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Fired Hernando County public works director wants hearing to clear his name

BROOKSVILLE — Fired in January for poor job performance and a string of delayed and over-budget projects on his watch, former Hernando public works director Charles Mixson now wants to salvage his reputation.

Mixson has hired attorney Bruce Snow to represent him and has asked the county for a post-termination, or name clearing, hearing.

"He has asked for this in order to have his side of the story heard,'' Snow said Wednesday. "There are always two sides to a story.''

Hernando County has no set policy for handling a post-termination or name clearing hearing and requests for such hearings are rare, human resources director Cheryl Marsden said.

"We are still reviewing the letter and will be responding to Mr. Snow at the appropriate time,'' assistant county attorney Jon Jouben said.

When Mixson, who worked at the pleasure of the county administrator, left county employ, he was earning an annual salary of $116,792 and received additional benefits valued at $32,298.

He had worked for Hernando County since July 1986 and was county engineer in addition to public works director.

Mixson's evaluations going back more than 10 years contain numerous references to performance problems. When County Administrator David Hamilton fired Mixson, he extensively documented Mixson's missteps as well as the scathing warnings he had given Mixson over just the last year and a half.

Hamilton noted that Mixson had been told his job was in jeopardy and that he must get the Hernando Beach Channel dredging project started or be fired. He even suspended him without pay at one point to drive the message home.

Mixson's numerous disciplines were for issues including workers under his supervision collecting commissions from vendors used by the county; failing to follow through with disciplining of employees; and one notable instance in which county workers were allowed to trade valuable county-owned fill dirt for pizza and other gifts.

In a more recent incident, Mixson was trying to move a project forward quickly before losing some federal stimulus monies. He tried to persuade Marsden, an assistant county attorney and the county's risk manager, into hiring a contractor without insurance to do an archaeological survey.

He said there wasn't any danger because the surveyor would not actually get out of his car and walk along the road, just drive around.

"You do not get it,'' he told Marsden in an e-mail. "It's about time, not about thoroughness.''

Another of Mixson's projects was the soil testing and cleanup of the polluted site of the old public works compound in south Brooksville. A dozen years have passed and the costs have risen from a contracted $77,000 to more than $2 million, and the cleanup has yet to begin.

Yet, several months ago, Mixson brought the County Commission a request for another increase in the consultant's contract, even though Hamilton had ordered that future work would have to be bid.

But it was the delays and cost overruns in the high-profile Hernando Beach Channel dredging project that finally did in Mixson.

State environmental regulators found problems that the county's consultant had not reported showed mistakes by the project's contractor and consultant and insufficient oversight by Mixson's office.

Mixson, however, sought even more money for the consultant.

He argued that changes in the plans for seagrass mitigation required by the state necessitated more work by the consultant. And he took issue with some of Hamilton's conclusions about his oversight on the project.

Hamilton saw it another way.

"It has become apparent that instead of critically examining requests for change orders, you instead have become an advocate and spokesperson for the contractors,'' he wrote in his memo firing Mixson.

"You represent the county, not its contractors. Your uncritical acceptance of change order requests have cost the county millions of dollars without providing the county with any commensurate benefits.''

Since the county has no policy on such hearings and case law doesn't set up how they are conducted, Snow said he expected that the procedure will be discussed between himself and the county.

County staff will be discussing the issue further later this week and the letter will appear on Tuesday's county commission agenda as correspondence to note.

Mixson did not return a call seeking comment.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

Fired Hernando County public works director wants hearing to clear his name 03/17/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 17, 2010 8:18pm]
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