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Audit of Hernando Beach dredge hiring problems not so easy to digest

You might, at some point, have hired a jack-of-all-trades when you really needed a licensed, qualified master of one. Maybe you did it on the recommendation of a friend and, quite possibly, it worked out okay.

But the occasional disasters teach most of us a valuable lesson: If you don't do things right, you'll probably have to do them again.

Judging from the recent audit on Greg Jarque's brief, disastrous stint at the helm of the Hernando Beach dredge project, this lesson never sank in with County Administrator David Hamilton.

Jarque was underqualified and overpaid — or would have been at the original price — audit services director Peggy Caskey found. Before hiring him, the county didn't catch the fact that he was a building contractor, not a general contractor, as he claimed. Remarkably, a couple of other details slipped through this fail-safe vetting process — an old conviction for attempted arson in New York and about $32,000 in unpaid fire fees in Hernando.

Still, County Commissioners David Russell and Wayne Dukes are ready to give Hamilton a pass. Jarque was hired in an open meeting, with everybody watching, they said. Also, Russell said, Caskey found no proof of the most damning accusation, that Jarque got the county job as payback for volunteering at Arc Nature Coast, where Hamilton's wife, Linda, also worked.

Then there's Commissioner Jeff Stabins, who wrote a letter of complaint about Jarque that led to the audit. He has called for Hamilton to be fired. Again.

Between these two positions, there's lots of middle ground. And that's where those of us who haven't taken a side on the question that rages nonstop in county offices these days — whether Hamilton is basically smart and honest or totally heartless and clueless — probably find ourselves.

No, Caskey's report didn't turn up much new information. But she did put it in one easy-to-digest package. Or not so easy to digest, if you like your government hiring fair and thoughtful. Because you would probably take more care in choosing somebody to unclog a kitchen sink.

Jarque was on the job, without insurance, for nearly a month before he was formally hired, Caskey found. And Hamilton was warned about potential problems hiring Jarque, Times staff writer Barbara Behrendt has learned.

Also, there's a reason some commissioners are eager to dismiss the significance of all this. With the exception of Stabins and Jim Adkins, they voted to hire Jarque, meaning this report is almost as much of a slam on them as it is on Hamilton. That's especially true because this was not the first brief, disastrous county hire related to the dredge. Including former consultant Lisa Hammond and a dredging subcontractor that turned out to have been booted from a similar job, it is — unbelievably — the third.

But remember the stakes of not finishing the dredge by the end of the year — the loss of $6 million in state money to help pay for the work. We really do need to get 'er done.

Remember, also, that the dredge project is dwarfed in importance by the real matter at hand: The county is more or less broke. This is the biggest crisis in our recent history. In dealing with it, I think Hamilton has shown himself to be basically smart and honest. And nothing in this report proves otherwise.

Audit of Hernando Beach dredge hiring problems not so easy to digest 06/21/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 21, 2011 7:26pm]
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