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Hernando County emergency management changes up in the air

BROOKSVILLE — Sheriff Richard Nugent has been waiting for the opportunity to speak directly to the County Commission and iron out the details of taking over the duties of emergency management.

Now the discussions are in limbo, and the sheriff is concerned.

Nugent had hoped to air the takeover plan with the commission last month, but the item was pulled from the commission's agenda because some details were not yet settled.

Then, at the end of September, he sent commissioners a packet explaining how the takeover would work, who would be responsible for what, and which properties would be transferred to Nugent or stay with the county.

In that packet, Nugent again asked for a meeting with commissioners. But the request didn't appear on Tuesday's commission agenda.

Commissioner Dave Russell questioned the omission during the meeting, saying he was dismayed and wanted to see the item on a commission agenda as soon as possible.

Later he said, "I thought it was pretty important."

County Administrator David Hamilton said he had talked to Nugent just before leaving on his recent vacation and hoped to talk to him this week about the informational packet the sheriff had sent. He asked if the commission could wait on the item until he could bring them his proposed reorganization plan for all of county government Oct. 28.

That plan will be directly related to what happens with emergency management, Hamilton said, and he will include options for it.

Russell said the commission could consider a special workshop to talk about the remaining outstanding issues, which relate to managing flood plains and flood remapping.

Those functions are performed by emergency management, but are not typical emergency management duties, and the sheriff would like for them to go to another county department.

Russell said he wanted to be sure that if the sheriff doesn't want those functions, that the county can find a way to do them without additional expense.

"I want to see the administrator's concerns hammered out first," said commission chairman Chris Kingsley.

Hamilton assured commissioners that he would talk to Nugent and suggested that, once they see the draft of the new county organizational structure, they might want to schedule several workshops to talk about the various details.

Commissioners agreed.

Nugent, who was watching the commission meeting on the government broadcasting channel, was surprised. He said he didn't realize that there were other options on the table for emergency management that might keep it under the umbrella of county government.

He said he had invested a significant amount of staff time hammering out a proposal since the county several months ago pitched him the concept of taking over emergency management.

"I think that the negotiations have gone as far as they can go," Nugent said. "It really needs to be brought before the decision-makers, and that's the Board of County Commissioners and the sheriff."

Nugent is anxious to see the discussions finalized and is concerned about the delays for several reasons. While he is complimentary of the job done by interim emergency management manager Cecilia Patella and her staff, he knows they have been through a lot since the former director was terminated and his former secretary was arrested for grand theft and official misconduct.

"They're just riding along on the bubble. Everyone just wants closure," Nugent said. "It's unfair to the employees."

He also said that every week of delay is another week he can't start training those who become a part of his emergency management team. Since his head is on the line when the 2009 hurricane season starts in June, he wants as much time as possible to prepare, if he will ultimately control the department.

He is also ready to follow through with his plan to spend $100,000 in forfeiture money to replace the county's staff-written emergency management software with a more standard program used in the industry.

That locally developed software was a big part of the botched hurricane drill earlier this year that caused Hamilton to remove his first pick for interim manager and instead select Patella.

Nugent said he still believes his takeover of emergency management is in the best interest of the community.

"We handle emergencies every day," he said. "I think it's a good fit. I think it's going to provide some great service."

Russell said he was fine with the short delay, as long as the county and Nugent were still making progress in their discussions.

"It makes for a better product" to work out all the details, he said. "Everyone wants to get it right. There's no question about that."

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

Hernando County emergency management changes up in the air 10/17/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 22, 2008 12:07pm]
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