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Hernando Clerk pulls plug on high-salaried position

BROOKSVILLE — With the future of county purchasing operations up in the air, Clerk of the Circuit Court Karen Nicolai has withdrawn the controversial offer of employment to Lisa Hammond.

Instead, Hammond will return to her previous arrangement as a consultant earning $55 an hour, by mutual agreement, Nicolai said.

Hammond said Thursday that she asked Nicolai to withdraw the job offer so that everyone could stay focused on the work at hand.

"There is a lot we're trying to get done and this just created a fire storm that disrupts the work," Hammond said. "It's just in everyone's interest to just put this to the side."

Two weeks ago, Nicolai offered Hammond the job of strategic planning director and a $105,000 salary. Hammond has been working as a purchasing and contracts consultant since summer, a job that has put her in the middle of the Hernando Beach Channel dredging project and the contentious issues surrounding the Hernando County Jail and the departure of its long-time operator.

The job offer sparked instant controversy.

County commissioners this week decided they wanted more information about Nicolai's hire and what the clerk's office has done to reorganize purchasing since Hammond began work as a consultant early this summer.

Commissioner Rose Rocco questioned the qualifications for the job and said she was leaning toward having the county take purchasing back from the clerk. It would be less expensive to pay an assistant for the lead purchasing agent for the county than to continue to pay Nicolai $60,000 for Hammond's salary expense, she argued.

Rocco's questions alluded to questions raised by the St. Petersburg Times and others about Hammond's credentials, experience and education related to her job duties.

Hammond said last week that she has stopped using the title "PhD" after public questions about the doctorate she claimed on her resume from Kennedy Western University. That distance-learning institution changed its name to Warren National University in 2007 and then closed in March 2009 after an investigation by the General Accounting office, according to published reports.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported in 2009 that "the university was notable for its slick marketing and for doling out credit for life experience." The article went on to say that the institution's founder, Paul Saltman, "always resisted the diploma mill label."

Hammond said she knows that there are other graduates of the Kennedy Western program who have gone on to responsible professional positions in many places.

The Times also questioned a post-graduate diploma Hammond claims on her resume from the Southern Africa Policy Institute in Harare, Zimbabwe. A search of academic and scholarly databases does not register such a school.

Nicolai said she has asked for transcripts from that school from Hammond and has not yet received them, so she has no confirmation at this point of Hammond's resume claim.

Hammond said she is searching for those transcripts. She said she did attend the institute and she lived with a family in Zimbabwe while she was there. She went there "to learn economics from a non Euro-centric perspective," she said.

The bachelor of science management resume listing from Roger Williams University in Rhode Island was confirmed by a university spokesman.

Reports also confirm resume listings that Hammond worked as president and executive officer for First Trust California in San Francisco from 1991 to 1994 and prior to that in corporate finance and corporate trust operations for a First Bank Systems subsidiary in St. Paul, Minn., from 1986 through 1991.

Hammond's resume also includes Florida teaching certification in economics and psychology and a California teaching certification in financial services, business management and health.

A Times search of Florida certification records turns up just one Lisa Marie Hammond in Hillsborough County with certificates in elementary education and English for Speakers of Other Languages.

Hammond said that was not her and that she did hold the certifications she put on her resume.

California's certification database does list a Lisa M. Hammond but provides no detail on the certification categories.

The Times also found that Hammond also does not appear in the database of licenses for the National Association of Securities Dealers, even though she lists that she has series 2, 53 and 63 licenses.

Hammond acknowledged that she allowed those licenses to lapse because she no longer needed them.

When she was asked for her resume two weeks ago, the day Nicolai hired her for the job, Hammond responded with an unusual message to the local media. She provided her resume, then listed out all the issues in her life she thought might result in newspaper headlines.

Those included a 1999 bankruptcy, a house foreclosure, tax liens and a divorce. She also jokingly noted that there had been no driving while under the influence arrests, although multiple speeding tickets, no abortions and no murders.

Nicolai told the Times two weeks ago that she had checked all of Hammond's references and had confirmed the educational credentials.

Nicolai said she hopes that what she considers excellent work from Hammond is overshadowed by all the controversy. "She really has done a remarkable job," Nicolai said.

Hammond said the attention has been "exasperating" and that she needed to not worry about whatever is said about her. Rather, "we're facing a $7 million (budget) shortfall next year." Purchasing changes can help make a big dent in that deficit and "that's what I've got to be focusing on," she said.

Nicolai said she expected to make a presentation to the commission about the changes in purchasing and other details of how her department has assisted with county services at a commission meeting next month.

Times news researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

Hernando Clerk pulls plug on high-salaried position 10/14/10 [Last modified: Thursday, October 14, 2010 9:30pm]

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