Herald-Tribune by Nicole Rodriguez
September 11, 2018
More than 100 emails released in response to public records lawsuit potentially represent violation of city code
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the name of former Sarasota County Administrator Jim Ley.
SARASOTA — A trove of emails recovered from Tom Barwin’s personal Gmail account shows the city manager may have violated the municipal email policy he and other top officials enacted earlier this year.
A massive release of public records by Barwin’s lawyer this week shows he failed to forward 101 emails about city-related matters from his personal account to the city server, as required by a city policy that Barwin signed on Feb. 22.
The city manager’s Palm Beach Gardens-based attorney, Lloyd Schwed, on Monday released a batch of 390 emails considered public records — including the 101 messages that potentially constitute a city policy violation — from Barwin’s personal account between Nov. 22, 2017, and June 30, 2018. Close to 16,000 emails during the same time frame were withheld because they were not related to city business, Schwed said.
The release of the emails is part of a continuing comprehensive exam that Schwed’s firm is conducting of Barwin’s Gmail account dating to 2012, when Barwin was appointed city manager. It comes on the heels of revelations of Barwin’s considerable use of his personal email account to conduct city business — which Barwin has vehemently denied.
In the emails, Barwin received messages from City Engineer Alex Davis-Shaw about a Lido Beach renourishment project and resident complaints forwarded from a real estate professional about construction of the Embassy Suites hotel downtown. He exchanged emails between a Herald-Tribune columnist in which Barwin praised her pieces on gun control and mental health issues. A chunk of the emails are newsletters from government industry organizations, the documents show.
Current policy allows city employees to use private email accounts for city business only if they are forwarded to the city server — but penalties for violating the rule are not stipulated. It is not illegal for government officials to use private email accounts, but they must preserve the messages because they are public records. Public records experts have said Barwin’s practice could be perceived as circumvention of state open records laws.