Hernando County's Public Works director Charles Mixson is fired

BROOKSVILLE — Fed up with repeated problems with the Hernando Beach dredge and other Public Works Department projects, County Administrator David Hamilton on Thursday afternoon fired public works director and county engineer Charles Mixson.

Hamilton appointed Susan Goebel, an engineer in the Utilities Department, as interim public works director and plans to meet with the staff of the Public Works Department this morning to discuss the transition.

Mixson's termination took effect immediately. After the 3 p.m. meeting between him and Hamilton, Mixson was making arrangements with county human resources director Cheryl Marsden to return later to collect his personal property.

Mixson was terminated for his job performance, the most recent problems with the Hernando Beach channel dredge, ongoing issues with the cleanup at the old Department of Public Works compound and performance deficiencies that stretched back to evaluations in 1999, Hamilton said. Also mentioned was a recent case in which Mixson tried to get around insurance requirements in the hiring of a company to conduct an archaeological survey for a federal stimulus road project.

Mixson explained the situation by saying that the company wasn't actually going to conduct the survey, "but would merely drive down the road instead.'' In late December, he attempted to justify that statement, telling Marsden: "You do not get it. It's about time, not thoroughness."

Hamilton has placed his own destiny with the dredge and vowed again that it would be done on time and within the existing budget.

Mixson's firing comes in the wake of continuing problems with the dredge, which Hamilton called a "debacle'' on Thursday.

Mixson has previously been under fire from Hamilton over the dredge and for problems with other projects. One year ago, Hamilton informed Mixson that if the dredge didn't begin by July 31, 2009, Mixson would lose his job.

In August 2008, Hamilton suspended and reprimanded Mixson for problems with a variety of ongoing projects under his watch, including the dredge.

Hamilton said Thursday that his next priorities include getting the dredge back on track, solving the state's problems with the project, more closely monitoring the county's consultant and contractor on the dredge, and determining whether the remaining county public works staff can complete the work.

Late Wednesday, Mixson turned in a lengthy defense of his management of the dredge project in the form of a 12-page memo, with more than 200 pages of backup material.

Mixson admitted the project has hit significant snags, including one that potentially could cost Hernando the state funds it needs to complete the project.

Mired in financial, legal and environmental problems for more than a dozen years, dredging work began late last year. Early on, contractor mistakes — which have since been corrected — drew a warning letter from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Another warning came this month, this one noting problems with the amount of sediment in the water that is being returned to the canal after filtering. Additional delays and another $500,000 in costs could also arise from the county's plan to mitigate seagrass destruction.

Hamilton's memo asked Mixson a series of pointed questions about how the project had fallen behind schedule when the conditions and requirements for the work had been known for more than a year.

Mixson's response on the water quality issue was that the contractor's water filtering system doesn't work properly and that the firm can only dredge a couple of hours each day until the mudding of the canal water reaches the maximum allowed.

The contractor now has proposed adding a series of settling tanks and other filtering processes, and the DEP has been asked for an expedited review of that process. Without an expedited review, the approval could take 90 days, and that would make it impossible to finish the work before the $6 million in state funding would expire, Mixson explained. Any action against the contractor for delays in the project would require input from the county's purchasing and legal staffs, he noted.

On the seagrass question, Mixson took issue with the conclusions by assistant county attorney Jeff Kirk and Hamilton that the county knew exactly what it needed to do to mitigate seagrass destruction since 2008.

Mixson said Kirk's analysis was inaccurate, that the DEP unexpectedly required additional mitigation in 2009 and that he was working to meet both the state's and the Army Corps of Engineers' requirements.

Mixson, who was hired by the county in July 1986, earned an annual salary of $116,792 and received additional benefits totaling $32,298.

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

Hernando County's Public Works director Charles Mixson is fired 01/14/10 [Last modified: Thursday, January 14, 2010 8:20pm]

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