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Mermaids' boss fired after leave

WEEKI WACHEE — The manager at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park has been fired for illegally altering time sheets, creating a hostile environment and making sexually inappropriate remarks toward a woman employed as a mermaid, according to an administrative investigation released Thursday.

The 88-page report comes at the height of the summer season and depicts a dysfunctional park mired in bickering by employees. It blasts manager Tommy Ervin, a 31-year state employee who took the helm Nov. 1, when ownership of the mermaid attraction was transferred to the state.

The investigation began in March, shortly after former wedding and banquet coordinator Nancy Flowers, 45, filed a grievance against Ervin.

She alleged that Ervin fired her for no reason, verbally assaulted her and sexually harassed her daughter, mermaid Heather Flowers, by calling her "Bubble Butt."

The state Department of Environmental Protection placed Ervin on administrative leave in late May, pending the outcome of the investigation.

Ervin, 52, made $56,600 as the park manager. The married father of two grown children held the same post at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park in Santa Rosa Beach before coming to Weeki Wachee. He could not be reached for comment Thursday.

In an initial interview with investigators, Ervin denied the charges before later acknowledging the incidents. He was fired June 19, one day after the investigation was finalized.

The report concluded that Ervin violated three state policies: misuse of public office; failing to maintain a violence-free workplace; and conduct unbecoming of a public employee.

It also determined that Nancy Flowers was wrongfully terminated. A state official said she is expected to return to her job.

"I think you can conclude that we took this very seriously," said Doug Tobin, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection. "We took thoughtful, quick, decisive action."

In the most serious charge, Ervin authorized a fraudulent time sheet for administrative manager Sarah Tenison, giving her a paid vacation even though she was not allowed to receive such a benefit. He also changed employee time cards to negate all overtime hours because he said he "didn't have the budget to pay them," the report states.

The state decided not to press criminal charges because of the "administrative nature of the case." Tobin said officials plan to pay the employees for the overtime they worked. He did not know how much it would cost.

For her role, Tenison received a written reprimand.

The harassment issue involving the mermaid began in October as Ervin was meeting staffers and preparing for the transition to a state park.

Heather Flowers said Ervin twice greeted her with "Hey, Bubble Butt." He told investigators he was trying to "be cute." She said she was treated better by her bosses at Hooters, where she works as a full-time server.

Investigators also faulted Ervin for not reprimanding maintenance employee Terrance Warian for showing employees his genitals multiple times. State officials fired Warian on May 20.

Tobin, the state spokesman, said park officials are conducting a search to replace interim park manager Toby Brewer.

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6114.

Mermaids' boss fired after leave 06/25/09 [Last modified: Friday, June 26, 2009 12:16am]
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