of ordering their computers “scrubbed” of data before the IT Department was officially transferred to Auditor and Clerk Pamela Nadalini Oct. 1.
Johnson has declined to disclose his source of information. Bartolotta said that should be the first telltale sign that the accusation is false.
“If Bob Johnson has good authority, he should produce that person,” Bartolotta wrote in an email to the Sarasota Observer.
Mayor Suzanne Atwell, who didn’t receive the Johnson email along with Vice Mayor Terry Turner, also had an issue with the allegation.
“I’m still frustrated by it,” Atwell said. “Why didn’t we all get the email?”
On Oct. 12, Bartolotta and Brown both submitted their computers to the IT Department.
City Attorney Bob Fournier agreed to take the computers until an independent third party can perform an investigation. Fournier also suggested that investigations such as the one that will be performed need to be curtailed in the future.
“We need to be much more careful in the future about performing an investigation with no concrete source of information,” Fournier said.
Bartolotta questions why the investigation was requested by Nadalini’s office in the first place.
“No notification or guidance was sought from the commission (as our bosses) as to whether a charter official can investigate another charter official without commission concurrence,” Bartolotta wrote in the email.
Nadalini did not return a phone call seeking comment for this story.
Internal memos between Bartolotta and Nadalini also reveal that Bartolotta agreed to turn over the computers only if the investigation was performed by a third party and that Audit Manager Heather Riti’s computer was also reviewed as part of a computer forensic investigation.
Bartolotta said the investigation is fruitless because any information from city employees’ computers is backed up as part of the city’s public record program.
Sarasota City Commissioners back Bartolotta and Nadalini
The Sarasota City Commission was asked the following two questions by the Pelican Press. Their responses are listed below.
• The Information Technology Department declared there was no scrubbing of computers performed before Auditor and Clerk Pamela Nadalini began an investigation into the computers. Should the commission have been informed and been responsible for making the decision to investigate the computers?
• With the issues and accusations that appear to be mounting at City Hall, do you still have confidence and faith in City Manager Bob Bartolotta and Auditor and Clerk Pamela Nadalini and their ability to continue to perform their jobs effectively?
“I think so. I’m still frustrated that an email making unsubstantiated claims wasn’t even sent to all five commissioners ... We need to take a deep breath, stay above the fray and be leaders ... Until I am convinced otherwise, I will listen to my staff. I want the alignment of clerk and the city manager’s office to work ... I don’t like reckless and behind-the-scenes accusation, which further divides the charter officials we are talking about.”
— Mayor Suzanne Atwell
“I think before the auditor and clerk begins what appears to be an auspices investigation, she should clear it with all five commissioners first. It appears this didn’t go down professionally or appropriately. I am absolutely confident in the city manager ... There hasn’t been an allegation yet that’s been unfounded.”
— Vice Mayor Terry Turner
“No, the commission should not have been informed before the investigation began. I am very much supportive of both of these city officials. Things like this are going to come up now and again.”
— Commissioner Willie Shaw
“There was an allegation submitted to City Hall. I think our charter officials handled it the way it should have been handled ... The clerk is responsible for public records and needs to investigate the allegation. I am confident in both of their abilities and honestly believe they are working through their issues. We have more important things to worry about, to be quite honest.”
— Commissioner Shannon Snyder
“The auditor and clerk has pretty high authority in the charter to do what she did. Prior to this scrubbing accusation, she planned to do a security sweep of the whole IT system anyway now that she is in charge of it. I have complete faith in that (auditor and clerk) office to do what needs to be done. As far as the other guy, not so much (confidence). I would, however, like everyone involved to get along a little better.”
— Commissioner Paul Caragiulo
Bartolotta’s Computer Accusation Timeline
City Manager Bob Bartolotta presented the following timeline in his own words to the Sarasota Observer. He believes the timeline shows his department did nothing wrong and says it raises questions as to who is behind the accusations levied in the wake of a computer investigation at City Hall.
• 11:19 a.m. Friday, Oct. 7 — Bob Johnson sends an email to three commissioners stating, “Have it on good authority that on Sept. 30 and after that the IT tech, Anthony, was scrubbing data from Marvin (sic) Brown and Mr. Bartalotta (sic) computers. The stakes get higher and an investigation will be called for.”
Please note that on Sept. 30 (date of the alleged activity), I was in Tampa at a Department of Environmental Protection meeting in the morning, and Diane (Bartolotta’s assistant) was out that day. The only two people in the office were Marlon (Brown) and Veda (Brown’s assistant). If Bob Johnson has a “good authority,” he should produce that person.
• 2:22 p.m. Friday, Oct. 7 — Commissioner (Paul) Caragiulo forwards Johnson’s email to Pamela Nadalini “for the public record.” No copy (was given) to the city manager or deputy city manager.
• 5:25 p.m. Monday, Oct. 10 — Nadalini forwards the email to (IT employee) Chance Craig for a follow-up investigation. No copy is sent to the city manager or deputy city manager.
• 12:50 p.m. Monday, Oct. 10 — Craig responds to Nadalini with a copy to Brown and I stating that IT was working on a routine email rights issue and that there was no “scrubbing of data.”
• 4 p.m. Monday, Oct. 10 — I met with Nadalini and volunteered both my computer and Marlon’s computer. Pamela responded that that was not necessary because she felt the case was closed and that she would transmit her findings to Bob Johnson.
• 11 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 10 — I received a hand-delivered memo from Nadalini stating that she had directed IT to remove computers from my office. No reason was given for why, the day before, discussion indicated the case was closed and on this day it required further investigation. Also for the first time she indicates that Johnson and the media felt that there was some connection with the HUD (audit) review. No notification or guidance was sought from the commission (as our bosses) as to whether a charter official can investigate another charter official without commission concurrence.
• 7 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 12 — I responded in a hand-delivered memo to the clerk that Marlon and I had “absolutely no problem in turning over our laptops for a further review.” Also in this memo I requested that Nadalini treat this complaint and other complaints in an equitable manner. Because allegations had been made that the audit manager had taken files off the file servers and placed them in a separate hard drive controlled only by her, this should also be investigated by a third party. I also requested that prior to transfer of laptops that the files be copied to a new computer so that our office could continue our daily work. At no time did this office resist in any way turning over these computers for review. Computers were given to IT by noon on Wednesday.
• 3 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 12 — City manager, deputy city manager, city attorney, city auditor and clerk and deputy city auditor and clerk met to discuss follow-up issues. The city attorney agreed to hold on to all three computers until such time a third party review took place. Nadalini agreed to have the outside review also include the audit manager’s removal of files from the file server. I requested that the third party contractor be an objective contractor and that the scope of the review be shared and not be an “open-ended review” and that it be conducted ASAP to remove any cloud. The city attorney also cautioned that in the future we should not be investigating “anonymous” or unnamed allegations. I indicated that there are other agendas being moved forward by these constant stories and that we had to be careful not to be used for other’s purposes.