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Bond issues create charter controversy

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  • | 4:00 a.m. June 7, 2012
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City Auditor and Clerk Pamela Nadalini is not bonded by the city, even though the city of Sarasota requires such a bond for her position in the city’s charter.

The city’s charter mandates that the city manager, city auditor and clerk and the finance director all be bonded.

Specifically, the charter states “the city manager, the city auditor and clerk and the finance director … shall each give bond with authorized corporate sureties, conditioned upon their faithful performance of duty.”

The only problem is when Nadalini was promoted to the clerk and auditor position in 2010, the bond agency hired to obtain a bond for her could not bond her. In 2011, a different bond agency also could not produce a bond for Nadalini. Those agencies are not obligated to reveal why they were unable to obtain a bond for Nadalini, who had to submit a long questionnaire and review of her credit to see if she was bond-worthy.

City Human Resources Director Kurt Hoverter notified city attorney Bob Fournier of the issue when Nadalini was promoted in 2010, explaining a bond could only be obtained for then-City Manager Bob Bartolotta and Finance Director Chris Lyons.

Hoverter told the Sarasota Observer that, instead, his office received an insurance policy covering all city employees who dealt with city money, including Nadalini.

“The auditor and clerk’s office are covered under a policy,” Hoverter said. “It’s just not a bond.”

The city’s Charter Review Committee, meanwhile, in 2010 reviewed the charter and alerted the Sarasota City Commission to any potential issues for its review. On its list of housekeeping changes, which was already approved by commissioners and will be placed on the November ballot, is a suggestion the charter be changed to eliminate the charter’s current mandate that a bond be needed for those staff members. In place of a bond, the charter amendment would allow a more basic insurance plan to be sufficient.

When asked why the city is still operating under a charter that mandates its clerk be bonded, Fournier said, “It’s in the process of being changed.”

Nadalini had no comment on the bond issue.

Lewis told the Sarasota Observer Fournier said he didn’t need to be bonded and the current policy that covers the auditor and clerk “is basically the same thing.”

Former city Commissioner and Mayor Kerry Kirschner, meanwhile, called the issue “unbelievable.”

Noting that Nadalini was given more responsibilities last year, including the addition of the Information Technology Department and its more than $1 million budget under her purview, Kirschner said no charter official needs a bond more than Nadalini.

“The charter mandates these positions be bonded because these city officials are handling their money,” Kirschner said. “If a person handling city money can’t be bonded, that raises serious red flags.”

The news comes after it was reported last week by the Sarasota Observer that Citizens for a Better Sarasota, a local registered political committee, is working behind the scenes to get a separate charter amendment placed on the November ballot that would give the city manager more power and the city auditor and clerk less power at City Hall.

The charter amendment language that was crafted by Icard Merrill attorney Robert Lincoln and obtained by the Sarasota Observer Wednesday, proposes splitting the position of the current city auditor and clerk into a city auditor and a separate city clerk. The city auditor would remain a charter official appointed by the commission. The amendment would create a new position of city clerk who is appointed by and reports to the city manager and also calls for transferring duties such as oversight of the city’s pension plans back to the city manager.

“We would like to see the city better organized,” said Citizens for a Better Sarasota board member Fred Derr.

Derr and others reached who are involved with formulating the charter amendment, said they are unhappy that Nadalini now oversees the information technology department and other areas they feel are better suited under the auspices of the city manager.

Commissioner Terry Turner is also supportive of the amendment and plans to make a contribution to the effort.

“I support it because I think voters feel City Hall is an embarrassment and they are frustrated with the petty bickering and turf wars among staff that are taking precedent about city government issues,” Turner said. “I’ve heard comments that the voters don’t want something like this, but I’m confident any amendment that can focus on serving the people will pass in a landslide because I don’t believe the city manager has the proper authority the people need him to have right now.”

Citizens for a Better Sarasota must collect more than 3,500 signatures (10% of the registered voters within city limits) to be able to present the charter amendment to the Sarasota City Commission in a draft ordinance that requires two public hearings at City Hall. To get the language on the ballot, Citizens for a Better Sarasota has to meet a Sept. 7 supervisor of elections ballot deadline.
Not every commissioner is behind the initiative, though.

“I’m very suspicious of the motive behind the charter amendment, but if they follow the proper procedure, they have every right to put it on the ballot,” said Commissioner Paul Caragiulo.

 Click here to read a charter amendment proposal




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