Former auditor and clerk would not sign release, waiving right to file suit against the city
After a 33-year career with the City of Sarasota, Pamela Nadalini formally was terminated on Jan. 16 as the city auditor and clerk, one of three City Charter positions of the local government.
Following a 2018 investigation into allegations that Nadalini had been abusive of staff members, the City Commission voted 4-1 on Jan. 7 to ask Nadalini to tender her resignation. If she did so, they agreed, and also waived any plans for legal recourse against the city, she would be able to remain on paid administrative leave for another 90 days, until April 15.
She was put on paid leave during the Dec. 3, 2018 commission meeting, after the board members discussed the findings of the investigation, which was conducted by a two-member team with the Sarasota office of Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick.
However, the commissioners decided last week, if Nadalini did not submit her resignation by 5 p.m. on Jan. 15, under the specified conditions, her employment would be terminated on Jan. 16.
In a Jan. 10 letter to City Attorney Robert Fournier, Nadalini’s attorney, Robert F. McKee of Tampa, wrote that Nadalini “is not prepared to execute a general release in favor of the City, especially as it relates to the events which led to her being placed on administrative leave and which will precipitate the termination of her employment.”
McKee noted in the letter that he had spoken with Fournier by telephone prior to the City Commission’s regular meeting on Jan. 7. At that time, McKee added, he had told Fournier that Nadalini “has determined to reject the City’s offer, outlined in Mayor Alpert’s letter.”
On Jan. 9, Alpert sent Nadalini a formal letter — which Fournier had said on Jan. 7 that he would draft — outlining the terms of the commission’s Jan. 7 motion.
The letter pointed out that the employment agreement between Nadalini and the city calls for Nadalini to receive “’a lump sum cash payment equal to six (6) months aggregate salary, plus all accrued leave time.’”
McKee is a labor and employment law attorney who was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1980, according to Sarasota News Leader research.
In his letter, McKee also asked that Fournier “please provide Ms. Nadalini with all the request forms for her to select benefits under the pension plan.”
City Human Resources Director Stacie Mason explained to the board members on Jan. 7 that Nadalini is entitled to a city pension, even if she were fired.
Nadalini’s salary at the time she was put on leave was $181,493.94, city Communications Specialist Jason Bartolone told the News Leader. Nadalini had received a raise in March following her latest “Satisfactory” evaluation by the five city commissioners.
It was that same evaluation process that ultimately led to her termination. At the suggestion of Commissioner Hagen Brody, the board members agreed to allow employees to submit written comments — anonymously — about the three City Charter officials, so the board members would have that information as they prepared to complete their evaluations. (Along with the city auditor and clerk, the city manager and the city attorney are the Charter employees, who serve “at the pleasure of the commission,” as Fournier has pointed out, referring to language in the City Charter.)
After the commissioners received the materials, they began discussions of the fact that a number of employees had offered negative comments about Nadalini’s behavior, including alleged retaliation against workers in her office with whom she had become dissatisfied. Finally, on July 16, at Mayor Alpert’s urging, the board agreed to have Human Resources Director Mason research potential firms that could investigate the allegations. The board ended up agreeing to hire the Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick team for $30,000.
On Dec. 3, 2018, the two attorneys on that team expressed their concerns about the city’s legal liability if the commission continued to employ Nadalini. As attorney Jennifer Compton put it, she and her colleague, Patrick Duggan, had concluded that a “toxic work environment exists” in the Office of the City Auditor and Clerk.
After the Dec. 3, 2018 presentation by the attorneys and commission discussion, Alpert, Brody and Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch voted to put Nadalini on paid administrative leave. Commissioners Shelli Freeland Eddie and Willie Shaw opposed that action.
Although the attorneys had given the board members copies of statements from past and present employees of the Office of the City Auditor and Clerk about specific problems those workers had encountered with Nadalini, some of the commission discussion on Dec. 3 did focus on the fact that Nadalini had performed the duties of her office with competence.
Shaw joined the majority on the termination vote on Jan. 7, after voicing concerns about potential legal liability for the city regarding past and current employees, as the Shumaker, Loop attorneys and City Attorney Fournier had stressed.
Freeland Eddie has decried the fact that Nadalini has made no public response to the commission about the allegations of improper behavior.
Nadalini declined to meet with the investigative team, and Mason reported on Jan. 7 that Nadalini had not responded to Mason’s requests for responses to the allegations. Nadalini also did not attend the Jan. 7 meeting.
The commissioners named Deputy Clerk Shayla Griggs the interim clerk following their December 2018 vote on Nadalini. On Jan. 7, Commissioner Freeland Eddie pointed out that two audit reports had been completed since Griggs had been heading up the Office of the City Auditor and Clerk. “I wanted to thank your office for that,” Freeland Eddie told Griggs. “So the work continues. … We appreciate that.”