Hernando County Administrator David Hamilton, facing vote to fire him, says he will step down at the end of the year

Hernando County Administrator David Hamilton, left, talks with Commissioner Dave Russell, right, on Tuesday. Russell was one of the commissioners to support Hamilton, saying his 3 1/2-year tenure has been a hard one.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Hernando County Administrator David Hamilton, left, talks with Commissioner Dave Russell, right, on Tuesday. Russell was one of the commissioners to support Hamilton, saying his 3 1/2-year tenure has been a hard one.

BROOKSVILLE — Facing the possibility of an outright firing, Hernando County Administrator David Hamilton agreed Tuesday to leave his post by the end of the year.

A sharply divided County Commission was discussing whether to change direction on a plan it approved last week to make Susan Goebel the new environmental services director when Commissioner John Druzbick made a motion to terminate Hamilton, saying he had lost faith in him.

Commissioner Jeff Stabins seconded the motion, saying he could not support Hamilton's continued employment because he did not inspire county staffers.

But commissioners Dave Russell and Wayne Dukes voiced support for Hamilton, saying he has had difficult work to do, downsizing county government by one-third since he arrived from Minnesota 3 1/2 years ago.

Hamilton, 62, told commissioners that there was still important work to be done and urged them to let him help with a smooth transition rather than "launch off a cliff.''

"We still have a lot to do in the foreseeable future,'' he said, listing the completion of the Hernando Beach Channel dredge, moving new people into the county leadership team, creating a comprehensive salary schedule for employees and even preparing the county for the new garbage collection system.

Hamilton compared the parting that was being proposed by the commission to a divorce and said he wanted it to be amicable. He offered to prepare a plan to help move the county through the transition to new leadership by early next year.

As the discussion continued and it became obvious that four of the commissioners were split, Stabins asked Chairman Jim Adkins, the swing vote, to speak.

Adkins said he would support Hamilton in his effort to create a transition plan that would have the administrator remain in his position for two more months.

Druzbick tabled his motion to terminate Hamilton's contract until Nov. 8, when Hamilton will bring forward his transition plan.

Hamilton had been hammered earlier in Tuesday's meeting by comments from the public. Paul Douglas, president of the local NAACP chapter but speaking as an individual, accused Hamilton of destroying public records.

He told the commission he had made a complaint to the State Attorney's Office about Hamilton shredding notes taken when county officials investigated racial complaints at the Wiscon Road utilities office after Hamilton first arrived in 2008.

Douglas said the destruction of records was detailed to him in a recent phone conversation with departing environmental services director Joe Stapf.

Hamilton declined to respond to the charges.

Former County Commissioner Rose Rocco, a longtime critic of Hamilton, called him a liar and urged the commission to order him to resign.

Druzbick accused Hamilton of misleading the board and failing to provide complete information two weeks ago when Hamilton recommended that Goebel move from director of transportation services to director of environmental services with an $8,000 raise.

The commission didn't know at the time that administrative services director Cheryl Marsden had not been in agreement with the change. Hamilton told commissioners the fact that Marsden had not signed the recommendation was an oversight.

Marsden has said that the move was lateral and would not ordinarily come with a pay raise. Goebel also didn't match the requirements for the job, which was recently vacated by Stapf. Hamilton asked Marsden to rewrite the job description.

Druzbick said the latest issue was just one of many and that he had asked Hamilton privately for his resignation on Monday. Hamilton had refused.

Hamilton said Tuesday that after his conversation with Druzbick, he had gone home Monday, spoken with his wife and settled on the proposal to create a transition plan and leave his job.

Druzbick said he had concluded that Hamilton was no longer dedicated to Hernando County when he got word late last week that Hamilton had applied to be the county administrator of Sarasota County.

Russell said he had no problem with Hamilton testing the water in Sarasota County.

"There's nothing wrong with that,'' he said. "That didn't give me pause at all.''

When Hamilton was hired, Russell said, the commission gave him "a mighty task.'' He was charged with downsizing and reorganizing the structure of county government to reduce costs as property tax revenues plummeted.

In doing that, "I don't think there are any toes he didn't step on or any feathers he didn't ruffle,'' Russell said.

On top of that, unlike previous administrators, he did much of that task without an assistant administrator and with little clerical help.

"Frankly, I think he has been spread too thin,'' he said.

That may be why some things slipped through the cracks and mistakes were made, Russell said.

Dukes agreed, saying that he understood that cutting costs and downsizing do not make someone popular. He said he believed any dissatisfaction around the government center with Hamilton was "resistance to change.''

Hamilton got some support from one regular in the commission audience: former planning commission member Anthony Palmieri.

"I think you've done a damn good job,'' Palmieri said, though he noted that the work of shrinking government is, by nature, a morale destroyer. "The morale goes down, the union comes in ... we've seen it.''

For the person in charge, Palmieri said, "when the job is finished, you are finished. ... But you haven't finished your job. There is still much to do.''

Hamilton's annual salary is $135,000. The severance package in his contract, which runs through March 2013, would award him a lump sum equal to five months of pay.

Columnist Dan DeWitt contributed to this report. Barbara Behrendt can be reached behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

In other business

The Hernando County Commission on Tuesday:

• Approved a new contract for County Attorney Garth Coller, who agreed to a 7.5 percent decrease in his salary, taking it from $132,829 to $122,867. In return, the commission agreed to a three-year contract.

• Agreed to send a letter to the Florida Department of Transportation, seeking any asphalt millings produced in road projects in and around Hernando County. The millings could then be used as a replacement for lime rock in maintaining some of the county's 375 miles of unpaved public roads.

• Approved incentive packages worth about $75,000 for airplane parts manufacturer Airdyne Aerospace Inc. to expand operations at the Hernando County Airport.

• Decided to schedule a workshop to discuss the county's impact fees, which the board cut in half in 2009.

• Approved the latest payment of $377,000 for BCPeabody, the contractor working on the Hernando Beach Channel dredge.

• Okayed a new policy allowing county departments to use Facebook, Twitter and other social media tools to provide education to the community about the county and county services.

• Voted to support the naming of a portion of U.S. 41 the John C. Mecklenburg Memorial Highway at the request of the deputy's widow, Penny. The state will make the final decision.

Hernando County Administrator David Hamilton, facing vote to fire him, says he will step down at the end of the year 10/25/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 25, 2011 7:38pm]

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