Files Missing From Miami Commissioners Office
Written by Eric Kalis on January 18, 2007
By Eric Kalis
Boxes of public records have been missing from the Miami District 2 office since Commissioner Marc Sarnoff was sworn in late in November, and no one in City Hall seems to know where they are.
Mr. Sarnoff told city officials during last week’s commission meeting that when his staff moved into the office they found it bereft of any printed or electronic files from predecessor Linda Haskins, whom Mr. Sarnoff defeated in a November runoff election. State statutes and the city’s code mandate that all departing city officials must provide all public records in their possession to their successors. Mr. Sarnoff said Tuesday he believes the code was violated.
The city’s information technology department gave District Two staffers a disk last week containing Ms. Haskins’ electronic files, but they weren’t categorized, Mr. Sarnoff said, making it difficult for his staff to sift the information. City officials still have not recovered the missing boxes of printed files, forcing Mr. Sarnoff’s staff to play catch-up in his first month in office, he said.
"This is about the orderly business of the people," Mr. Sarnoff said. "This put us six to eight weeks behind. We have new complaints from constituents but it is hard to figure out how they relate to the old complaints."
To prevent future city officials from falling behind because of missing files, Mr. Sarnoff asked City Attorney Jorge Fernandez to draft a measure that would amend the code to require departing officials to keep orderly files and have the city clerk physically hand the office keys to their successors. Mr. Hernandez said he would work with City Manager Pete Hernandez to prepare an ordinance for consideration at the Feb. 8 commission meeting.
Mr. Hernandez has transferred some files from his office to Mr. Sarnoff to help ease the transition. "The city has a system in place," Mr. Hernandez insisted. "Obviously, something was done improperly."
Commissioner Joe Sanchez said he agrees with Mr. Sarnoff’s idea to have the city clerk act as a third party in the transfer of office. "It would be awkward to hand over keys to the person that defeated you in an election."
When reached last week, Ms. Haskins denied breaching city protocol. "All of the files for District Two were packed up according to the instructions of the city clerk," she said. "All of the files should be in the hands of the clerk other than the computer files, which are in the hands of the IT department. I have no idea why Marc is complaining about this."
Through city director of communications Kelly Penton, the office of City Clerk Priscilla Thompson said Tuesday that Ms. Haskins’ staff gave the clerk a list of 19 boxes with its contents described only as "central files" but never physically gave the boxes to her. The boxes remained in the District Two office, and the clerk’s office never had the records in its possession.
Frank Rollason, a failed District Two commission candidate who briefly served as Mr. Sarnoff’s chief of staff, said last week that he found poorly-labeled boxes in the office before Mr. Sarnoff was sworn in and recommended that staffers examine the contents.
"Some of the boxes had Major Use Special Permit applications in them," Mr. Rollason said. "The boxes sat there when I left [three hours later]. Someone should have taken a few hours and seen what the files were."
Based on his experience working with Ms. Haskins and her staff, Mr. Rollason said he does not believe the boxes were removed from the office intentionally.
"Linda’s people were always very professional, not vindictive," Mr. Rollason said. "I do not think they would have thrown out the files. That would be both vindictive and illegal."
Ms. Haskins served as the city’s chief financial officer before she was appointed to replace Johnny Winton, who was suspended from his commission seat after an alleged run-in with police at Miami International Airport. At the same time, Mr. Rollason served as executive director of the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency.
Mr. Sarnoff said he is unsure where the files may be, but said the city manager’s office has told him city staff members are trying to locate the boxes by using tracking numbers. He said he suspects the files are in storage somewhere.
"The way it was described to me they are in a grungy place," Mr. Sarnoff. "That came from the city manager’s office."
Florida statutes specify that all public records must be kept in the building in which they are ordinarily used.