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Sarasota Wednesday, Jul. 25, 2018 2 years ago

City moves to vet auditor and clerk

After a fired employee accused City Auditor and Clerk Pamela Nadalini of improper conduct, commissioners want to examine the work environment.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

Sarasota city commissioners received a five-page letter from a fired employee July 16 accusing City Auditor and Clerk Pamela Nadalini of harassing, misleading and improperly training staff members.

That same day, the City Commission voted unanimously to begin an investigation into the veracity of the claims. Although commissioners said their personal interactions with Nadalini had been positive, they expressed an obligation to further explore charges of serious misconduct.

“I don’t see how we continue to ignore this and not at least take some sort of action to at least investigate what’s been going on,” Mayor Liz Alpert said.

Alpert noted the letter, written by former Deputy City Auditor and Clerk Derrick Andrews-Wright, isn’t the first document detailing allegations of improper conduct by Nadalini, who has held the position since 2010. When the commission conducted an annual review of the city’s three charter officials earlier this year, the board invited staff to submit feedback as part of the process.

Of the 23 largely anonymous staff reviews, all but one is critical of Nadalini’s performance. Most offer harsh critiques, characterizing Nadalini as responsible for creating a hostile work environment. Multiple reviews accuse Nadalini of driving employees to tears. Several note tension between her and other officials, particularly City Manager Tom Barwin.

“This type of abusive treatment of employees would definitely not be tolerated in the corporate world, and I can only hope that it will not continue to be tolerated by the city of Sarasota from a charter official,” wrote Cynthia Akersloot, then the city’s pension plans administrator. Akersloot resigned in January.

Although the commission noted the negative tenor of the reviews, the board unanimously rated her as either meeting or exceeding expectations. In March, Alpert raised concerns about the employee feedback, suggesting the board should take more action to investigate the claims. She did the same at an April informal meeting, though the rest of the board did not show interest in further pursuing the issue.

Andrews-Wright’s letter appeared to change the situation for a majority of the commission.

“Here we are, several months later, and we’re still hearing similar comments,” Commissioner Hagen Brody said. “I think, legally speaking, we have to address it.”

Andrews-Wright began working for the city in January. He was still a probationary employee when he was dismissed this month. In his letter, he claimed he did not receive adequate training and that Nadalini instructed him not to trust Barwin. He said he saw Nadalini yell and cause another employee to cry two times.

He said other employees in the department were well aware of Nadalini’s hostility.

“Every manager in the Clerk’s Office, (sic) informed me of countless harassment and demoralizing experiences they have had with Mrs. Pamela,” Andrews-Wright wrote.

The commission directed the city’s Human Resources Department to look into the possibility of bringing in an outside expert to review the allegations against Nadalini. In addition, Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie wanted to establish a formal process for reviewing grievances from staff members against charter officials.

Nadalini was out of the office and could not be reached for comment ahead of publication.

When former City Commissioner Susan Chapman raised similar allegations from staff during a 2016 evaluation, Nadalini rebutted the claims. She also suggested some criticisms were rooted in false narratives other officials were pushing.

“Commissioners sometimes get involved in personnel matters, and it tends to cause employees to somewhat go in a direction outside of what the truth may be,” Nadalini said.

Alpert said the investigation is not an attack on Nadalini and reiterated that her personal experiences with the auditor and clerk have been positive. Still, the negative accusations continue to trouble Alpert, who is hopeful an investigation will bring some closure to this issue.

“I think it actually is in her best interest as well for this to be investigated by an outside source,” Alpert said. “If these allegations are not true, then an outside investigator will find that as well.”

Update: This article has been edited to correct the details of the July 16 City Commission vote.

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