BROOKSVILLE — After months of upheaval and hope that this would not be the hurricane season that tested Hernando County's transitional emergency management office, on Tuesday the department found a home.
The County Commission voted unanimously to hand over the function, and the employees, to Hernando County Sheriff Richard Nugent.
Nugent then recommended and won unanimous approval to make interim emergency management director Cecilia Patella permanent. Patella and the other emergency management staff will become Nugent's employees effective Jan. 1.
The change was greeted with support from all sides.
"This is truly a win-win for the organization and for the citizens we serve,'' said County Administrator David Hamilton.
Nugent said citizens would benefit and that it would finally give the emergency management employees some peace. "It's a welcome sign to them that they have a permanent home,'' he said.
The public meltdown of the county's emergency management leadership began in spring. In April, former emergency management director Tom Leto was found to have had a personal relationship with his secretary, Stephanie Anderson. Leto was fired and Anderson quit. She still faces charges of official misconduct and grand theft for claiming and collecting overtime she never worked.
An investigation revealed she was paid overtime while shopping, visiting a spa and going to doctor appointments in other counties, all during a time when other employees were prohibited from claiming overtime.
Patella became interim manager in June after another employee was tried in the position, but then a crucial hurricane drill failed to impress Hamilton.
Hamilton praised his staff for finally working out the final details with Nugent, including the county agreeing to keep the grants management function within county government.
Nugent had high praise for the emergency management workers who weathered the internal storm. "We're really looking forward to having them as a part of our family,'' he said.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.