At the first City Commission meeting of the year Monday, commissioners will offer their input on the Sarasota Police Foundation, a nonprofit organization that’s come under scrutiny over the past month.
Police Chief Bernadette DiPino announced in November that the foundation, dormant since being founded in 2008, would be relaunched as an organization that would partner with the Sarasota Police Department for fundraising purposes.
Since then, Mayor Shannon Snyder has been one of the loudest critics of the foundation. He called it a potential slush fund, and said the city and police department have become too intertwined with the group’s relaunch for it to exist without falling under the state’s Public Records Act and Sunshine Law.
City Attorney Robert Fournier has been less decisive on the latter issue. In a Dec. 16 memo, Fournier wrote that a variety of other factors determine whether private entities must comply with those state laws — among them, the role a public entity played in creating the private organization.
Fournier concluded the memo without saying whether he believed the foundation must comply with the Sunshine Law or Public Records Act, and that the foundation’s attorney should ultimately make such a decision.
Dan Bailey, a lawyer with the Williams Parker law firm, was selected to serve as the foundation’s attorney when it was formed in 2008. On Dec. 20, he provided commissioners a letter with background on the organization’s goals as part of an effort to assure them of its good intentions. The group, modeled after the New York Police Foundation, was designed to be independent from the SPD and led by prominent figures willing to contribute themselves.
As part of the planned relaunch, Bailey would assist in transfering control of the organization to a new board of directors, led by Valerie Pober. He thinks the foundation, as it stands, would not have to comply with sunshine or public records laws and believes the foundation could be successful — if the controversy around it dies down.
“The philanthropic community will support it, perhaps, but only if they perceive that the city elected officials want it,” Bailey said.
Also on the agenda for Monday’s meeting:
• Commissioners will discuss the timeline for the annual evaluation of charter officials, including the hiring of a consultant to conduct the review of City Manager Tom Barwin. According to preliminary timelines, the summarized results of those reviews would be revealed at a March commission meeting.
• The Sarasota Sailing Squadron will provide a presentation detailing the organization’s activity during 2013.
Contact David Conway at [email protected].