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Former Port Richey public works supervisor challenges firing over sign purchases

Chuck Latwinas purchased street signs worth several thousand dollars and says he was instructed to do it.

JOSEPH GARNETT JR. | Times

Chuck Latwinas purchased street signs worth several thousand dollars and says he was instructed to do it.

PORT RICHEY — Purchasing procedures in Port Richey are again under the microscope with the firing of the city's public works supervisor, just months after former City Manager Ellen Posivach was dismissed over purchasing decisions.

Last week, acting City Manager/Police Chief Dave Brown fired Chuck Latwinas, saying he failed to obtain written approval for the purchase of more than $8,000 worth of street signs.

Latwinas, 45, made $42,636 and was four weeks shy of being vested as a six-year employee.

Latwinas has challenged his firing and says he was just doing what Brown told him to do.

"You turned around and told me to order the signs. I showed you the quotes, I showed you the pricing," Latwinas told the chief during a June 21 pre-disciplinary hearing.

"I don't remember that conversation," Brown responded.

The purchase Latwinas lost his job over was just one of five he says he asked permission for as part of a plan to piecemeal the sign purchases, which eventually totaled more than $30,000.

After Posivach was fired in February, Brown implemented a new purchasing procedure for big ticket items. Now city employees with purchasing power must obtain three signatures from finance officials and the city manager for purchases of $2,500 or more, and for purchases between $10,000 and $25,000 three signatures are needed, as well as City Council approval. Projects costing more than $25,000 must go out for bids.

Documents show the first work order only had Latwinas' signature, but later permission requests had the required signatures for sign purchases from Summit Sign & Safety of Dade city for $2,770, $4,526, $4,638, and $9,725.

Latwinas' challenge of his firing will be heard by the city's Personnel Review Board on July 14. Brown said he would wait for that hearing before commenting.

Latwinas said on Thursday he believes he is a scapegoat for continued purchasing problems in Port Richey, and pointed to the signatures on his purchasing requests as evidence that his superiors were on board with buying the signs.

"I think they looked at the price tag when it was all said and done and realized they should have gone to the council with this," Latwinas said. "So they are using me as a fall guy to save face with the council."

City officials questioned Latwinas about purchasing the signs through Summit, which often contracts with a Brooksville sign making company, Accuform. Latwinas' wife works for Accuform.

Latwinas said he had advised city officials that his wife worked for Accuform. He said she is a laborer with no purchasing power.

Latwinas also supplied a letter from Summit that said all the signs for the Port Richey project came from a sign maker in Missouri.

Former Port Richey public works supervisor challenges firing over sign purchases 06/30/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 30, 2011 8:51pm]
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