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Audit of former Hernando County fleet vendor details sketchy past

BROOKSVILLE — The county's former fleet manager who resigned last week after admitting he got personal checks from a county vendor was in hot water during most of the short time he was in the job.

That is the picture painted by a nine-page memo completed by county audit services and distributed to county officials, Hernando sheriff's investigators and the media late Wednesday.

The memo details the tainted and short career of Jack Stepongzi, who had been hired in December 2007 to fix numerous problems that county auditors had identified in the department over the last several years.

Wednesday's memo noted a series of problems, including concerns about parts delivered to his county office for his personal use; questions about whether he used county tax-exempt status for personal purchases; and questions about potential conflicts of interest over a personal Web site he ran for fleet-related products and services.

The auditor also pointed out allegations that Stepongzi, who played a major role in purchasing decisions for the department, would frequently have lunch with vendors.

The report also includes a series of disciplinary issues including concerns about the use of county phone lines for lengthy long-distance calls without the required reimbursement to the county. It recounts findings of poor performance from his supervisor, Public Works Director Charles Mixson.

In Stepongzi's June performance evaluation, Mixson indicated "the fleet manager is not meeting performance expectations, demonstrates lapses in judgment, lacks common sense, makes poor decisions and has failed to adequately manage the fleet division,'' the auditor noted.

While county officials were investigating the personal parts deliveries in August, they noted there was "sufficient reason to terminate employment based solely on the fleet manager's performance.''

Late last week, Stepongzi resigned on advice of his attorney after he admitted taking a total of about $332 in personal commissions from the Texas-based firm Vulocity. The firm was the low bidder to provide the county with GPS systems used to keep track of county employees.

Stepongzi had a business arrangement with the firm for referring customers to them. But he argued that he did nothing wrong because the county would have paid the same amount for the units whether he got a 10 percent commission or not.

The memo details how the county investigated concerns about Stepongzi first lodged in August. But officials were not able to prove allegations he had received the free items, which were solenoid switches, from a vendor for personal use.

They could not prove the county had paid for the items or that he had used or not used the county's tax exempt status for his personal use.

E-mail records of Stepongzi's discussions with officials from Vulocity made direct references to his business arrangement with the firm. An anonymous e-mail including some of that correspondence sent to the county on Oct. 28 prompted officials to place Stepongzi on administrative leave and escort him from his office a day later.

Mixson has said that the county will likely bring in a consultant to help guide the next steps to lead fleet management out of its previous difficulties.

County Administrator David Hamilton said that the findings from the auditor on Stepongzi's actions would be handed off to sheriff's officials for further investigation.

Stepongzi came to the county after three years in fleet management in Pinellas County and more than 20 years in various fleet management positions with Tampa Electric Co.

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

Audit of former Hernando County fleet vendor details sketchy past 11/04/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 4, 2009 8:29pm]

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