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As he exits, Hernando purchasing chief blasts boss

BROOKSVILLE — Jim Gantt filled out his final paperwork, said goodbye to longtime co-workers and walked out of the Hernando County Government Center on Monday, firing a scathing broadside at his former boss, the man who ended his 17-year career.

Gantt, the county's purchasing director, said County Administrator David Hamilton's reorganization has circumvented safeguards put in place to keep procurement separate from elected officials.

"The general purpose was to prevent corruption, scandal, kickbacks, cronyism and patronage and all the things of good-ol' boy politics," he said.

Already, Gantt said, his former employees have been asked to bend the rules and have had to stand their ground.

"I feel for the people who (still) work there (at the government center)," he said. "They work under a reign of terror. They are scared to death."

Gantt, 63, also criticized Hamilton's methods of downsizing county government, saying Hamilton is targeting older, higher-paid workers. While Gantt was on medical leave this month, his position was eliminated at Hamilton's recommendation.

Hamilton declined to rebut Gantt's personal accusations point by point. "I'm not in a position to comment on Mr. Gantt's uncharitable remarks," he said.

Hamilton did say his temporary realignment of the purchasing functions, which are now in the hands of Clerk of Circuit Court Karen Nicolai, will create a more uniform financial and purchasing system. Nicolai, he said, "has a long-standing commitment to the public she is elected to serve."

Gantt's most pointed comments centered on the recent steps to have Sheriff Richard Nugent take over the county jail. Gantt administered the contract between Hernando County and Corrections Corporation of America, which has run the jail for 22 years. But the company announced recently that it will end the arrangement in August.

Earlier, Nugent expressed interest in running the facility, but then backed out when he found serious structural and maintenance problems there. Hamilton asked Nugent to reconsider, and the sheriff is expected to take over the facility with assurances that the county will bring the jail up to an acceptable standard.

Gantt said that the whole situation was orchestrated and that the jail "is not falling apart. What's been presented was done to create a political scapegoat."

He was suspended for two weeks for allowing the jail to fall into disrepair, among other issues. He is challenging his suspension to clear his name and to receive two weeks of pay he lost.

Hamilton said downsizing county government has been part of the agenda since he came on board more than two years ago.

"Although change certainly was part of the agenda from the first day, the economy has accelerated our need to change more quickly than we might have in the past," he said.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

As he exits, Hernando purchasing chief blasts boss 05/24/10 [Last modified: Monday, May 24, 2010 7:55pm]
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