Sarasota Mayor Shannon Snyder says Police Chief Bernadette DiPino violated Sunshine Law

8:29 PM, Dec 12, 2013   |    comments
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Sarasota, Florida -- The City of Sarasota is all too familiar with Sunshine Law violations. There have been three lawsuits this year alone and city officials estimate spending close to $100,000 in legal fees and settlements in taxpayer dollars so far.

Mayor Shannon Snyder says he expects another Sunshine Law violation and that this one was brought on by the police chief.

"This is the way they do things in Chicago, not in Florida," says Snyder.

Snyder is referring to Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino reactivating the Sarasota Police Foundation.

Earlier this week, DiPino held a press conference accepting a $5,000 donation for the Foundation, a private non-profit group that pays for training, equipment and community policing programs.  

"If we can get private organization donations through private foundations to donate money to support the police department and save taxpayers money, I think it's a win-win," said DiPino.

Snyder says DiPino should have gone to the City Commission first.

"If city employees are going to be involved with it, it should have come to the city commission," Snyder argues.

Snyder says DiPino's failure to turn to the city means, "the sunshine law is violated in my opinion."

DiPino disagrees.

"I don't think there has been any violation of the Sunshine Law."

The Foundation has not held meetings or established a board of directors.

Andrea Mogensen is a Sarasota attorney who specializes in the Sunshine Law and doesn't see any wrongdoing yet.

"I think that to the extent this Foundation is going to be undertaking city business, future meetings of that board are subject to Sunshine Law. But as far as how the formation was done, I haven't seen any evidence to suggest they held meetings that were subject to the Sunshine Law."

According to Mogensen, she sees this as an issue of transparency between the police chief and the city commission. 

"I can see how the leadership in the government itself, this case being the city, would be disturbed not knowing what's going on in their own agencies."

The Sarasota Police Foundation's first meeting is set for Jan. 8.

Isabel Mascarenas

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