City’s solution is simple

As stated already in several articles by City Editor Stan Zimmerman, including one in this week’s edition, the charter for the City of Sarasota requires that the city manager, the city finance director and the city auditor and clerk be bonded. Those stories also point out that the current city auditor and clerk, Pam Nadalini, has been unable to obtain the required bond since she was appointed to the post in 2010.

Instead, then-City Manager Bob Bartolotta, Human Resources Director Kurt Hoverter and City Attorney Robert Fournier cooked up a scheme in 2010 to have the city charter amended to delete that bond requirement. Lest anyone in the approval process ask too many questions, none of these three public “servants” informed either the Charter Review Commission or the City Commission of Nadalini’s unfitness for bonding. The proposed amendment was lumped into an omnibus “housekeeping” amendment designed to bring the charter up-to-date. Several members of the CRC at the time have told us that Fournier told them that bonds were too expensive, compared to insurance.

But as pointed out in the article today, expense is not why the original charter required bonds. It was to ensure the proper, ethical and legal performance of those three city officials, upon pain of economic loss if a bond was forfeited because of untoward acts. Bonds do something insurance cannot — they bring the insurance underwriter on board as a partner in ensuring the proper conduct of the official who has been bonded.

Now, of course, the housekeeping amendment already is on the Nov. 6 ballot, along with a citizens’ initiative that would break up the position of city auditor and clerk, putting the city clerk under the aegis of a “strong” city manager and creating a separate position of city auditor. But a much simpler solution exists for the City Commission, and it can be implemented right now.

First, each of the commissioners should have a private interview with Nadalini. She should be told that a bond is required of her by the city charter and, if she is not able to be bonded, she should resign … or face termination. Since it clearly has been established over the past two years that Nadalini is unbondable, her departure from that post is inevitable. The city then could fill the position of city auditor and clerk with someone with professional auditing experience, preferably a certified public accountant with a local government auditing background. And it would seem likely that such a professional could be hired for what the current city auditor and clerk is being paid.

This would preserve the independent accountability that was envisioned when the charter position of city auditor and clerk was created. It also would make the position more meaningful as a means of oversight for the functions of other branches of city government. Finally, it is difficult to imagine a circumstance in which a person who holds, in good standing, licensure from the State of Florida as a CPA could not also receive a $100,000 bond.

A position of deputy city clerk could be created under the city auditor and clerk, and that person could be responsible for handling most of the non-auditing duties now handled by Nadalini. In fact, Nadalini would be an excellent candidate for that new post, which should mitigate any discomfiture visited upon the City Commission because it did its job and relieved Nadalini of hers.

Thus, a solution to the current bonding crisis can be found, the position of city auditor and clerk can be elevated to a level that actually promises true auditing oversight, the current city auditor and clerk might find herself still employed by the city — in a position that takes advantage of her considerable skills and experience — and the meddling of certain groups outside city government, which seemed designed to weaken the checks and balances already a part of our city charter, would be frustrated.