Tuesday, August 14, 2018
News Roundup

Former Hernando purchasing manager files whistle-blower lawsuit

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County's former purchasing and contracts manager, who was let go during his probationary period last year, has brought a lawsuit against the county, blaming his dismissal on the fact that he blew the whistle on purchasing policy irregularities by the county's Utilities Department.

Anthony Garzione is seeking reinstatement in the job, back pay and benefits, reimbursement for pain and suffering, and attorney's fees.

Garzione, 57, started work Aug. 1 and was dismissed in mid November. But in the weeks leading up to his dismissal, he wrote a letter to County Administrator Len Sossamon detailing issues regarding policy violations allegedly committed by utilities officials. The lawsuit, filed late last month, identifies the reported problems as "protected disclosures" under the Florida Whistle-blower's Act.

According to Garzione's description, the utilities purchases he detailed in his Nov. 7 memo showed county workers cutting corners or giving preferential treatment to some vendors.

In one case, the county gave a $160,000 job to Paints & Coatings Inc. as both a "sole source," which means bids from other companies were not sought, and as a "rush" order.

"The market is very competitive for this type of work," Garzione wrote in his memo questioning the urgency of hiring the company when the need for the work had been known for months. "You have put the county in a position of justifying these activities that exceed $160,000," he wrote. "Hernando County procedures have been breached, and good business practices have been compromised, putting our system at risk."

A second case involved Hall Engineering LLC. The Utilities Department failed to include a variety of standard elements in its request for proposals, including a sworn statement on public crimes, authorized signatures, vendor eligibility information and a statement of qualifications. The procurement office had no record of the company and, Garzione wrote, the "Utilities Department has put the county at risk with no evidence we are doing business with a state-qualified engineering firm."

He asked that the Utilities Department provide a memo detailing why the rules weren't followed.

In the third instance, Garzione states that a proposal of more than $200,000 submitted by vendor HDR Inc. exceeded what is allowed under the state statute for a continuing contract. By not allowing the next of the county's approved rotation of contractors to do the job, "the other four vendors did not get an opportunity for a large task order."

Garzione said in his memo that these were not the only issues he had seen in purchasing by the county Utilities Department.

"Most, if not all the Utilities procurements are exceptions being treated as the norm," he wrote.

The lawsuit states that Garzione's memo was issued before his job appeared to be in jeopardy and notes that he has been unable to secure another job like the Hernando position since he was let go.

While he blames the firing on the whistle-blowing in the lawsuit, in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times immediately after his termination, Garzione said he was also let go because of complaints by a cliquish group of female employees in his office. In an interview he initiated with the Times, Garzione said, "I'm out on the street because of a bunch of girls squawking."

The letter written to Garzione by his supervisor at the time of his termination told a different story. It calls his interaction with the purchasing staff "very tumultuous at best" and notes multiple complaints against Garzione by staffers, department directors, assistant county administrators, Sossamon and a county commissioner.

He fell behind on projects and also did not succeed in team-building training, according to the letter.

County legal and human resources officials declined to comment on the pending litigation.

Garzione's annual salary was $82,368.

Contact Barbara Behrendt at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.

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