Getting information about the selection process for Marco Island’s newest police chief from city officials before Friday’s announcement was akin to asking for state secrets.
When Daily News reporters got word that former Collier County Sheriff Don Hunter was a possible candidate, they made several verbal and written requests to Marco Island City Manager James Riviere on Thursday for public records attached to the selection process, including applications, resumes, job offers and contracts.
Riviere and City Attorney Burt Saunders responded that the records either did not exist or were in draft form and could not be provided as such.
No mention was made of a signed contract between Hunter and the City of Marco Island, or his resume — documents provided by the City Clerk Laura Litzan on Friday.
Riviere cited his lack of public records law knowledge as why he could not provide the requested documents. Burt Saunders said only drafts were available and that those weren’t subject to public records laws.
“I don’t think there are any public records available,” he said on Thursday.
The contract is not a draft agreement, but rather a signed contract, Litzan said. Although it may be amended down the line, she said “the basics were agreed on,” like salary and start date.
Even if the contract were a draft, Florida statutes say that there is no “unfinished business” exception to public records.
Any agency document, “however prepared, if circulated for review, comment or information, is a public record regardless of whether it is an official expression of policy or marked ‘preliminary’ or ‘working draft’ or similar label.”
Hunter said he reviewed and made amendments to the original contract presented to him.
“The definition of ‘public records’ includes all materials made or received by an agency in connection with its official business,” David Giles, legal counsel for the Daily News, wrote in a letter to Riviere and Saunders Friday. “Clearly, the information requested by the Daily News fits well within the definition of a public record under the Public Records Act...”
The contract is postdated Aug. 8, 2011. On Friday, Litzan could not verify the actual date it was signed. However she said the document existed in its signed state prior to Daily News records requests.
The contract was one of five documents received by the Daily News from Litzan on Friday.
Four resumes, including Hunter’s, were also turned over. Three of the resumes were dated between July 7 and July 11. Hunter’s had no date.
Both Riviere and Litzan confirmed there was no application process or call for resumes for the position, and that three unsolicited resumes received were not considered.
Tina Chiappetta, senior director of government affairs for the non-profit industry group International Public Management Association for Human Resources, said it isn’t unusual for a municipality to forgo advertising a position, especially if a local candidate fits the criteria.
“You don’t want the entire town (staff) to be sifting through resumes,” she said. “You look for a very few people who might be qualified.”
Naples labor attorney Ron Klein said hiring decisions vary depending on a city governing charter. Although Klein is surprised such a high ranking position was not advertised, he believes “in the end they hire who they want anyway.”
“It would seem that it’s not the best practice,” he said, “but in the end you might have the same results (regardless of the search process).”
Riviere originally planned to name the new chief at the City Council meeting on Monday.
“The intention was to make this big announcement. It only recently became a hot potato when people started hearing (Hunter’s) name,” Litzan said.
She added that the muddled responses to records requests on Thursday were in her absence from the office and that she generally handles them.
“We’re a small organization. For consistency, we have one person,” Litzan said.
Several calls to Riviere went unanswered Friday, and he declined to elaborate on the selection process or clarify information twice in person at the Marco Island city government building before and after Friday’s announcement.
Staff writer Roger LaLonde and freelance writer Candace Rotolo contributed to this story.