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The Sylint Group Inc. President John Jorgensen, right, said it was difficult to determine exactly what city emails were deleted.
Sarasota Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012 5 years ago

City moves past investigation's wake


Now that an investigation into a former city manager’s use of city emails — and a wave of scrutiny at City Hall — is nearing an end, city officials are trying to get back to business as usual.

A cyber review, conducted by The Sylint Group Inc. and ongoing for the past eight months, will be complete by the end of this month, and a separate law-enforcement investigation is also wrapping up. No criminal charges are expected.

“This is starting to sunset, and we’re moving on,” said City Manager Tom Barwin, who started his post a month ago, eight months after former City Manager Robert Bartolotta was forced to resign.

Barwin met with the city attorney and the city auditor Tuesday morning to talk about precautions city employees should take in the future when using the city emails and the archive system used to store those emails.

Future training is scheduled to ensure guidelines are followed as city employees send, copy, share and scan tens of thousands of emails every month.

The city has an upgraded email achieve system and a new IT director who started last month.

Barwin said the focus will now turn to trying to move the city ahead and dealing with a range of projects and efforts — from a $40 million hotel project on Palm Avenue to hiring a new police chief.

But closure won’t come until the end of the month, when Sylint submits its final written report.

The Sylint investigation has focused on the city manager’s office and whether Bartolotta and Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown had deleted or removed emails from the city’s computer archive system.

Mayor Suzanne Atwell has been prodding Sylint to issue its final report.

“We have this cloud of uncertainty, and it breeds malcontent,” Atwell said. “I think sometimes we are forced to try to prove a negative, and that is hard to do.”

Commissioner Shannon Snyder said he doesn’t think the city should close the book on the investigations just yet.

Snyder said he has unanswered questions that he thinks will be answered in that final report.

Snyder said one of the red flags was that the city manager’s office had been monitoring the emails of the city clerk’s office and correspondence involving a HUD audit.

“I think the report at the end of the month will be telling,” Snyder said. “Everyone is going kumbaya and is saying this all over,” Snyder said. “A lot of questions need to be answered.”

As the result of its review, Sylint found that Bartolotta had scrubbed thousands of emails from the city system, about 100 of which cannot be recovered.

The review also discovered the city manager’s office conducted dozens of open-ended searches of city employee emails, Sylint President John Jorgensen told city commissioners at their regular meeting Monday.

In addition, the cyber firm found that someone in the city’s network had access to police department’s emails.

But Jorgensen told commissioners that his firm’s review did not find that sensitive information was released to the public and that no criminal charges were being pursued.

In an interview after the meeting, Jorgensen said it is difficult to find out what happened because the city’s disorganized and outdated computer network prevented the cyber forensics review from tracing everything.

“Rather than to go on a hunt to see if any other emails missing, we felt the time would be best spent on resolving the issues,” Jorgensen said to commissioners.

It would be difficult, however, Jorgensen said, to completely tell which emails were deleted and whether sensitive personnel information or health files that may have been accessed were ever released from the computer system.

If such information were released, it would “create enormous problems,” Jorgensen said.

“We can say some of the emails have been lost on the system and will probably never be found,” Jorgensen said.

The Sylint Group Inc. also found that open-ended searches of Commissioners Paul Caragiulo’s and Snyder’s emails had been conducted.

Jorgensen suggested that because of today’s financial climate, law enforcement will have to pick which cases it will take on, and, in part, that factor influenced the decision as to whether Florida Department of Law Enforcement continued its investigation, Jorgensen said.

Before Monday’s City Commission meeting, more confusion and scrutiny enshrouded City Hall, after Jorgensen last week released a vague two-page report that re-emphasized previous charges and brought new ones. That report stated that FDLE had decided to proceed with a formal investigation, but did not give an update on its investigation.

Also, before the meeting, Barwin called state law-enforcement officials at FDLE to inquire about the state investigation. An official with the agency told Barwin that they had interviewed Bartolotta, Brown and one other city employee.

“Based on that, they looked at all the state laws, and they said no criminal charges are being pursued,” Barwin said.

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