Clerk’s ‘housekeeping amendment’ language jeopardized firefighter pension funds first

City Auditor and Clerk Pam Nadalini listens as City Attorney Robert Fournier speaks during a recent commission meeting. Photo by Norman Schimmel

City Commissioner Terry Turner is accused of putting a half-million-dollar pension payment at risk with his language in the Strong City Manager Charter Amendment.

The Sarasota News Leader has found that language jeopardizing the pension money first was proposed by City Auditor and Clerk Pam Nadalini in a Sept. 14, 2010 memo to the Charter Review Committee.

The group was doing a once-a-decade overhaul of the city’s charter at the time. It had asked each of the charter officials – the city manager, city attorney and city auditor and clerk – to propose “housekeeping amendments” to correct errors and streamline government activities as part of that process.

More than 18 months before Turner and his political action committee began circulating their petition, Nadalini proposed sweeping language giving her the power to administer all the city’s pension plans, not just the general employees’ plan.

It turns out the language in either proposal – Nadalini’s “housekeeping amendment” or Turner’s “strong city manager” – jeopardizes the $500,000 in annual firefighters’ pension money from the state.

While Turner and his confederates have taken criticism for not writing their proposal carefully, Nadalini’s “housekeeping measure” passed the scrutiny of the charter committee, the city attorney and the City Commission over a 20-month period.

City Attorney Robert Fourner reported to the City Commission on Aug. 1 that the Turner amendment language said the city manager would serve as the administrator of the general employee pension plans and others. “I can’t take that language out, but it could mean the loss of state funds,” he said.

State law says, “In each municipality and in each special fire control district there is hereby created a board of trustees of the firefighters’ pension trust fund, which shall be solely responsible for administering the trust fund.”

Because the Turner amendment would make the city manager responsible for the firefighters’ pension trust fund, its board of trustees no longer would be responsible for it, and that would violate the law. The state’s solution would be to cut off its contribution.

However, Nadalini’s memo 22 months earlier was even more explicit. The current charter says the city audior and clerk shall “serve as the pension administrator of the General Employees Pension Plan.”

Her memo changed and expanded that to say she would “serve as the administrator of the City’s Pension Plans” — not just the general employees’ plan, but the city’s pension plans, plural. That is the same power that Turner would give the city manager.

In other words, Nadalini – who sits on two of the city’s three pension boards – made the same mistake nearly two years before Fournier caught the problem in Turner’s amendment.

Nadalini amendment would solve her problem

However, the same “housekeeping amendment” would eliminate a major problem for Nadalini. As previously reported here, she has been unable to obtain a surety bond since she took the city auditor and clerk’s position in 2010. The charter “housekeeping amendment” would allow an insurance policy to take the place of a bond.

When the Charter Review Committee, and later the Sarasota City Commission, reviewed the proposed charter changes, they were unaware Nadalini was unqualified for a surety bond, having twice tried and failed to obtain one. Then-City Manager Bob Bartolotta and Human Resources Head Kurt Hoverter were aware of the failure, but they did not inform the City Commission that Nadalini was in violation of the city charter’s requirement for a bond.

1 thought on “Clerk’s ‘housekeeping amendment’ language jeopardized firefighter pension funds first

  1. Thanks for reporting the real path to perdition on this issue, so much for the demonizing. As I tried to refresh my memories of the 2010-2011 charter review process and recommendations, tracking down the change that threatened the pensions of our firefighters in the minutes and videos has been difficult. Obviously, I was one step behind you, but I did discover one other step in the path that is even more ironic.

    Not only did the disastrous change of charter language originate with the clerk and pass through the scrutiny of the city attorney, but while watching the tape, I discovered that this change suggested by the clerk was passed by the city commission only after a caution about ramifications of such a change was raised by Terry Turner when he made a motion to leave that original charter language unchanged— that failed to receive a second at the table!

    This strengthens my resolve to urge the adoption of a referendum to create a strong auditor for the city that is separate from all other charter officials.

    Regarding bonding, if Pam Nadalini were removed from being a charter official, she also would be saved from the problem. I would like to see her retained. I do disagree with removal of the bonding requirement for charter officials and hope that this can be corrected before the election in the Fall. There is a moral element to the difference between ‘bonding’ versus ‘insuring against loss for unethical behavior’. Although I prefer to separate auditor and clerk and retain both among an expansion of the charter officials by adding a professional strong auditor, if Nadalini were moved under the city manager with all of her clerking duties intact, she would only be a department head and, therefore, be free of the bonding issue. I do think that the important freedom of information issues feared by putting the clerk under the city manager would be safeguarded with the presence of an independent and strong auditor who could pursue any allegations of political pressure on the clerk or denials of swift provision of public information imposed by a city manager who might attempt to ‘manage’ against these important activities presently overseen by Nadalini and her staff in an admirable fashion. So moving the clerk position under the manager would resolve that.

    Thanks for the details on the changes, it is top notch reporting! Caution should become the new wisdom about charter language changes and your coverage will assure its presence in future deliberations.

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