Law Library, computer investigation, mooring field ordinance on the May 7 agenda for the City Commission

A dumpster off Adams Lane in October 2010 overflows with Sarasota County Law Library volumes and periodicals that had to be disposed of in preparation for the facility's forced move to much tighter quarters in Selby Library. Photo by Stan Zimmerman

Several hot-potato items are on the May 7 agenda of the Sarasota City Commission. The meeting starts at 2:30 p.m. in City Hall, with a long consent agenda of 20 items.

One of those consent items may conclude the tail-chasing story of where to put the Sarasota County Law Library. The facility was moved out of its long-time location on Adams Lane, behind the county’s Terrace Hotel administration complex to make way for a city employee health center.

The move was accomplished in late November 2010 in a rush-rush fashion, with city officials urging county officials to move the Law Library as quickly as possible. About 10% of the collection ended up in the new – but temporary – location on the second floor of the Selby Library. Thousands of legal volumes wound up in a dumpster for recycling, while lawyers and residents picked over nearly a half-mile of the remaining books.

Monday the story comes full circle with the city commissioners being asked to approve a lease with Sarasota County for the Law Library to go back to its original location on Adams Lane. One new wrinkle: The county has to pay all of the utilities for the building, including those used by the city’s health center. Rent is up too — from $1 a year for the old library to $10 a year. The county commissioners approved the new lease last month.

After taking care of the consent items, the city commissioners Monday will receive an update of the computer forensic analysis by Sylint Cyber Security, Intelligence and Analysis. This “unfinished business” started when a former state senator suggested senior officials were deleting emails in City Hall, a violation of Florida’s Government in the Sunshine statutes.

Sylint was called in to investigate last November. It subsequently reported that thousands of emails had been deleted, and pointed a finger at the City Manager’s Office as the culprit. A variety of other legal issues were identified, including attempts to read email concerning a federal investigation of the Housing Authority. City Manager Bob Bartolotta resigned on Jan. 17 as a result of the report.

Meanwhile, the city clerk was instructed to contact the FBI and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to seek an investigation. On Monday afternoon, Sylint will provide an update on its own investigation.

Splish, splash, takin’ a bath

The evening session begins at 6 p.m. with the presentation of awards and proclamations. Of note is a Gold Certification by the U.S. Green Building Council for the city’s Palm Avenue Parking Garage LEED certification.

The big item on the evening agenda is management of local waters, specifically, action to approve a totally revised plan for the downtown mooring facility and impose a length-of-stay requirement on all boats anchored anywhere else.

This represents the third time in seven years that city staffers have presented an ordinance to the commission and the public. “This time we started from the beginning,” said City Attorney Bob Fournier. “We wanted to make it easier to follow and understand.”

Ostensibly the objective of Ordinance 12-5003 is “to implement a ‘pilot program’ authorized [by state statute] to allow the city limited ability to regulate anchorage of  vessels outside properly permitted mooring fields.”

One controversial aspect of the proposed ordinance is a 90-day restriction for length-of-stay on anchored boats. It would apply to 11 square miles of local waters under the city’s jurisdiction. After a 90-day stay, boat owners either would have to leave or rent a mooring from the city in the bayfront field.

Last year, moorings installed by a contractor failed a “stress test,” and the contractor was relieved of duty. If the ordinance is approved Monday, it would clear the way for the city to let a contract with a new contractor to begin installation of 35 mooring sites. A total of 107 is allowed under a state permit.

Gov. Rick Scott and his cabinet late last month further complicated the issue when it refused to approve a permit application for a mooring field by the Sarasota Sailing Squadron. The volunteer organization has worked for more than 10 years to get state approval for its historic mooring field.

The turn-down from the governor and cabinet means most of the boats at the squadron-operated mooring field now fall under the city’s proposed 90-day rule.

The cost of the city’s mooring field project is now well over a half-million dollars. The field will be operated by Marina Jack Inc., and if it is not profitable, the city will pay the operator to cover the majority of the shortfall.

The new mooring ordinance will be evaluated Thursday, May 10, in Tallahassee by staff of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission during a public event held in the Florida Sheriff’s Association building. The FWC board will pass judgment on the Sarasota ordinance next month, as part of its five-location pilot project demanded by the Florida Legislature.

“If all goes well, it could be in force by this fall,” said Fournier of the ordinance. However, the city commissioners have the power to amend the ordinance, or defeat it, following Monday evening’s public hearing.