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Hernando County Administrator Hamilton catches heat over Jarque's hiring

BROOKSVILLE — Facing yet another barrage of headlines about someone the county hired without finding the skeleton in the closet, several county commissioners on Friday had more hard questions for the county administrator.

Jeff Stabins, the commissioner most critical of the hiring of Greg Jarque as the construction manager of the Hernando Beach Channel dredge project, called for an emergency meeting on Tuesday to consider asking Administrator David Hamilton for his resignation.

While no meeting has been set and no other commissioner said he wanted Hamilton to resign, several said they wanted assurances that the revelations about now-fired Jarque will not be repeated with another county employee or contractor.

Hamilton said the county had not done a criminal background check on Jarque, which is why county officials never knew of his felony conviction 15 years ago in New York for attempted arson.

While Hamilton said there are plans to examine the county's background check process once the county hires a new procurement officer, the Jarque hire ran into problems because Hernando is rushing to get the stalled dredge done by the Dec. 31 deadline.

The County Commission waived normal purchasing rules to make that happen, something Hamilton said the county should take a hard look at ever considering in the future.

"Under the emergency procedures, we were running on trust,'' Hamilton explained. The normal purchasing process can be intentionally cumbersome but it provides protections against some of what has happened on the dredge project.

"The enemy here,'' Hamilton said, "is time. We were pushing too far, too fast.''

He added, "Hard lessons have been learned.''

Stabins was quick to point the blame at Hamilton.

"Mr. Hamilton has a glib and clever answer for almost every question that arises after he makes an abominable decision,'' Stabins said. "He recommended Mr. Jarque and a number of other people whose backgrounds have come under question.''

Commissioner John Druzbick made the same point.

There were questions about how the Clerk of the Circuit Court Karen Nicolai did the background check on her consultant, Lisa Hammond. There were questions about the subcontractors hired by dredging construction firm BCPeabody including Gary Grubbs and his history of nonpayment of taxes.

"You would have thought that after these cases, after Stabins blasted Mr. Hamilton over Jarque, there was not reason to believe they hadn't fully vetted Jarque'' before recommending him earlier this week, Druzbick said.

"Our credibility just goes right out the window'' each time one of these cases happens, he said.

Druzbick was having that conversation with Hamilton via cell phone just minutes before Hamilton fired Jarque early Friday.

"I wanted some answers,'' he said. "Yes, somebody has slipped up, no question. It is not good in today's society when we can do a background check in the blink of an eye but that was not done.

"This cannot and will not happen again,'' Druzbick said.

Commissioner Dave Russell said the latest controversy hasn't changed his mind about Hamilton's overall performance, adding, "I'm a little disappointed that we didn't do our jobs better with concerns to vetting.''

Part of the problem has been that, as the county has shrunk its operation, fewer and fewer people are assuming jobs that they had not done before and they have less time to accomplish them.

"We've all learned a valuable lesson,'' he said.

But with the county taking another black eye on this one, Russell said he wanted to be sure the county does a full examination of what happened and make changes.

"We are going to revisit our protocols as we hire any contractor, whether it's an emergency or not,'' Russell said. "We were too swift to take this position. … We can't allow this to happen again.''

Commission Chairman Jim Adkins said he didn't have any intention at this time to ask for Hamilton's resignation, instead offering a bit of a defense.

"David Hamilton has had some tough times since he's been on board. It's not been an enjoyable trip for Mr. Hamilton,'' he said. "He's had a tough job. He's not made a lot of people happy.''

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

Hernando County Administrator Hamilton catches heat over Jarque's hiring 04/15/11 [Last modified: Friday, April 15, 2011 8:05pm]
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