Mayor votes against purchase of 17th Street building for new Central Records Division for City of Sarasota

Other commissioners point to continuing water damage at 12th Street structure

Photos show damage discovered June 29 in the Central Records facility on 12th Street. Images courtesy Office of the Sarasota City Auditor and Clerk

Almost two months after they authorized Sarasota City Auditor and Clerk Pamela Nadalini to work with Deputy City Attorney Michael Connolly on leasing or buying a new home for the city’s Central Records Division, the city commissioners voted 4-1 this week to allow the pair to proceed with potential purchase of a 17th Street building.

Mayor Liz Alpert cast the “No” vote during the board’s regular meeting on July 2, mirroring her May 2 vote. This week, Alpert argued that she felt the city could save thousands of dollars by contracting with a storage company to keep the records.

Alpert has questioned Nadalini’s efforts to secure a new location for the records since Nadalini began the process in earnest in the latter part of 2016.

Nadalini and Nick Dazio, the central records manager, have sent the commissioners and senior city staff numerous photos over the past two years, illustrating leaks in the 12th Street warehouse — part of the city Utilities Department facility — where the central records are stored. Dazio and other staff members also have documented damage as a result of the water intrusion.

Most recently, Dazio sent Nadalini an email on June 29, noting that he and a fellow staff member had gone to the 12th Street building to fulfill a couple of records requests that afternoon and to check whether ceiling tiles found damaged on June 27 had been repaired. Those tiles had been replaced, he wrote, “but we discovered 5 new leaks [his emphasis] just from the rain we had last night and today. There were some obvious water marks on a desktop from a leak and on the copy machine, which we have moved away from the wall and verified … is still functioning as expected.”

He attached more photos.

Water marks are visible on the copier in the Central Records facility on 12th Street on June 29. Images courtesy Office of the Sarasota City Auditor and Clerk

Persistent arguments

When Alpert turned to the item on the July 2 agenda, Nadalini explained that the structure she and Connolly have been researching is located at 3580 17th Street. The owner — Chris Brown of Osprey — is willing to sell the property for $610,000, Nadalini continued.

Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie then made a motion to approve the purchase, and Commissioner Willie Shaw seconded it.

Alpert, however, said she had some questions first, noting that she had exchanged emails with Nadalini.

A document provided by SVN, a commercial real estate group in Sarasota, shows the building on 17th Street. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Only about 2,500 boxes have to be stored, Alpert pointed out, based on what Nadalini had told her. (In a June 28 letter to Alpert, Nadalini wrote that the “Central Records facility is housing approximately 2,311 boxes. However, this total is subject to change based upon records that are sent to Central Records from City departments on a regular basis throughout each year.”)

Alpert added on July 2 that she had checked with storage companies and learned that they would charge about $1.50 per box per year. That would be slightly more than $3,700 for the Central Records materials, Alpert stressed, and that expense could end after all the records had been digitized.

Furthermore, she continued, “These companies can provide on-demand scanning,” if requests come in for records. “They can deliver them same day or next day, if the records need to be delivered,” she added of the companies. “It sure seems like it would be much better to spend the money to digitize the records that we have …”

Alpert then asked how much it would cost for the city to run fiber optic cable to the 17th Street building, if the city purchased it.

“Obviously,” Nadalini began, “we’re not even able to do due diligence” on the structure until after the City Commission has agreed to the purchase. That is a facet of the law, Nadalini explained.

Pamela Nadalini. File photo

After that due diligence period — which is included in the contract — she would report the findings to the City Commission, she said. “There’s nothing for us to really pursue in regards to any of those costs [right now],” Nadalini added, referring to transforming the empty 17thStreet building into the Central Records Division.

“I think those costs are relevant to spending the money,” Alpert replied.

When Alpert asked Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown what the expense would be to run city fiber optic cable to the structure, he responded that the city’s Information Technology Department had provided an estimate based on the cost per-mile cost. The answer, he said, is about $608,289.

However, he indicated, Comcast or Frontier internet service could be much cheaper.

“That’s part of the due diligence,” Nadalini pointed out, stressing that she would abandon the project before she would ask the board to spend “600-some thousand dollars” on fiber optic service to the structure. “Before we spend a dime of the city’s money,” she said, “all of that would be brought back [to the board for consideration].”

When Alpert then asked whether Nadalini had investigated the potential of outsourcing the storage of the central records, Nadalini replied, “We’re currently already doing that and we will continue doing that.” Nadalini pointed out, “I’ve answered [that question] several times before.”

However, Nadalini explained, her office is responsible for a “voluminous amount” of public records requests that come in on a daily basis; her staff members must fulfill those requests in a timely fashion, and, she said, she believes they do a good job of that.

“Access at our fingertips” is necessary for those quick responses, Nadalini emphasized.

“I don’t doubt you do a good job with fulfilling the public records requests,” Alpert told her. “That’s not what’s at issue here.”

When the city could pay less than $4,000 per year for a company to store the records, Alpert continued, “we could fund that for many, many, many, many years for $610,000.”

This is a segment of questions from Mayor Liz Alpert and answers from City Auditor and Clerk Pamela Nadalini regarding the proposed purchase. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Other board views

“I think we’re comparing apples to oranges,” Commissioner Freeland Eddie said, noting the statutory requirement that the Office of the City Auditor and Clerk be the physical custodian of the city’s public records. “We tasked [staff] to go … and find a building that actually had a roof that didn’t leak,” Freeland Eddie pointed out. Moreover, she said, “All day long, I think it’s better to own something than to rent it.”

Since she was elected to the board in May 2015, Freeland Eddie added, she has heard three discussions about the leaks in the roof at the 12thStreet facility. The purchase of the 17th Street structure “needs to be funded.” The longer the board delays, she said, the more potential for storms to wreak more damage at the 12th Street facility.

Alpert continued to argue that Nadalini’s staff would be able to fulfill public records requests even if the materials were kept with a storage company, and she reiterated her desire to see all materials digitized.

An area of water intrusion was documented in the 12th Street facility on June 27. Images courtesy Office of the Sarasota City Auditor and Clerk

“I would just respectfully disagree, Madam Mayor,” Commissioner Hagen Brody told her. “This is the 11th hour for this, as far as I’m concerned.”

“The originals [of city records] for the last 100 years have legal significance,” he pointed out. “We have to maintain those records.”

Brody also referenced Freeland Eddie’s earlier remarks about the 12th Street site. “We’re regularly shown pictures of water intrusion in that facility.” He added that he has toured the structure, calling it “wholly inadequate to house anything other than lawn service equipment.”

Furthermore, Brody said of the 17th Street building, “I do find that the price … is adequate and is fair.”

“Again, I respectfully disagree,” Alpert responded, noting that no emergency situation exists.

Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch then asked whether the board would have an opportunity to consider the cost of the build-out of the 17th Street structure before buying it.

Deputy City Attorney Connolly and City Attorney Robert Fournier pointed to clauses in the purchase agreement that they said they felt would enable staff to determine an estimate before the sale was concluded.

Because the commission will hold only one meeting next month — on Aug. 20 — Commissioner Freeland Eddie made it part of her motion to direct Connolly to negotiate with the owner about extending the due diligence period. That way, the board members would be certain they could address the build-out costs and any other issues that might arise during the city’s inspection of the structure.

Finally, Commissioner Shaw called for the vote on Freeland Eddie’s motion, and it passed 4-1.