City of Sarasota auditor and clerk authorized to negotiate terms of leasing new space for records storage

Pam Nadalini wins board approval after discussion of continuing water leaks at 12th Street facility

A chunk of tile rests atop a desk in the Central Records office on Sept. 25. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Given concerns about continuing water leaks in the facility where the City of Sarasota stores its public records, the City Commission has given City Auditor and Clerk Pam Nadalini full support to work with staff on securing another location for those documents.

The vote during the Oct. 2 commission meeting followed discussion on Sept. 18 and email exchanges between Nadalini and Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie.

Commissioner Hagen Brody made the motion on Oct. 2, saying, “I toured the facility; it’s not really appropriate to store original records [there]. It’s not hardened or fortified enough.”

Brody added, “I trust the clerk. We don’t need to micromanage her.”

Commissioner Willie Shaw seconded the motion.

Almost exactly a year ago — on Sept. 19, 2016 — two city commissioners voiced anger that Nadalini had put on the board’s Consent Agenda of routine business items a request to authorize her to proceed with negotiations with Benderson Development Co. for property located at 7115-7456 16th St. East — in the Sarasota-Bradenton Commerce Center — for storage of the city’s records. Use of that facility, located just north of the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, would have cost the city $5.50 per square foot per year, or $48,125 on an annual basis, backup agenda documents showed.

Photos in a 2016 consultant’s report undertaken for the city show the Central Records facility. Image from Ardaman & Associates via the City of Sarasota

After the discussion last year, the commissioners directed Nadalini to work with the city Purchasing Department staff on other options.

Nadalini reprised the issue on Sept. 18, following discovery of more water stains in the Central Records warehouse and office, which are part of the city’s Public Works Department facility on 12th Street. That night, Freeland Eddie told her colleagues she believed city staff should be working as quickly as possible to find a new place to house the public records.

More damage ensued after that meeting.

In a Sept. 27 memo to the commissioners, Nadalini noted that when staff members arrived at the Central Records facility on Monday, Sept. 25, they “discovered multiple water-stained ceiling tiles, standing water on desktops, collapsed ceiling tile installation on desks, and wet carpeting in the front office area. Due to a concern regarding potential mold growth and poor air quality,” Nadalini added, “Staff immediately relocated to the Office of the City Auditor and Clerk at City Hall.”

Ceiling tiles show water damage on Sept. 25. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

She wrote that dehumidifiers had been installed in the facility, and the ceiling tiles were replaced in the front office area. However, she continued, as of that time, “the exact nature of the water intrusion” had not been identified.

She and her staff were investigating “the possibility of alternate leasing options for a records storage facility with comparable space” and with hurricane-hardening features, Nadalini noted. She also requested the commission’s authorization for her to negotiate “terms and conditions of a lease agreement for the relocation of the City’s Official Records Facility …”

On Oct. 2, Nadalini told the commissioners that any terms she negotiated would come back to them for approval before they were finalized; she would not be executing an agreement on her own.

“This has been an ongoing … problem,” Nadalini said of the water leaks, addressing Brody and Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch, who just were elected to the board in May.

She and her staff, she added, “are the custodians of all official city records.”

“We have been exploring a few properties,” she said. “We’re going to continue to visit properties that have been available on the market that may be an ideal fit for the Central Records operation.”

Nadalini noted that her staff has been scanning and digitizing records for many years, but a number of hard copies of documents have to be maintained.

A graphic in an environmental report undertaken for the City of Sarasota in 2016 regarding health concerns related to water damage in the Central Records facility shows the layout of the storage area and offices. Image from Ardaman & Associates via the City of Sarasota

When Freeland Eddie asked about the types of records that cannot be digitized, Nadalini responded that sewer line maps are among those that must be kept “for eternity,” and the city has a number of them.

When Vice Mayor Liz Alpert asked about statutory requirements for keeping original copies, Brody pointed out, “An original is always good to have,” especially if it becomes important in litigation.

Nadalini explained that the State of Florida provides a Retention Schedule to municipalities; that lists what records need to be kept for specific periods of time. As long as the city complies with those state guidelines, Nadalini continued, the city cannot be held liable for destroying a document, even if the material is sought through a formal public records request at some later date.

Furthermore, she said, although her staff adheres to best practices in regard to digitizing records as allowed by the state, some city department staff members fear losing the hard copies and are reluctant to get rid of them after they have been scanned.

Health and timeliness issues

Freeland Eddie then asked whether the leaks at the Central Records facility on 12th Street still pose a health problem for employees.

City Auditor and Clerk Pam Nadalini. News Leader photo

“Although I am not an attorney nor a physician nor an environmental specialist,” Nadalini replied, “I definitely have concern about mold. … We’ve experienced water intrusion on a regular basis.”

“I do not intend to send [my employees] back out there at all,” Nadalini told the commissioners.

When Alpert asked what would become of the city-owned storage area if the records were moved elsewhere, Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown replied that the Public Works Department would expand into the space.

When Alpert then asked about employees of that department being exposed to mold, Brown told Alpert, “There’s no mold in the facility right now,” as environmental firms hired by the city had undertaken remediation in the facility.

Alpert next asked whether staff has explored the option of using off-site storage companies.

Nadalini replied that state law requires local governments to safeguard their records. In some cases, she added — including those involving public records requests — staff also needs to be able to access the materials more quickly than they might be able to if the documents were placed in a storage company’s complex. “It’s not going to be a 24-hour turnaround” in the latter case, she noted.

When Ahearn-Koch asked how big the storage area is on 12th Street, Nadalini said it is about 3,500 square feet. “We’re a little cramped,” she noted of her department, which is why she asked last year to explore the option of leasing a larger space.

“At this point,” Nadalini continued, “we’re just looking for something comparable … Around 4,000 square feet would be great.”

After the unanimous vote authorizing her to negotiate a lease, she told the commissioners, “I greatly appreciate it.”