BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County Administrator David Hamilton fired Greg Jarque from his job as construction manager on the Hernando Beach Channel dredge project Friday morning because he misrepresented his qualifications and background.
Hamilton said he and transportation services director Susan Goebel met with Jarque to tell him that the county was terminating the $152,500 contract the County Commission just approved Tuesday.
A team of county staff will now take over the day-to-day management of the dredge, Hamilton said. "The cost we will forgo and the responsibility we will assume,'' he said, "and I will be responsible.''
At a press conference at the dredge site Friday morning, Hamilton said the misrepresentation of credentials was the "primary reason" for Jarque's dismissal.
Revelations of Jarque's criminal background, a conviction 15 years ago in New York for attempted arson, prompted a further examination of his credentials, he explained. Staff members mined through video of meetings to see what was said.
"He does have licenses, just not the one he indicated," Hamilton said.
Jarque, 46, has a building contractor's license but not a general contractor's license, which requires greater skills.
During Tuesday's meeting, County Commissioner Dave Russell defended Jarque's background in construction, saying that a general contractor was qualified to oversee a dredge project. Jarque never corrected Russell and pointed out that he is licensed as a building contractor, which qualifies him to erect buildings of three stories or less.
"Credibility is too important,'' Hamilton said. "At that point we terminated him.''
The news of the criminal conviction and the misstated licensing came on the heels of other criticisms leveled by Commissioner Jeff Stabins last week. Those criticisms included Jarque's lack of dredge experience, his owing more than $7,000 in unpaid fire assessments dating back for years and his selection for the project by Hamilton based on a good word put in for his skills by Hamilton's wife.
Linda Hamilton has worked for Arc Nature Coast both as an employee and a volunteer. Jarque served as unpaid construction manager for that organization's construction of a new training center and hurricane shelter, bringing the project in months early and under budget.
Russell said Friday that he had relied heavily on the answers Jarque gave him about his credentials during Tuesday's meeting and a previous session in deciding to approve Jarque's contract.
"It was clear that he held himself out to be a general contractor in that line of questioning,'' Russell said. "I absolutely agree'' with Hamilton's decision to terminate the contract.
As for Jarque's criminal history, "it would have been good to know that up front. I'm not saying it would have swayed me to not hire Mr. Jarque,'' Russell said. "I feel that someone can repay their debt and I think he's probably done so.''
New York state records show that Jarque and another person started a fire at the Main Street Auto Parts building in Holbrook, Suffolk County. He was arrested and charged in March 1995.
A grand jury originally indicted Jarque on a charge of arson, but court records show he pleaded guilty in early 1996 to attempted arson, a third-degree felony.
He served 90 days in the Suffolk County Correctional Facility, was sentenced to five years' probation and ordered to withdraw all claims against his insurance company, according to records.
Jarque declined to comment on Friday but in a statement he issued late Thursday in an e-mail to the Times, he said, "I can say only that at a young age I did not have the means to fight this charge and continue the fight to prove my innocence.
"I apologize to anyone who may feel that I have let them down, including the county staff and the majority of commissioners who have given me their vote of confidence.''
Commissioner John Druzbick said Friday he was disappointed that new information came to light only after the commission had voted to approve Jarque's contract but added, "I think David made the right move'' by terminating him.
"Our prime objective here is to finish the dredge and this issue here has really gotten in the way of it,'' Druzbick said.
Druzbick said he believed having county staff oversee the project would work.
"I have confidence in our staff,'' he said.
Russell said he would withhold judgment until he sees who those staffers would be and what their qualifications are.
"The question is, what is their willingness and their ability to take this project on?'' Russell said.
Stabins, who did not vote in favor of Jarque's contract, said Hamilton had done the right thing by terminating his contract. Commission Chairman Jim Adkins also backed Hamilton on his decision to terminate the contract with Jarque and use county staff as the management team.
"I kind of wish in hindsight that he could have revealed a lot of this stuff and we talked about this stuff before it got blown out of proportion,'' Adkins said.
Despite the latest stumble in a 16-year-old project plagued by many pitfalls, Hamilton noted that the dredge work is actually about three weeks ahead of schedule. He said the work Jarque had done before his termination likely helped move up that timeline.
Russell also said the work he has seen at the site encourages him more than ever before that the Hernando Beach Channel dredging project will be done by its deadline.
"This is going to happen,'' he said, "but it is going to fight us kicking and screaming all the way.''
Times staff photographer Will Vragovic contributed to this report. Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.