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Assistant county engineer resigns in Hernando

BROOKSVILLE — The county's Department of Public Works took another hit Tuesday when assistant county engineer Gregg Sutton submitted his resignation, citing "personal reasons.''

Sutton gave two weeks' notice. But during a meeting with county officials, the officials told him they accepted his resignation, effective immediately.

The departure follows the firing of Sutton's boss, Public Works director Charles Mixson, last week by County Administrator David Hamilton. In Mixson's termination memo, Hamilton cited a long history of problems, including Mixson's failure to hold his senior staff accountable for problems with delays and cost overruns on public works projects.

Sutton, 61, was project manager for several of those jobs, in particular the $7.7 million dredge of the Hernando Beach channel.

And on Tuesday, Hamilton and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection confirmed that the dredge has been stopped until a new way to de-water the spoils can be permitted. Too much sediment has been found in water piped back into a canal, and the contractor is exploring a system of filtering tanks to improve the clarity.

County officials will give a tour to DEP inspectors today. State environmental regulators have agreed to an expedited review, which is important because a lengthy delay could jeopardize state funding for the dredge.

In announcing the firing of Mixson last week, Hamilton hinted that one of his priorities was making sure that the remaining Public Works staffers were capable of consistently accomplishing the projects that were their responsibility.

He then appointed Susan Goebel, a licensed professional engineer in the county's Utilities Department, as the interim Public Works director. Goebel joined the county as an engineering intern in May 2004 and has progressed to positions with increased responsibility for project management, design and supervision, according to information Hamilton released in announcing her appointment.

She has a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of South Florida and earned her engineering license in 2008.

Hamilton said he has confidence that Goebel can handle the job with support from the remaining Public Works staff. He even assigned one of the remaining two administrative assistants in his office, Doris Cupeles, to Public Works to assist her.

The shakeup at Public Works comes in the midst of several critical projects, including resurfacing and road improvements being paid for with hundreds of thousands of federal stimulus dollars, as well as the ongoing environmental problems with the dredge and the cleanup at the old public works compound in south Brooksville.

County Commission Chairman John Druzbick said he was confident that Goebel and the remaining staff would be able to complete the projects.

"There's going to be a very intense learning curve,'' Druzbick said, noting that Hamilton sent a clear message about what the department must do.

"The reason that Mr. Mixson is gone and Mr. Sutton has resigned is because Mr. Hamilton did not believe there was leadership there and that was why we were having the problems we were having,'' Druzbick said.

Commissioner David Russell said he would miss Sutton and wished him well, but he added that "his departure will offer an opportunity for more consolidation and streamlining. … David Hamilton will certainly avail himself of that opportunity.''

Russell said he couldn't say whether Sutton read the handwriting on the wall after Hamilton's criticisms of Mixson.

"Gregg is an honorable man from a military background. Perhaps he saw this as his best option,'' he said.

Sutton, who was hired in February 2002, earned an annual salary of $88,837 and an additional $23,586 in benefits. His cashout of unused leave and other accumulated time totals $13,718, plus two weeks of pay in lieu of notice.

He did not return a call from the Times seeking comment.

Hamilton said that, for now, he will not permanently fill the empty positions. Instead, for the next month, the county will get help from contract engineers while sorting out the next move.

He said he was confident that the dredge would move forward — on schedule and on budget.

In addition to meeting with the DEP today, Hamilton said his staff will meet with the dredging consultant on Friday to talk about the compliance issues and the question of whether the county should pay the company another $600,000 to complete the sea grass mitigation on the site, as Mixson had suggested, among other issues.

Of the many public works projects on the table, Hamilton said: "They're not at risk. We are rebuilding momentum under new leadership. It will take a period of time as we struggle to regain our footing … but everyone in the organization is pulling together to support the initiatives.''

Hamilton said that Goebel met with Sutton on Tuesday morning for a briefing on the dredging project before he packed up his belongings.

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

Assistant county engineer resigns in Hernando 01/19/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 8:42pm]

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