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Hernando emergency management director fired

BROOKSVILLE — An overtime scandal and romantic relationship involving his secretary have cost Tom Leto his job.

County Administrator David Hamilton fired Leto on Friday.

Unlike his secretary, Stephanie Anderson, Leto has not been charged with a crime. But the door for that action remains open, according to the prosecutor in the case.

Leto, who has been on paid administrative leave since March 31, asked for, but was not given, the option of resigning during a brief meeting Friday afternoon, Hamilton said.

In his notice of termination, Hamilton cited Leto's misrepresentation of his relationship with Anderson, violation of county rules for having a romantic relationship, failure to verify time sheets on which Anderson claimed more than $9,300 in overtime she didn't work, failure to make sure that Anderson followed county rules and lying during the county's investigation.

"Your personal relationship and professional failures have eroded both your staff's and my confidence in you as a department head,'' Hamilton wrote.

Leto said he will appeal the termination through the county's personnel advisory board and beyond, if necessary.

"The items they're noting are not termination offenses,'' he said. "They may be offenses you get counseled on.''

He said it was obvious there were no rules prohibiting personal relationships between employees.

"Hell, (County Attorney) Garth Coller got his secretary pregnant,'' Leto said, referring to a relationship that made headlines in late 2003. Coller later married the legal secretary, but the relationship generated controversy with county commissioners.

"We're friends,'' Leto said of his relationship with Anderson. "I didn't know that was against the law, and obviously it's not because I haven't been charged.''

Leto said Hamilton doesn't know him and that the new county administrator "is just trying to make his big new statement'' by firing him.

Interviews of emergency management employees, done by the county and Sheriff's Office and released Friday, paint a picture of a work environment that some termed "hostile,'' where Leto gave special treatment, overtime and extra duties to Anderson while other employees questioned whether the relationship between the two had crossed the line.

In 2007, Leto and Anderson both went to the National Hurricane Conference in New Orleans. At the same time, investigative reports indicate, Leto had told other employees that they couldn't go, citing budgetary reasons.

In fact, Anderson's trip was so secret that some employees didn't even learn she had gone with Leto until the recent investigation into wrongdoing.

The investigation also revealed that a woman who cleaned offices at the county Emergency Operations Center complained Leto and Anderson would stay so late in his office talking and giggling that she couldn't get the office cleaned by the time she got off work at 8 p.m.

The reports indicate Leto's light blue Mercedes-Benz was seen on numerous instances parked at Anderson's home in Citrus County. She divorced her husband shortly after coming to work in the department. He reportedly killed himself in December.

Meanwhile, Leto's marriage was also dissolving. His wife, Marcia, also a county employee, filed divorce papers against him several weeks ago. Earlier, Leto had told his staff that his marriage was in trouble because of his abusive wife.

According to the investigation, Leto let another employee go in order to reclassify Anderson so she could earn a higher wage. The employee whose job was eliminated had been in a position where she could notice the overtime Anderson was charging to federal grant programs.

In the arrest reports on Anderson, debit card records showed that on the days and at the times she was reportedly working or working overtime, she was instead running errands, going to a spa in Citrus County or shopping at Nordstrom in Tampa.

Cell phone records subpoenaed by detectives showed that, at some of those same times, Leto was in "the same out-of-county geographical area" as Anderson.

Cell phone records also noted nearly 1,000 phone calls from Leto's cell phone to Anderson, many to her home in the evenings.

When officers attempted to serve Anderson with the warrant for her arrest, her mother confirmed she had met her daughter's boyfriend — naming Leto — about two months ago. She said she didn't know of any plans they had to marry.

In one of the investigative reports, Cecilia Patella, the county's emergency management coordinator, summarized her concerns about the many issues in the small office.

"Through overtime, the secretary in our office made more money last year than virtually everyone else in the department. I feel that the director has lost focus, is not on his game and liberally interprets documents to suit his needs. He does not foster team building and has generally lost the respect of the staff. At this point, I feel that I work in a hostile environment where there is unethical, illegal and potential immoral activity.''

When Anderson was arrested two weeks ago, she was charged with official misconduct and grand theft.

While the Sheriff's Office has closed its investigation at this point, Assistant State Attorney Mark Simpson said that, if new information comes to light, more charges could be brought.

Leto, 46, earned $34.41 per hour, or more than $71,000 a year.

He came to Hernando County in May 2003. Previously, he had worked for Pinellas County for 12 years. He is a licensed, certified Florida professional emergency manager. While he received no evaluation in 2007, then-County Administrator Gary Kuhl praised him in his 2006 performance review for his "positive approach, good sense of humor, enthusiastic interest and attitude and your organizational skills.''

Mark Tobert remains the interim emergency management director. Hamilton said that next week he will meet with the staff of the department to begin to determine how to proceed. The hurricane season begins in just three weeks, and preparing the staff is a priority, he said.

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

Why county officials say Tom Leto deserved to be fired

• Misrepresented his relationship with secretary Stephanie Anderson, saying that it was purely platonic.

• Failed to verify Anderson's time sheets and overtime.

• Lied to County Administrator David Hamilton in the course of the investigation.

• Caused his staff and Hamilton to lose confidence in him.

Hernando emergency management director fired 05/09/08 [Last modified: Monday, May 12, 2008 4:18pm]

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