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An ex-county public works employee is under scrutiny for possible job conflicts

BROOKSVILLE — A former county public works employee is the target of a criminal investigation concerning his ties to private contractors.

Bill Busch served as the county's pavement management coordinator while also working for KMS and Associates Inc., a consulting firm paid to run Hernando County's road management system, according to interviews with county officials and documents obtained by the St. Petersburg Times.

The arrangement is a clear violation of county policies, officials acknowledged. The Hernando County Sheriff's Office is also exploring the possibility that Busch committed fraud by attempting to steer county contracts to favored clients.

Assistant State Attorney Mark Simpson confirmed the six-month investigation but would not comment on the specific allegations.

"We are looking at a potential employee conflict issue," said Simpson, a lead prosecutor in the public integrity division of the State Attorney's Office.

Simpson said he is still reviewing the investigation and will make a decision on whether to file charges in the near future. Busch did not return repeated phone calls for comment on Wednesday.

The investigation involves the county's pavement management program, which monitors and upgrades the county's 800-mile residential and collector road network.

In his position at the Department of Public Works, Busch wrote project bids, worked with various contractors and handled $4-million to $6-milllion a year in taxpayers' money.

Busch, 67, was hired as the county's pavement management coordinator in November 2000 coming from a similar job in Lakeland. On Jan. 4, he retired from that $64,126 per-year Hernando position.

But he returned to his old desk later in January as a contract employee hired through a leasing agency, Today's Office Professionals. He worked about eight to 10 hours a week as the pavement management coordinator. The leasing agency billed the county at $33.75 an hour.

Authorities began looking into Busch's background the first week in February after the county's purchasing office discovered his dual role during routine research for a potential bid.

A public works employee for the city of Margate in South Florida told a Hernando County purchasing agent on Feb. 7 that Busch met with him to pitch the services of KMS and Associates Inc., an Ohio company.

The purchasing agent then told her supervisor of the potential conflict. The supervisor then informed the county attorney's office, which brought in law enforcement.

According to the KMS Web site, copyrighted in 2007, the Florida office is run from Busch's home in Spring Hill and lists his name in an e-mail address contact.

Busch was intimately familiar with KMS from his years working with Hernando County. The company received more than $235,000 in county contracts, dating to 2002, that were partially written by Busch.

"There was an obvious conflict between Mr. Busch's private life and Mr. Busch's county life," said Jim Gantt, the county's purchasing director.

Gantt said Busch also raised red flags as a leading advocate for RePLAY, a new asphalt rejuvenation product he wanted to put on county roads.

Busch tailored at least three different county bids in 2007 and 2008 that gave preference to RePLAY, according to documents received through a public records request.

In one case, a competing product came in about $300,000 cheaper than the estimated $849,000 cost for RePLAY but Busch — backed by his supervisor, public works director Charles Mixson — supported the more expensive product.

In another instance, Busch advocated that Ohio Pavement Systems Inc., apply the RePLAY to county roads without a bidding process, county officials said. Ohio Pavement lists the same address in Dublin, Ohio, as KMS and Associates and is controlled by the same family.

The tailored bids prompted protests to the county from a competing company, Pavement Technology Inc. In a letter dated Jan. 8 the company threatened to file a lawsuit and called the Busch-written bid "unsubstantiated favoritism."

Busch stopped working part-time for the county July 9, a few days after the Hernando County Sheriff's Office confiscated his work computer and laptop computer.

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6114. Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptime.com or (352) 848-1434.

An ex-county public works employee is under scrutiny for possible job conflicts 08/20/08 [Last modified: Saturday, August 23, 2008 11:20am]
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