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Hernando commissioner wants 'frank discussion' on county administrator's 'three-year reign'

BROOKSVILLE — Calling his leadership style "cavalier, conniving and cold-hearted,'' Hernando County Commissioner Jeff Stabins on Tuesday issued an eight-page letter of concerns aimed at County Administrator David Hamilton.

The letter calls into question Hamilton's recent actions on the Hernando Beach Channel dredge and raises concerns about other issues ranging from the need for more courtroom space to the elimination the parks manager position held by Pat Fagan.

Stabins states that he wants the letter to be placed on next week's commission agenda "so that we can have a frank discussion in the sunshine about my concerns regarding your three-year reign here.''

Hamilton issued a short written response to the letter Tuesday afternoon, deferring answering any additional specific questions until the public board meeting.

"Commissioner Stabins is an elected official and is therefore free to comment and criticize at will within the media,'' Hamilton wrote. "As he is one of my five bosses, protocol does not permit me to respond.''

Stabins, who gave Hamilton acceptable scores in his evaluation several weeks ago, says he now is not sure whether the county should keep him. Hamilton celebrated his third anniversary in the job last month, a tenure twice as long as each of the last two administrators.

"To me, this is a more complete look at the age of Hamilton,'' Stabins said of his letter.

Since the evaluation, the commission has made several key decisions about the long-stalled Hernando Beach dredge project. In his letter, Stabins raises numerous questions about Hamilton's recommendation to hire Greg Jarque and his Gritz Development and Construction company to be the project manager.

"Unbeknownst to me, you slipped the item for the hiring of Gritz Construction on the board agenda at virtually the last possible moment,'' Stabins wrote.

The commissioners approved Gritz unanimously after Hamilton told them Jarque was qualified and offered competitive rates charging $152,500 for his services.

"However, the board may have made a different choice had you disclosed several pieces of pertinent information before the vote,'' Stabins wrote.

It was disclosed that Gritz Construction, for no charge, oversaw construction of the training center and hurricane shelter in Spring Hill for the Arc Nature Coast. However, Stabins took issue with the fact that Hamilton's wife, Linda, was the chief fundraiser for that project and "your failure to make this disclosure could lead an objective observer to conclude that you hired Gritz Construction in exchange for the benefit the company provided to your wife.''

Hamilton talked about that issue last week, saying his wife did speak highly of Jarque and the work he had done for Arc Nature Coast. Jarque brought the project in under budget and four months early, so Hamilton approached Jarque about overseeing dredge. He and Jarque both said they had no social connection to one another.

Hamilton also noted that, because of the tight timeline on the dredge and the risk of losing state funding if that wasn't met, the board waived all purchasing rules on the project so bidding was not required.

Stabins also criticized Hamilton for hiring Jarque as a consultant at $100 an hour even before the board approved him as the project manager.

Hamilton said earlier this week that he hired Jarque to review the four dredge bids and contracts before taking them to the board in mid March. The total expense was below the $25,000 total that would require a bid on any other project and was permitted under Hamilton's authority as administrator. The county has no person on staff to review contracts.

Jarque has never done a dredge before; he only became a general contractor in 2008 and has never pulled any other permit before the Arc project, Stabins notes in his letter. Stabins also criticizes Hamilton's decision to not require Gritz to have a bond to protect the county's interests when Jarque was acting as a consultant.

Stabins also points out that Jarque's other company, Omni Circuits International, owes thousands of dollars in unpaid fire assessments. The tax collector's website indicates that the company owes $7,953.12 in fees stretching back over six years, including its 2010 fee.

Stabins said the county had previously made an issue of Gary Grubbs being a major subcontractor for the construction firm that won the current dredge contract, BCPeabody, because Grubbs had owed the county money. Grubbs is not a major subcontractor on the job now but remains affiliated with BCPeabody and its principals.

Jarque could not be reached to comment on the fire assessments.

"It is abundantly clear to me that you omitted this information on purpose,'' Stabins wrote to Hamilton. "While Gritz Construction may do an excellent job overseeing the dredge project in the end, I believe that it is obvious you recommended the company because Mr. Jarque is a crony of your wife.''

Hamilton has stood behind his selection of Jarque, saying he is confident that he can see the snake-bit project through to completion. As for the background checks of Jarque and his company, Hamilton said those were ongoing and the results would be brought back to the commission with Jarque's final contract as is normal protocol.

Many of the dredge decisions have had to be made quickly in order to meet the completion deadline of Dec. 31, Hamilton said.

Stabins tells Hamilton that his leadership overall on the dredge "seems riddled by similar missteps,'' including his failure to make a recommendation on the dredging contractor publicly and his "schizophrenic approach'' to picking the dredge leadership.

Since Hamilton arrived, he put former county engineer Charles Mixson on probation for not completing the dredge work, then took him off probation, but ultimately fired him. Hamilton tapped engineer Susan Goebel to take over the work, even though she had no experience with dredges, then picked Gritz Construction to oversee the project.

Stabins states that Hamilton has blamed everyone from contractors and consultants to the environmental protection agencies and the board for the problems with the dredge.

"You are the only person you have not blamed for this debacle,'' he wrote.

"The dredge has been a long, expensive slog, literally and figuratively, for Hernando County,'' Stabins wrote. "The press and the public have a right to know how decisions concerning the project are really being made.''

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

Hernando commissioner wants 'frank discussion' on county administrator's 'three-year reign' 04/05/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 6, 2011 8:01am]
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