The Sarasota City Commission didn’t have much of a decision to make on a proposed charter amendment that would split the city auditor and clerk’s office into two separate offices and place the clerk under the supervision of the city manager.
Approximately 10% of registered voters — more than 3,300, according to Commissioner Terry Turner — signed petitions to place the amendment on the ballot in November. City Attorney Robert Fournier told the commission that it needed to schedule the vote, set forth the text of the proposed amendment and provide for an effective date for the amendment, if approved.
Although the commission’s decision at its Aug. 1 meeting was a formality, approximately 35 people attended the meeting. The 21 attendees who addressed the commission brought up issues ranging from the historically strained relationship between the city manager and clerk’s offices, racial tensions in the city and recent controversies surrounding the performance of City Auditor and Clerk Pamela Nadalini.
Nadalini sat expressionless throughout most of the meeting but smiled slightly when resident Harold Smith, the first member of the public to speak, said that she “was doing a fantastic job” and that he opposed the amendment.
The Rev. Wade Harvin also criticized the amendment and praised Nadalini, describing her as a catalyst for positive change.
“I’m simply saying, what I see is another example in Sarasota by the commissioners to try to fix that which is not broken,” Harvin said.
But other residents spoke about the structure of the city by expressing support of the amendment.
Several cited professional experience of auditors, saying that the role requires independence.
Former Vice Mayor Ken Shelin said that auditors need to play many roles, including “keen interviewer,” in uncovering fraud.
“Audits are not just a review of financial records,” he said.
Others said they were fed up with the discord at City Hall stemming from the strained relationship between the city manager and city clerk.
“This fighting has nothing to do with serving the citizens and everything to do with the infighting between bureaucrats,” resident Juanita Rawlinson said. “Let the city manager manage and the clerk keep the records.”
Kerry Kirschner, executive director of the Argus Foundation, which supports the amendment, argued that the referendum wouldn’t be a decision on whether Nadalini should keep her job.
Racial tensions also came up during the discussion.
In stressing that the amendment wasn’t about Nadalini, who is the first African-American charter official in city history, Kirschner said that his group was “the subject of attacks” alleging racism.
But Jeff Murphy said he disagreed with the amendment.
“I feel like this is South Africa,” he said. “Sarasota is South Africa. And it’s hurting to be in the city of Sarasota where things can’t function well.”
Commissioner Terry Turner, who has led efforts to bring the measure before voters, made a motion after public comments to approve the ordinance as presented.
The motion failed for lack of a second.
Fournier then told the commission it had a legal obligation to put the measure on the ballot, stressing that it wasn’t a vote for or against the amendment.
Mayor Suzanne Atwell then agreed to second the motion.
The motion carried 4-1, with Vice Mayor Willie Shaw voting against it.
“This is a first reading,” Atwell said. “We’re going to take this to the voters. We’re not voting on whether we want this. This is our obligation.”