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Hernando County's purchasing agreement with clerk could end in February

BROOKSVILLE — Just three weeks ago, the County Commission decided they wanted Clerk of the Circuit Court Karen Nicolai and her controversial consultant Lisa Hammond to stop overseeing the county purchasing process by June 1.

By ending the agreement with Nicolai four months ahead of schedule, they would let Hammond finish several projects while possibly putting an end to the criticism from residents and some county officials.

That could all change Tuesday.

County Administrator David Hamilton, the author of the partnership with Nicolai's office, said this week he will recommend that the agreement end in mid-February.

He told county commissioners Tuesday that he will recommend that the county invoke the 60-day termination clause. "Karen Nicolai herself indicated the sooner the better,'' he told commissioners. "It's in everybody's best interest.''

Hamilton didn't say what changed the minds of the officials but civic activist Janey Baldwin, who has spoken out frequently and vehemently about turning purchasing back over to the county, believes she knows one factor.

Since the last commission discussion in mid November, Baldwin hired attorney Joe Mason, with the idea of having him file a temporary injunction to stop the agreement.

The basis for the injunction would be that Hernando wasn't following its own ordinance requiring its county's chief procurement officer to be the county's purchasing agent, Baldwin explained.

County officials have maintained that Matt Perry is the county's purchasing agent. He was put in that position after the former purchasing director Jim Gantt's position was eliminated while he was on suspension.

Before filing the request for an injunction, Mason met with Nicolai. She later explained, "I let him know that … I was totally supportive of canceling the interlocal as I said in my letter to the Board of County Commissioners.''

"We have been working with county administration to come up with a solution to the organization in purchasing and I am fully supportive (and have been!) in them assuming control of this ASAP,'' Nicolai told the Times in an e-mail.

Ending the agreement so quickly will mean that some of the tasks that had been assigned to Hammond might have to be done by the county, Hamilton said.

In addition, the county will have to expedite finding a new chief procurement officer. Commissioners on Tuesday will consider a proposed job description for the position so that advertising for the job can begin.

Perry has been talked about as one possible applicant, but former county commissioner Rose Rocco asked Hamilton Tuesday whether Perry was enrolled in the public deferred retirement program known as DROP. Those enrolled in the program must retire within five years of signing up for the program.

Hamilton said Perry was in the program.

Rocco also is continuing to question Hammond's credentials, details of her employment and the job she has done. Hammond has been under fire over questionable items on her resume and Nicolai caught heat for offering and then taking back an offer of full-time employment to Hammond at an annual salary of $105,000. As a consultant, she makes $55 per hour, which also has some in the public in an uproar.

As of mid November, Hammond has earned $68,365, according to Nicolai's records.

Before Rocco left the commission, she submitted a series of questions to Nicolai, who responded only to some of the questions.

On Wednesday Rocco sent the remaining questions to Nicolai again.

Nicolai responded via e-mail, "I'm at a clerk's seminar and will reply tonight. I previously sent you the documents and we never hired Lisa as an employee so most of the questions below aren't answerable.''

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

Hernando County's purchasing agreement with clerk could end in February 12/08/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 8, 2010 8:26pm]
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