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Hernando County administrator wants purchasing director's job eliminated

BROOKSVILLE — Already on suspension for various issues such as letting the county jail slide into disrepair on his watch, the county's purchasing director is now facing new criticism after an audit of his office.

On Tuesday, County Administrator David Hamilton will recommend that the County Commission eliminate director Jim Gantt's job and switch over the operation of purchasing from under Hamilton's oversight to the Clerk of the Circuit Court.

The move is designed to get control of what Hamilton sees as a disconnect between the processes the county uses to make purchases and pay for services and the role of the clerk's office.

The coordination between the finance director in Clerk Karen Nicolai's office and the county's purchasing department has gone awry, he said.

The result has been unacceptable delays in paying vendors, ongoing and unfixed problems with purchasing cards and problems with the county's purchasing software that is nowhere near what its "BuySpeed'' name suggests, said Hamilton.

The auditor found that the purchasing process bogged down, often on small-ticket items, and purchasing failed to pay attention to the larger issues. Those include making sure the contractor on the stalled Hernando Beach Channel dredging project was complying with his contract or even that the contract had enough teeth to get his attention when he didn't, Hamilton said.

"We also have way too many credit (purchasing) cards in way too many hands,'' he said. Since 2005, the clerk has been recommending changes to the purchasing card system and, in its most recent audit, basically stated that this report would be the last because there had been no move to make many of the recommended changes.

The restructuring would also save money. The county would pay the clerk $60,000 to run the office, but it would save the cost of Gantt's salary and benefits, which is $117,310. Gantt, 63, was hired in November 1992.

The preliminary audit results also suggested other problems including Gantt's failure to work with the clerk over previous audit findings, failing to regularly evaluate employees or have regular staff meetings.

"Compounding the problems is the current director's attitude that is at best described as unwelcome to constructive criticism and change,'' Hamilton wrote in his memo to commissioners.

"In the notice of discipline, county administration noted the following, 'You have consistently refused to implement the recommendations made by audit services. In fact, you have developed an intensely adversarial relationship with audit services.' ''

Hamilton goes on to note that, since the reorganization hinges on the close work of the clerk's finance office and county purchasing, "We are recommending a change in leadership to effect needed change and improve our overall efficiency as an organization.''

Gantt declined to talk on Friday about the audit or the reorganization. He was to return to work May 24 after three weeks of time off for medical reasons but that will now be his last day at work if the commission approves the reorganization proposal.

But he did strongly defend himself in an appeal to his suspension filed last week. In the seven-page "appeal of suspension'' Gantt refutes the original case Hamilton made to suspend him without pay on April 16.

Gantt notes that the suspension came "without any prior discussions or warning (written or verbal) relative to him not adequately performing his duties.''

It refutes that he had not carried out his responsibility to visit the jail and make sure the contract with jail operator Corrections Corporation of America was followed.

"Visitation to the jail does not constitute a substitution for inspections or otherwise constitute an appropriate measure for determining the need of repair of the facility,'' Gantt wrote.

He notes that Hamilton's characterizing the jail as "delapidated'' may refer to conditions that are "cosmetic in nature or items subject to the ongoing preventative maintenance obligation of CCA.''

Gantt cites the numerous recent inspections that failed to identify major problems with the jail's condition including the January audit that measured the facility against the state's inspection yardstick, the Florida Model Jail Standard.

The letter points out that neither Gantt nor the on-site contract monitor, Barbara Fisher, were supposed to conduct inspections of the jail and special skills were needed to do those tasks. He also dismisses an old evaluation criticism Hamilton cited and notes that audit recommendations are just that, recommendations.

"It's up to a management team to evaluate the recommendations,'' Gantt wrote.

He concludes that the suspension "is contrary to applicable county rules, regulations and policies'' is "a violation of director's rights as an employee of Hernando County.''

He asks that the suspension be reversed and the record be corrected and that "all lost pay, benefits and other loses be immediately restored.''

Gantt can pursue the appeal through the county's personnel review board.

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

Hernando County administrator wants purchasing director's job eliminated 05/07/10 [Last modified: Friday, May 7, 2010 8:31pm]
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