Former Sarasota City Manager Robert Bartolotta and current Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown are cleared of any wrongdoing by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in an email spying investigation.
A letter from FDLE to Mayor Suzanne Atwell dated Nov. 1 was released today confirming in writing that state investigators "believe that no probable cause exists to support a viable criminal charge and no further action is warranted." (A copy of that letter appears with this story.)
In other words Bartolotta and Brown are free from the accusations that dogged them since the investigation was launched Jan. 11 that the two spied on emails from employees and improperly accessed e-mails and files containing personal information exempt from public record laws, health information and missing and overwritten e-mail files.
Atwell addressed the investigation and its handling by cyber security firm Sylint during the Monday evening City Commission meeting with a terse statement.
"Lives, livelihoods and reputations were all held hostage with this for about a year," Atwell said. "We've been receiving confusing often repetitive updates on this investigation and it's only served to incite the community to think the worst of our staff and our government."
Former interim City Manager Terry Lewis had received verbal confirmation in October that this would likely be the outcome of the case.
Bartolotta resigned under pressure on Jan. 17, days after the City Commission attempted to fire him, when Sylint revealed critical lapses and security holes in the city's Information Technology email structure as well as the IT Department's staff itself, which was under Bartolotta's watch.
Atwell told Patch Tuesday night that she does not second guess her asking Bartolotta for his resignation in January because she didn't ask him to resign due to the computer allegations—commissioners, staff and some stakeholders in the community would no longer speak with him or work with him.
"I did the right thing and it was the most difficult thing to ask him for his resignation," Atwell said.
Bartolotta, who is now a finalist for a manager position in Port Orange, maintained he was innocent, now has that confirmation in writing.
During the proceeding months, the city overhauled its IT staff, including firing its director, when it found that several years of upgrades and security patches that the city paid for were never installed.
Here's what Sylint had claimed in January:
• About 11,000 e-mails were deleted on the city manager's computer. Those were compared to deleted files and orphan files, which is a trace of a deleted file.
• Out of those, about 100 e-mails could not be reconciled by comparing other users inboxes, forwarded e-mails, hard drives, potentially from intentional deleting.
• The Exchange e-mail system is supposed to retain all e-mails regardless of exempt status, and not all e-mails were kept whether due to a technical glitch or nefarious activity. The journal, a back-up system, was discovered to have been turned off. Sunshine Law can hold people accountable for negligence for this happening, Jorgensen said.
• Of those 100 e-mails, some are believed to have exempt information. Some exempt e-mails found through unauthorized access had information important to the federal Office of Housing and Urban Development investigation into the city staff misusing grant funds.
• Brown had downloaded e-mails and files with sensitive information but is unclear if he accessed those files.
John Jorgensen, president of Sylint, told the commission that just because FDLE will not press charges, doesn't mean that someone involved isn't guilty of any wrongdoing. Jorgensen said at the time it appeared that the damages threshold and time and money spent to prosecute proved to be too much.
"One must understand in today's fiscal and financial climate that law enforcement has to pick and choose the cases they go after," Jorgensen said in October.
The firm was due to issue a final written report in October, but that appears it will not be presented until January, according to Jan Thornberg, public information officer for the City of Sarasota.
Atwell was not happy about that delay either.
"How many times do you count to 10 before somebody responds to you and gets the job done you have asked them to do?" Atwell said. "And I feel like it's time to end this."
Commissioner Terry Turner agrees wth Atwell's sentiments, but wants to wait until he sees a final report to judge.
Commissioner Shannon Snyder also cautions issuing a rally cry before the report is issued.
"I wouldn't be pronouncing vindication without hearing the final report," he said.
Atwell told Patch Tuesday night that she understands her fellow commissioners points, and from this point, the city should feel a sense of relief and move forward under the direction of new City Manager Tom Barwin.
"He's being a student of the city and is a quick and masterful learner," Atwell said of Barwin.
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