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Sarasota Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018 1 week ago

City places auditor and clerk on administrative leave

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An independent report investigating allegations of workplace misconduct advised the City Commission to fire Pamela Nadalini.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

After an independent investigation determined employee allegations of retaliation, bullying and other workplace misconduct against City Auditor and Clerk Pamela Nadalini were legitimate, the City Commission voted Monday to put the charter official on administrative leave.

Before the 3-2 vote, some board members expressed hesitance about moving too quickly — particularly toward ultimately firing Nadalini, as the investigators recommended. Commissioners said they still hoped to hear directly from Nadalini, who declined to participate in the investigation without city-provided legal counsel.

But a majority of the commission said the report regarding the accusations against Nadalini, which included interviews with 50 current and former employees in her office, was serious enough to demand some action.

“I don’t think we have a choice, based on the liability we expose ourselves to,” Mayor Liz Alpert said.

The commission agreed to discuss Nadalini’s future with the city at a Jan. 7 meeting.

In September, the city hired the Shumaker, Loop and Kendrick law firm to conduct an investigation into allegations regarding Nadalini. In July, commissioners received a letter from former Deputy City Auditor and Clerk Derrick Andrews-Wright accusing Nadalini of harassing and improperly training staff members. Andrews-Wright had been fired that month.

Earlier this year, as part of the commission’s annual review of charter officials, anonymous employee surveys characterized Nadalini as someone who created a hostile work environment and clashed with City Manager Tom Barwin. Nadalini had challenged the substance of the survey results and suggested the negative reports may have come from employees outside of her office.

According to the investigation, however, multiple employees in Nadalini’s office offered similar accounts. So did former employees, the report states. Although some individuals offered a defense of Nadalini as competent and someone who had high expectations for her employees, most responses were critical of the city auditor and clerk’s behavior.

“The majority of interviewees describe the work atmosphere negatively,” the report states. “Individuals described a workplace based on favoritism rather than performance, a workplace atmosphere that depended on Ms. Nadalini’s mood, a workplace dependent on being in Ms. Nadalini’s good graces, a workplace of negativity that was not constructive, a workplace where ‘everyone was treated like garbage’ and a workplace where power struggles were prioritized over fairness.”

Commissioners Shelli Freeland Eddie and Willie Shaw, who ultimately voted against the motion to put Nadalini on administrative leave, expressed concern that Nadalini’s input was not included in the report. Jennifer Compton, one of two attorneys who authored the report, said the investigators made four requests to interview Nadalini and received no direct response.

Nadalini declined to comment in detail at Monday’s commission meeting, though she did generally dispute the findings.

“I believe there’s nothing for me to say at this time other than I have the utmost respect for all of those employees,” Nadalini said.

The investigation recommended putting Nadalini on administrative leave and firing her no later than Jan. 7. It also made procedural recommendations for handling similar issues in the future, including a method by which employees could make formal complaints about charter officials.

Shayla Griggs
The commission appointed Deputy City Auditor and Clerk Shayla Griggs, center, to serve in Nadalini's role on an interim basis.

Although the board agreed to place Nadalini on leave, several commissioners cautioned against committing to her dismissal.

“Our emotions are playing very much over our intelligence in this equation,” Shaw said.

Compton, however, said the investigators were confident in their recommendations despite their inability to speak directly to Nadalini.

“I can tell you this was not a close decision,” Compton said. “Neither (contributing attorney Patrick) Duggan nor myself felt there was any other decision to be made.”

Commissioner Hagen Brody said he hadn’t made up his mind on how the city should ultimately proceed with Nadalini, but he said the city needed to take action after the investigation was consistent with the accusations made in the anonymous surveys. He also expressed concern that Nadalini had not acknowledged any issues with her employees.

“The other thing that has troubled me that I haven’t heard is any ownership or acceptance of any of this happening in the office,” Brody said. “This investigation has been going on for a long time. My office door is obviously always open. I have made attempts to talk about this issue, because you can’t address something if you can’t accept the fact that there’s something up and something happening.”

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