It’s Day Two, the final day of public hearings on a proposed charter amendment to dismember the office of Pam Nadalini, auditor and clerk to the City of Sarasota.
After a parade of Caucasian testimony on Aug. 1 to urge the City Commission to break up her office’s duties — the amendment calls for an independent auditor to take over part of them, with the rest transferred to the city manager — six people on Aug. 2 rallied to Nadalini’s side.
The public debate was created by 3,300 city citizens who signed a petition to reorganize City Hall and restore several functions to the city manager. The successful petition drive requires a city ordinance to get on the ballot. While the city’s charter makes the referendum mandatory, the stipulation for the ordinance also provides for public comment. Some of those comments were unsettling.
Mathew Woodall called for the issue to be tabled. “This is a war on workers, a war on women. The power structure has closed ranks, circled the wagons and seeks to change the rules,” he said.
Valerie Buchand is one of the most eloquent women in the city, and a keen observer of both City Hall and neighborhoods. “Only when you began to bicker among yourselves,” she told the Sarasota City Commission, “does it become time to divide [Nadalini’s office].”
“Why are you in such a hurry?” she asked. “”You destroyed the city and the Housing Authority, and now what’s left?”
The half-million oversight
If “lynching” and “destruction” didn’t get your attention, how about the loss of a half-million dollars per year?
Among the many powers and responsibilities that would be transferred from the now-independent city auditor and clerk to the city manager would be the responsibility for pensions.
However, if the referendum is successful – according to City Attorney Bob Fournier – the city could lose half a million state dollars per year that goes into the city firefighters’ pension fund.
It’s a bridge the City Commission already crossed during the recent Police Department pension discussions. In reworking the police pension, the commissioners forfeited the state money. If pension authority is transferred to the city manager through the referendum, they stand to relinquish more, this time for the firefighters who used to work for the city.
“There are 150 retirees right now who did a good job for the City of Sarasota,” testified Jim McCord, the chairman of the retired firefighters association. “I hope you will continue to take care of us.”
Fournier called for a recess to research the legalities, checking the amendment language against state statutes. He returned after half an hour to say, “I am still not totally convinced this is not fixable by ordinance. We can find a way to do that. But it is possible, even probable, the citizens’ petition could result in the loss of state money.”
Fournier’s uncertainty lies in the ambiguity of the city’s position. The final decision rests not with him or the City Commission, but with a state bureaucracy called the Division of Retirement Services.
“I think we’ll lose the [state] money when it’s done,” said City Commissioner Shannon Snyder. “We don’t have any control over this.”
The idea to break up the city auditor and clerk’s job is not new. Soon after he was elected in 2009, City Commissioner Terry Turner proposed the idea to longtime City Auditor and Clerk Bill Robinson. “Wait until I retire,” Turner recalls Robinson saying. One Turner campaign worker confirmed the proposition.
When Robinson retired in 2010, his hand-picked successor was Sarasota’s first African-American charter official, Pamela Nadalini. She was a Sarasota success story, a woman who rose through the ranks to become an icon for generations behind her.
But the transition was not easy. Rancor between then-City Manager Bob Bartolotta and Robinson transferred to Nadalini and Bartolotta. It crested in early 2012, when Bartolotta resigned over as-yet-unproven allegations of city email irregularities. About that time, Turner and others prepared the petition drive that resulted in the proposed charter change that will show up on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Through this week’s debate, Nadalini remained silent. “How you sit here and take this abuse,” said Jon Susce, the weeping journalist. “I watched white folks yesterday come down and lynch this young lady. It’s a disgrace, what’s happening here.”
At the end of Thursday’s meeting, Turner again made the motion to approve the ordinance. It is the clerk’s job to read the title of an ordinance up for vote. Nadalini’s voice was clear and steady. Then she read the roll call for votes — four in favor, one against.
Commissioner Willie Shaw again cast the “No” vote, as he had on Aug. 1.
At the very end of the meeting, Nadalini spoke out: “I want to thank the commissioners for their positive comments. And I appreciate the citizens who came out and spoke, many I have known and worked with. I can’t say how great each and every one of my staff are. They have made me feel proud, and I hope you feel the same way.”
With that, Mayor Suzanne Atwell gaveled the meeting closed. Registered voters will see the amendment on their November ballot.