BROOKSVILLE — Some say timing is everything, and for County Administrator David Hamilton the arrival of a new procurement and contracts supervisor couldn't have been timed more perfectly.
Hamilton's violation of purchasing rules over the hiring of construction manager Greg Jarque for the Hernando Beach Channel dredging project was detailed in an audit released Friday from the office of Clerk of the Circuit Court Karen Nicolai.
On Tuesday, Hamilton met with that new procurement head, Russell Wetherington, and Administrative Services director Cheryl Marsden to talk about the audit and begin to implement a plan to avoid such mistakes again.
Hamilton stressed with Wetherington, "He has full authority to ensure that we do not follow the practices detailed in the audit report again. Ever.''
Hamilton added that he is now a "zealous convert in following appropriate procedures and policies.''
During Tuesday's meeting, Wetherington told Hamilton several areas that he would have flagged in the Jarque hiring if he had been on board at the time.
First, he would have sought a broader bidding process.
Audit services director Peggy Caskey's review notes that Hamilton only presented the County Commission with the option of picking Jarque or someone affiliated with Halcrow Inc., the county's engineer of record on the dredge. But at the time, the commission was squabbling with Halcrow over costs and members were not interested in expanding the scope of the firm's services.
"Our report offered two options for contract management including someone whom we believed had proved their worth on a local job site. In retrospect, as the report indicates, additional scrutiny and options for the board would have been in our best interest, but the tightness of time was our primary concern,'' Hamilton wrote in his audit response.
Wetherington also noted that there should be no option on the insurance requirement for a firm employed by the county. It should be required in every case.
Wetherington is also working on a checklist of procedures that can be used in any procurement, whether speeded up like the dredge process or following the normal calendar of a bid. The details of that process will go before the County Commission next month.
Background checks were another topic of discussion on Tuesday and Wetherington told Hamilton that background checks on individuals, such as Jarque, are not usually done by governments. However, checks on contractors and entities typically are conducted.
Jarque's conviction in New York for an attempted arson many years ago is what led county officials to dig deeper and find out he was not a general contractor as he had claimed. That falsehood led to his firing in April.
Jarque's unpaid fire fees and other money owed to Hernando County were also controversial. Wetherington said he has worked in places where those kinds of checks were done before hiring someone and in other places where they weren't. That, too, is a policy decision for the board, he said.
The upheaval in purchasing has been going on for more than a year since problems at the Hernando County Detention Center got then-purchasing director Jim Gantt suspended before the county eliminated his position.
Controversy continued when Hamilton sought help from Nicolai's office with the purchasing function and her chosen consultant for the task, Lisa Hammond, landed in the headlines for overstating her credentials. That agreement with the clerk ended several months ago and restructuring in the county's purchasing ranks has continued.
Hamilton said he is glad Wetherington is on the job and hopeful he can help bring the county's purchasing procedure to a stable place again.
Procurement, Hamilton said, "clearly is an area where public scrutiny is high and public trust is necessary.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.