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Hernando commission cuts top job in parks and recreation department

BROOKSVILLE — The County Commission lopped off the top position in the parks and recreation department Tuesday to help make up a budget shortfall in the current fiscal year.

With little comment, a unanimous board agreed to land services director Ron Pianta's recommendations to bridge a $115,000 gap by eliminating four positions.

A large chunk of those savings will come from eliminating the job held by parks and recreation manager Pat Fagan.

"If we are to reduce positions, that's the position from an operations standpoint that makes the most sense," Pianta said.

The other three positions are a parks operations assistant and two maintenance workers. One of those posts is already vacant and employees in the others had already planned to leave soon, one to retire and another for medical reasons, Pianta told the board.

"I wish I could say we're not going to come back to you at another date to do more of this," County Commissioner Wayne Dukes told Pianta before asking fellow commissioners to approve the recommendation.

No other commissioner commented before or after the vote. Fagan was not present.

Pianta said Fagan, 61, is considering a separation agreement that would keep him on the job until the end of May. The county administrator's office said that agreement would be available Wednesday, but Fagan gave a copy to the Times on Tuesday afternoon.

The agreement would allow Fagan to remain until May 27. Among the conditions, he must waive his right to file a complaint under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

Also, he cannot "disparage the County or its past or present commissioners, officers, directors, or employees," though that does not apply to "truthful statements made in compliance with legal process or government inquiry." And he agrees that the county would have no obligation to rehire him and that his employment is "permanently and irrevocably severed."

Fagan declined to comment on the agreement, saying he would notify officials of his decision by the March 10 deadline.

"It hurts," Fagan said of the commission's decision. "I understand the financial situation. I just hope they don't cut the parks department even further to the point where we can't maintain what we have."

Asked if the department could make it without the top position, he replied: "I've got some good people, they made me proud all these years, and they can do anything."

Fagan's second four-year term on the Hernando School Board ends in November 2012. On Tuesday, he reiterated what he has already said publicly: When he leaves his county job, he will resign from the School Board "shortly after."

Under Florida Retirement System rules, Fagan cannot collect his retirement benefits from his county position while still on the public payroll as a School Board member. The married father of twin 16-year-old girls has said he cannot afford to defer the county retirement benefits and live on the School Board salary of $32,917 for the rest of his term.

Fagan has said he hoped the county would keep him on at least until Aug. 19, when he turns 62 and starts collecting Social Security benefits. But he did not lobby commissioners to keep his position.

The move is the latest in an effort to downsize and reorganize county government to cope with a general budget laid low by plummeting property values. It also fits with County Administrator David Hamilton's credo to have fewer managers and more management.

Hamilton was on vacation Tuesday. Community services director Jean Rags filled in.

Last month, the commission decided not to make youth recreation leagues pay fees to use county fields. Officials estimated that those fees would have generated about $229,400 to help pay for field maintenance.

Instead, the board opted to pay maintenance costs by taking $115,000 from interest earned on the county's judicial center fund and by cutting another $115,000 from parks and recreation department expenses.

A county employee for 33 years, Fagan had served as parks and recreation director until a reorganization that changed his title to "manager." His compensation is $118,916, including benefits. He's eligible for a payout of about $20,500 in accrued, unused time off.

During the public comment portion earlier Tuesday, the county's former code enforcement director, Frank McDowell, said Hamilton has mistreated Fagan in the last two years.

"A great leader does not lead by fear and intimidation,'' McDowell said. He said he found it ironic that Hamilton was not present at Tuesday's meeting, and that the county "has depleted its historical knowledge base'' by losing its most senior staff members.

"Nothing can be accomplished by this board without your employees,'' McDowell said. "Mr. Fagan should be allowed to reach his retirement date … at the very least, he has earned that respect and consideration from you.''

Civic activist Janey Baldwin told commissioners she considered Fagan a friend, but his position should be cut.

"He has two jobs," Baldwin said. "There are many people in this county and this state who don't have one job. It's the fair thing to do."

Fagan is one of three supervisors in the county department that oversees parks, recreation and waterways. Harry Johnson is recreation coordinator; Roy Link is maintenance supervisor. The department had 26 1/2 positions before Tuesday's vote.

Link started with the county in 1983 and receives $87,743 in salary and benefits. Johnson has been with the county since 2000 and receives $77,400 in salary and benefits.

If Fagan resigns from the School Board, the governor would appoint someone to fill the vacancy and serve until the next election. The qualifying period is in June. School Board races are nonpartisan, and all candidates will be in the Aug. 28 primary. If a race has three or more candidates and no candidate receives a majority of votes, the top two vote-getters would move to the general election ballot in November.

Fagan could ultimately return to the School Board, though, and it's a move he said he will seriously consider.

He would receive his first distribution check for his county benefits 30 days after leaving his position. FRS rules allow him to return to an FRS employer six months after receiving that first check. That means Fagan could run for School Board and, if victorious, take the seat in November 2012 without jeopardizing his county benefits. He would not be eligible for benefits for the School Board job.

Asked about rumors that he's also considering a County Commission seat, Fagan would only say that he loves public service and will consider options.

"I've got a good year to sit back and decide on my future," he said.

Staff writer Barbara Behrendt contributed to this report. Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@sptimes.com.

Hernando commission cuts top job in parks and recreation department 02/22/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 22, 2011 8:18pm]

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