Wednesday, January 17, 2018
News Roundup

Disagreement over discipline leads Hernando engineering manager to resign

BROOKSVILLE — The damage caused to the Peck Sink stormwater project has spread beyond the borders of the site off Wiscon Road and into the offices of the county Utilities Department.

Dale Ravencraft, manager of the department's engineering staff, resigned abruptly Monday from his $90,563-a-year post. His boss, county environmental services director Susan Goebel-Canning, confirmed on Tuesday that Ravencraft was given the option to resign or be fired.

"There was a series of events basically indicating his inability to manage his staff," Goebel-Canning said.

Ravencraft's departure is the culmination of a weekslong disagreement with Goebel-Canning over whether to discipline Diana Koontz, the engineer who has helped oversee the Peck Sink project. Koontz, who joined the engineering department in January 2011, diverged from the design plans by directing the contractor to plant grass at the site instead of laying sod.

Ravencraft told the Times he concluded two weeks ago that Koontz was the victim of what he called an unethical campaign to discredit her. He said he started cleaning out his desk at that point because he realized he could no longer work for Goebel-Canning.

"Once I saw the direction that Susan was taking with this, I knew that I couldn't work with her," he said. "It's a throwback to (former County Administrator) David Hamilton and his style, and I can't work under those kinds of conditions, a cloud of intimidation or retaliation."

Awarded to Goodwin Brothers Construction in June 2011, the $1.3 million project on the north side of Wiscon Road, southwest of Brooksville, includes swales, lined ponds, piping and plants to treat the stormwater entering Peck Sink Preserve. The sink serves as the drain into the aquifer for a large area from southwest Brooksville to the Hernando County Airport.

In April, Koontz directed the contractor to plant seed instead of laying sod, which was expected to save about $50,000. That directive, though a cost saver, conflicted with the original recommendations by the county's consultant, King Engineering.

Ravencraft was on vacation at the time, Goebel-Canning said, and Koontz did not consult her or the other senior engineer on staff. Diverging from the plan relieved King of possible liability for damage that later was caused by tropical storms Beryl and Debby.

"It basically was like gambling with the county's money," Goebel-Canning said. "It placed the county in a very unfavorable position."

When Goebel-Canning directed Ravencraft to give Koontz a written reprimand, he tried to persuade his boss to reconsider. Koontz made a well-intentioned mistake, Ravencraft said, so counseling and training would be appropriate.

Goebel-Canning insisted, so Ravencraft handed Koontz a reprimand memo on July 2.

A week later, the county's administrative services director, Cheryl Marsden, asked Ravencraft about the status of the reprimand. By then, Ravencraft had changed his mind and told Marsden and Goebel-Canning he would not be completing the official reprimand form.

"I could not ethically participate in what I saw as an undeserved and punitive response which would only serve to stain the reputation of the most productive member of my staff and achieve no positive results," Ravencraft wrote later in a lengthy memo to County Administrator Len Sossaman.

Marsden told the Times on Tuesday that Ravencraft had been "insubordinate to Susan and pretty much undermined her authority."

Still, Ravencraft and Goebel-Canning reached a compromise, agreeing to give Koontz a verbal reprimand. But Ravencraft dragged his feet, Goebel-Canning said, so she gave him a verbal reprimand.

Ravencraft, who started work with the county in 2006, said that shocked him. He said he was never given a time frame to give Koontz the warning.

Ravencraft asked that the verbal reprimand of him be rescinded. He also denied assertions by Goebel-Canning that he had failed to properly manage his staff.

In the memo to Sossaman, Ravencraft said that ongoing tension between Koontz and his administrative assistant, Denise Kane-Agosto, was the only ongoing issue among his employees, and that he had tried without success to clear the air. He also wrote that he thought Goebel-Canning, influenced by gossip stemming from the disharmony between the two women, decided to take a hard line against Koontz.

Goebel-Canning denied that. She said the dispute between Koontz and Kane-Agosto is evidence Ravencraft had failed to tend to personnel matters.

In a two-page memo to Sossaman asking that her verbal reprimand be rescinded, Koontz said she had repeatedly expressed concerns about King's performance and errors that caused the county to incur additional costs. She also recalled a directive from at least one county commissioner to get the project done without additional change orders.

"(T)he county has chosen to give me a reprimand for a decision that I feel was the only option," Koontz wrote. She declined to comment Tuesday when reached by the Times.

Sossaman said he supported Goebel-Canning's actions.

"It looked like there were some management decisions that should have been made" by Ravencraft, Sossaman said.

The position will be filled as soon as possible, Goebel-Canning said. The job will be advertised, and in-house applicants will be considered.

The repairs needed at Peck Sink are expected to cost about $150,000, but it remains unclear who will cover that, Goebel-Canning said.

Sod will be put down at the site.

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or [email protected]

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