Sunday, January 21, 2018
News Roundup

Hernando officials depart after county settles case with road contractor

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County has reached a settlement with the contractor on the botched Osowaw Boulevard road project, and two top officials in the county's Department of Public Works have resigned, including County Engineer Mark Guttman.

Another lead inspector in the department also left his job last week over a separate investigation into his vehicle usage.

Last month, the County Commission offered contractor B.R.W. Contracting Inc. of Land O'Lakes a settlement of $250,000 but declined other provisions the company was seeking, including not placing blame on the company for its part in the work on Osowaw, which gave it a poor driving quality. Local residents compared it to driving on a wavy washboard.

The county had hired B.R.W. in February 2015 for $571,979 to build bike lanes and a sidewalk and to do a paving overlay on Osowaw. The company sued the county in May 2016 for breach of contract and sought $281,269 in money it said the county still owed. B.R.W. claimed that the county's design and specifications were flawed. The contractor also had problems on several other major road projects in the county, including falling behind and using inferior materials.

Hernando County had barred B.R.W. from bidding on projects for the past two years. The company had asked to be allowed to bid on projects again as part of its settlement proposal, but the county did not include that in its counteroffer. On July 25, the contractor signed the paperwork accepting strictly the cash settlement.

Last week, County Administrator Len Sossamon issued termination letters to both Guttman and project manager Al Toler, informing each that "information was disclosed during a recent lawsuit that has resulted in the county having a lack of confidence in you performing your duties."

The letter cited the Code of Conduct provision, which states: "Employees will not act in any manner that may discredit Hernando County government, its public officials, fellow employees or themselves." Citing a separate code that details when employee discipline is called for, the provision states, "(when) the employee is consistently incompetent or inefficient in the performance of his duty. This may include wanton or willful neglect."

More specific details about their actions were not released.

While the notice indicated immediate termination, both Guttman and Toler opted to resign immediately. Guttman had been employed by the county since November 2011 and earned an annual salary of $84,822. Toler was a longtime county worker, having started in December 1990. His annual salary was $55,536.

Gary Miller, a lead inspector for Public Works who had been with the county since October 1988, was also given notice Aug. 3 that he had violated county employee policy after a review of his vehicle and cellphone usage and would be terminated immediately. His annual salary was $58,843.

Provisions of county employee policy cited in Miller's case were, "non-scheduled absence from his/her work schedule and/or location, unauthorized presence in non-job-related areas of Hernando County, projection of a negative image of Hernando County through actions and/or comments which may be detrimental to the operations of the organization (and) falsification of any records including time records for oneself or another employee."

Cellphone records showed a significant number of calls had been redacted from the phone's record, and county staffers noted that it was assumed those were personal in nature. Only limited use of cellphones is allowed for personal calls.

Records also showed excessive idling periods of Miller's county vehicle "adjacent to vacant tracts, rural tracts or property in public ownership with no apparent work reason to be at the locations for an extended period of time."

Miller did not sign a resignation letter after receiving the notice of termination, signed by Sossamon.

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