BROOKSVILLE — County Public Works director Charles Mixson must start the long-awaited dredging of the Hernando Beach channel by July 31 or he will be fired.
County Administrator David Hamilton delivered that message to Mixson on Friday afternoon.
Hamilton has put Mixson directly in charge of the dredging project, which assistant county engineer Gregg Sutton had been heading up. Hamilton said that Mixson has been responsible all along as the county engineer and he has one last chance to make the project happen.
The discipline comes in the wake of this week's surprising discovery that grease and oil may pollute the sediment at the bottom of the channel, making it a possible hazard to the site where the material was supposed to be deposited.
The eleventh-hour discovery forced the cancellation of hearings this week in which the county and the state Department of Environmental Protection were supposed to argue for approval of the controversial Eagle Nest Drive spoils site. Already on a tight timeline, the latest delay could cost the county the $6 million in state dollars it needs to complete the $9 million dredge.
"The world is not forgiving,'' Hamilton said. "Millions of dollars are on the line. If Charles can't get this thing done, when we'll have to find someone who can.''
Mixson, a 23-year county employee who makes $116,792 per year, was suspended for two weeks without pay in August for a series of unfinished projects and failed oversight. Chief among the projects Hamilton criticized for its delays was the dredging, and Mixson was told that he must get the project under way.
Hamilton said that while Mixson has made great strides in the other areas, the dredging project must move forward.
Mixson brought a memo into Friday's meeting outlining the reasons he thought he wasn't responsible for the latest delay. The tests that found the oil and grease were not ordered by the DEP, he said. Instead, the attorney hired recently by the county to obtain the permit for the spoils site had someone on his team order the tests.
Oil and grease levels were found at 10 times the level acceptable by the state. But in a conversation with a DEP official Thursday, Hamilton found that the state's operating manual, which speaks to levels of oil and grease, changed in late 2008.
Previous county tests of the spoils material were accepted by the DEP. In his memo dated Thursday, Mixson argues that the latest round of testing by the new attorney was done "without county knowledge and was outside of my responsibility.''
Excuse doesn't wash
But Hamilton didn't buy the explanation. He states in his disciplinary memo that if Mixson had been doing his job, the county would have known about the contamination problem and dealt with it.
"The county has been forced to spend a great deal of time and money not only to defend the disposal site that you recommended but also to defend the alternative disposal site that the county was forced to identify after your original choice proved to be controversial,'' Hamilton wrote.
"As a result, every delay placed the county at a greater risk of losing the funding for the dredge.''
Friday afternoon, Hamilton said that Mixson needs to understand that he has always been responsible for getting the dredge project completed and that was the message he was trying to send him.
"The perplexing reality is that there is still no tangible result for the taxpayer to see,'' he said. "Nine million dollars and our own credibility are on the line.''
Mixson did not sign the discipline form and told Hamilton he wanted to think about it.
Mixson declined comment.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.