BROOKSVILLE — The hiring last week of Lisa Hammond at a salary of $105,000 had county commissioners on Tuesday talking about how Hernando handles purchasing procedures.
Hammond, who has been working as a purchasing consultant for Clerk of the Circuit Court Karen Nicolai for several months, was hired by Nicolai on Friday as her new strategic planning director.
The six-figure salary has raised eyebrows and prompted public questions about Hammond's qualifications and background as well as Nicolai's hiring practices.
During a workshop on personnel procedures Tuesday, Commissioner Rose Rocco asked why the county doesn't just take back the purchasing function and hire someone to be director of administrative services at a much lower salary.
Former purchasing director Jim Gantt was suspended in April and his job eliminated shortly after that. Hammond was brought in under an interlocal agreement in May as a consultant working for Nicolai to oversee county purchasing and contracts.
It was part of a plan by County Administrator David Hamilton to try out more shared functions to increase county efficiency. During Tuesday's discussion about Hammond, Hamilton pointed out that Nicolai makes the decisions about her own staff and she would be the best person to answer questions.
He then noted that Nicolai was not available to answer those questions because she is on vacation.
The original price tag for Hammond's consulting services was $60,000 and Hamilton assured the board that he was sending no additional money to pay Hammond's salary.
Rocco said, "it just doesn't make sense'' to pay Hammond at the top end of the salary range when the commission has been discussing how new employees should be placed between the beginning and the mid-point of the salary range.
She suggested hiring an administrative services director and paying them somewhat less than the $92,000 Gantt was earning, possibly in the $84,000 range.
As for the funding coming from Nicolai and not the County Commission's budget, Rocco said it didn't matter. "It's all taxpayer dollars,'' she said.
Commission Chairman John Druzbick said that the questions could best be answered when Nicolai is available. He said that there were questions about whether Nicolai even wanted to continue to share part of the purchasing responsibility.
The discussion about Hammond spun off a review of personnel policies that is part of Hamilton's management reorganization. Commissioners questioned whether the consultant hired was examining public and private sector jobs focusing on communities like Hernando County as he worked on a new salary scale for Hernando County.
Commissioners anticipate a larger discussion of the salary issues when the consultant is available at the Oct. 26 board meeting.
In other discussion
• During a discussion of the marketing strategy for the upcoming referendum on universal solid waste collection, Commissioner Jim Adkins voiced concern that residents in more developed parts of the county will have a very different take on the issue from those in rural areas where people don't have trash pick-up service.
Utilities director Joe Stapf said that he understands there are differences. The nonbinding vote is designed to give commissioners information from constituents along with new bids from trash haulers to design a countywide system.
"This is not a win or lose'' Stapf said of the vote. "Either way we win because we know what the collective opinion is.''
• Representing local home builders and business interests, Bob Eaton asked commissioners to have staff assess the costs and complications that could come if voters approve Amendment 4, also known as Hometown Democracy.
County Attorney Garth Coller warned commissioners that state law prohibits the board from advocating on behalf of a cause. Coller acknowledged they could provide basic information about the amendment.
• Druzbick asked the board to form an economic development task force. He said he had been working with community business people who want to assist in this endeavor. Commissioners said they liked the idea and Coller suggested that the committee be formed under the board chairman.
• Commissioners heard a report on the utilities department's plan to allow water and sewer customers to opt out of receiving paper bills for their service. The county offers online payments and some customers have said they don't need the paper bill. Stapf said the county would receive some benefit by cutting the cost of postage and he expected more people to sign up.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.