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Ex-county worker's e-mails detail dual loyalties

BROOKSVILLE — Bill Busch returned to county government offices Wednesday wearing a polo shirt emblazoned with the logo of his new employer: KMS and Associates Inc.

The former county public works employee came to see if his company had won a bid for a county contract — one he helped write when he worked as the county's pavement management coordinator.

Wednesday's scene — detailed among the more than 1,000 e-mails received by the St. Petersburg Times last week as part of a public records request — demonstrates Busch's conflict and raises questions central to an ongoing criminal investigation.

The documents from Busch's e-mail account also reveal his close relationship with the Ohio-based KMS during his tenure with Hernando County. He retired Jan. 2 but remained as a contract employee until July 9, when the criminal investigation came to light.

Taken together, the e-mails show that Busch:

• Researched potential KMS customers and steered opportunities to the company from his county e-mail account during work hours.

• Negotiated his employment, salary and benefits with KMS while still employed full time with the Department of Public Works.

• Worked for KMS while also serving as a part-time contract employee for the county, consistently commingling his two jobs.

Busch's attorney responded to the allegations for the first time Friday, calling any accusations of criminal activity "outrageous."

"Based on our initial investigation, I've been extremely underwhelmed with the amount of, or severity of, any sort of evidence in this case," said attorney Jason Melton. "This is nothing more than a reaction to a complaint from an unsuccessful bidder."

Melton was referring to Pavement Technology Inc., which threatened to file a lawsuit after protesting three different Busch-written bids that the company felt represented "unsubstantiated favoritism" toward KMS-affiliated companies.

Busch's attorney, who had not seen the e-mails, said there is nothing wrong with his client's dual role or negotiating for a job with KMS while on the clock for the county.

"I don't find that (arrangement) very abnormal," Melton said. "It's very common for government employees to discuss future employment opportunities while on the job."

According to messages exchanged between KMS and Busch from his county e-mail address, he referred work to the company repeatedly. In August 2007, he wrote to KMS president Joe Kindler, telling him about a conversation he had with a resident from the Wellington at Seven Hills, a private subdivision with more than 10 miles of roads.

Busch was arranging to give the community's board a pitch on available road preservation products. "I see some opportunities here,'' he told Kindler.

The first mention of employment negotiations appears in an e-mail from Sept. 28, 2007, when Busch sent his wife a message about his salary arrangement with KMS, comparing it with the $64,122 he made as a county employee.

Days later, Busch sent what appears to be a final salary figure to Kindler. The message states that Busch will make about $56,000, with the bulk coming from sales commissions. As marketing coordinator, he was expected to sell about $500,000 worth of RePLAY asphalt rejuvenator a year and $86,000 worth of MicroPAVER computer software and support. Busch arranged for Hernando County to use both products.

Other messages, dated during the time when Busch worked for the county and KMS, show he constantly blended the two jobs. For instance, private companies doing work for the county sent him information about the projects at his KMS e-mail account.

Busch retired from the county effective Jan. 2, but he told public works officials in November 2007 that he was planning to do so. They began planning his Dec. 6 retirement party — which featured baked ziti and bread sticks — on Nov. 28, the day after Busch persuaded county commissioners to approve an exclusive contract for RePLAY. The contract was never finalized after county administration quashed it amid the threat of a lawsuit.

The KMS bid from last week might also fail. In this case, the controversy involving Busch's role at KMS may prevent the company from receiving the contract to inventory the county's roads, even though it submitted the lowest bid.

Jim Gantt, the county's purchasing director, said Friday he would discuss the situation with the county's Legal Department before deciding whether to award the bid to any company because of the specter of controversy.

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6114. Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

>>Fast facts

History of pavement management

The firestorm of controversy enveloping the Hernando County Department of Public Works in recent days is focused on the county's high-cost pavement management program, which has been in place since the 1990s.

The program is responsible for maintaining Hernando's more than 1,000 miles of residential and collector roadways, and the person who headed the project beginning in 2000 was former coordinator Bill Busch.

Using road-condition data gathered by a private company, in this case KMS & Associates, and analyzed through a special computer program sold through KMS, MicroPAVER, it was Busch's job to help determine which roads needed help and what kind of help they needed.

Some could be repaved. Others resurfaced. Another option, strongly supported by Busch and his supervisors, was a pavement treatment product called RePLAY, also supplied by a KMS affiliate.

This is why Busch has come under scrutiny, including a criminal investigation, after it was revealed that Busch was working for the county coordinating pavement management while he also worked for KMS.

During his eight-year tenure in the job, Busch helped decide how to spend about $50-million in money collected through the gas tax, the transportation trust fund and the general fund.

The computer program the county began using in 2000 to scientifically evaluate roads was designed to take the politics out of deciding which roads should be fixed.

Ex-county worker's e-mails detail dual loyalties 08/23/08 [Last modified: Monday, August 25, 2008 3:24pm]
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