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Hernando public works chief criticized

BROOKSVILLE — In harsh terms, the county's top boss on Thursday faulted the public works director for failing to adequately police his department.

County Administrator David Hamilton made the remarks in reaction to a St. Petersburg Times report this week that revealed the county's pavement management coordinator also worked at the same time for a private contractor that did business with the county.

Bill Busch, who no longer works for Hernando County, is under criminal investigation by the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.

Busch could not be reached for comment Thursday; his wife referred a reporter to Busch's attorney, who did not immediately return a phone message.

"It's unacceptable," Hamilton said of the latest flareup in public works. "We have far more important things to be doing here."

The administrator said the controversy points to a larger problem with Public Works Director Charles Mixson's poor judgment and a lack of oversight.

"This latest round of revelations is indicative of what I would term, at best, uneven management practices at the department of public works," he said.

"Clearly, it should not have been a surprise to the county engineer," he said of Busch's situation. "And it was him who watched all of this occur and who let this go on for a length of time."

The department is also currently plagued by faulty policies for the disposition of surplus dirt (see related story).

These two controversies are just the latest that put the public works department in a bad light.

Several months ago, an audit found problems in the county's fleet maintenance division, which is in public works. The fleet manager was fired and oversight of the division was shifted to the county's purchasing office.

In recent years, Mixson's department has also been heavily criticized for its handling of the long-delayed cleanup at the contaminated site of the old public works complex in Brooksville.

Likewise, Mixson and his assistant, Gregg Sutton, have been blamed for the snail's pace of the Hernando Beach Channel dredging project.

Mixson has also had to fend off complaints at County Commission meetings from angry residents about the ongoing efforts to acquire homes along Elgin Boulevard for a road-widening project and the maintenance of the county's many limerock roads.

All of this considered, Mixson still seemed stunned Thursday to hear the tone of Hamilton's comments about this latest controversy involving his department.

Mixson said he knew Busch was looking for employment after retiring from the county on Jan. 4. But when he brought Busch back to work for the county as a contract employee weeks later, he failed to ask about any potential conflicts, he acknowledged.

Records reviewed by the Times indicate Busch was also working for KMS and Associates, Inc., a consulting firm that received taxpayer money to gather data on the condition of Hernando County roads. Busch also wrote bids for a paving product marketed by a company affiliated with KMS.

It is unclear when Busch started work at the Ohio-based company and whether he was a full- or part-time county employee at the time.

Mixson defended Busch's work with the county, saying, "As far as I know, he was working and doing a good job here."

"I was surprised, stunned; I was shocked and I was disappointed," he said of Busch's alleged conflict of interest.

Hamilton is working with Clerk of Court Karen Nicolai's office to develop a fraud policy to address similar situations. He also put blame on the county's "meltdown of human resources" during the time Busch's employment.

"It's frustrating, in a way, that in too many instances the sheriff's department is having to do our human resource work," Hamiliton said.

"Not that we have any issue with the sheriff department …but you could easily argue that it would be better use of the sheriff's time and his deputies' time to be policing the county and not to be policing the county organization."

The former Human Resources director, Barbara Dupre, who was forced by Hamilton to resign in April, disagreed strongly with the administrator's comments. She said the county has a conflict of interest policy.

Busch would have signed a copy of that policy when he was first employed by the county. And he would have been required to file a new form if he secured outside employment or needed to declare a conflict. But no such form can be found in his personnel file, county officials said.

"There is absolutely no way that anyone in Human Resources could be aware that he had a second job if he didn't tell someone,'' she said.

She said that department leaders decide who to hire as contract labor, not human resources. And she disputed that her department had failed to uniformly apply existing policies.

In Busch's case, Dupre said she talked to Mixson about bringing him back to work after his retirement.

She said she expressed concern about the arrangement because the department had eliminated the position entirely and divvied up his other tasks to other workers.

"I did not think it was good business practice,'' she said.

John Frank can be reached at or (352) 754-6114.

Hernando public works chief criticized 08/21/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 26, 2008 4:45pm]
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