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Hernando official suspended over conditions at jail

BROOKSVILLE — County purchasing director Jim Gantt was suspended without pay for two weeks on Friday for failing to know about deteriorating conditions at the Hernando County Jail.

As manager of the contract with the private jail operator, "he is responsible for the stewardship of this multimillion-dollar public building and is, therefore, directly accountable for its present condition,'' County Administrator David Hamilton wrote in a memo to the County Commission on Friday.

Hamilton's memo to Gantt was more scathing. In it, he said Gantt failed to visit the jail as he was required to do to ensure contract compliance, failed to oversee or even evaluate his subordinate, the on-site contract monitor.

Hamilton cited past evaluations where Gantt's bosses said his communications with superiors were "vitriolic, disagreeable and sarcastic.'' During his meeting with Gantt on Friday, Hamilton said he told Gantt that when he returned to work, "what needs to occur is a change in attitude.''

Hamilton told him that he has been changing the direction of the county government's culture and that "we have to work cooperatively together. The old days of turf and departments and fighting for that level of authority are not appropriate.

Gantt, 63, said he would do that, Hamilton said. He earns a salary of $92,165 annually and receives benefits totaling $25,146.

Reached after his meeting with Hamilton, Gantt declined to comment.

Because he had scheduled three weeks off in May, the suspension means Gantt won't return to work until May 24 and at that time, he is to report to Hamilton to discuss his employment, according to the memo.

While Gantt is gone, he will lose his access to county buildings. The county's audit services director, Peggy Caskie, will conduct an operational audit of Gantt's department, and his employment will depend partly on the outcome of that audit, according to Hamilton's memo.

Kathleen Buffum of the purchasing department will be in charge of purchasing and contracts for now but Hamilton said there may be other staff members assisting with the task.

County commissioners learned recently that the jail had significant problems ranging from water intrusion to exposed electrical lines to rusty doors and cracks in floors and walls. Sheriff Richard Nugent withdrew his bid to take over the facility from Corrections Corporation of America this week, citing the conditions of the facility.

Hamilton has been crafting a plan of action and Gantt's suspension is the first step as outlined in his memo to the County Commission.

The review is not limited to Gantt, however.

The county's on-site jail contract monitor, Barbara Fisher, also met with Hamilton and human resources director Cheryl Marsden to discuss her performance and the job she does at the jail. Fisher earns an annual salary of $46,738 and receives benefits totaling $16,715.

"This position and her tenure in it are currently under review status,'' Hamilton wrote.

Hamilton says in the memo that before beginning to make the needed upgrades and repairs at the jail, he will tap an experienced group of people familiar with corrections to examine past inspections and conduct interviews to create a complete review.

The county's budget department has identified up to $848,556 that could be used for immediate repairs, although nothing will be authorized to be spent until the facility review is done. Those funds will come from dollars returned to the county from the sheriff last year and from the capital improvement reserve, Hamilton said.

In addition, another $1 million will be proposed in the capital budget for next year, if the County Commission agrees.

A meeting is also planned with jail warden Russell Washburn. During the county's review, Hamilton said it will be determined what the county's responsibility is and what portion belongs to CCA under the contract.

This is has been part of the "gray area'' of who is supposed to do what and Hamilton said that when the reviews and discussions are over, he wants to be sure each side's responsibility is clearly delineated.

Hamilton's memo also described steps, including a more detailed discussion about what to do when the jail contract expires in the next one to five years, discussion of the use of ankle monitors to reduce the number of inmates and their cost to the county, and expanding the role and meeting frequency of the county's public safety committee.

Hamilton thanked Nugent for raising questions about the jail. He wrote that the condition of the jail was "disturbing'' and it has prompted the county to take a harder look at its role in the jail's mission.

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

Fast facts

Problems cited in Gantt disciplinary memo

Among the criticisms leveled at county purchasing director Jim Gantt's in his disciplinary memo:

• "You admirably accepted your share of the blame for the jail's condition at the April 13, 2010 meeting of the Board of County Commissioners. You then attempted to deflect that blame, however, and stated that the jail's operator, Corrections Corporation of America, is contractually responsible for informing the county of all needed repairs. While that may be true, your job description specifically states that the director of purchasing and contracts shall make periodic visits to the county correctional facilities to ensure compliance with contract provisions and state mandated requirements. You clearly did not make periodic visits to the Hernando County Jail, as its dilapidation is readily apparent to all observers.''

• "We believe that these deficiencies in your recent performance are not new, but are emblematic of your long-standing irascible and near-insubordinate attitude.''

• "We were forced to remove the Fleet Department from your oversight. Your mismanagement of fleet operations turned that department into a morass of inefficiency and poor morale.''

Hernando official suspended over conditions at jail 04/16/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 16, 2010 8:38pm]

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