PORT RICHEY — A fired Port Richey public works supervisor, fighting to get his job back, got the chance Monday to question the man who fired him.
Dave Brown, the acting city manager and police chief, testified at a personnel review board hearing for Chuck Latwinas, whom he fired in June, four weeks shy of his sixth year with the city. Brown said he fired the supervisor for "improper spending of city funds" on street signs.
Latwinas, 45, maintains Brown ordered him to purchase the signs, which totaled $30,000.
In a June 24 letter sent to Latwinas, Brown wrote he had been fired for buying street signs without written approval and failing to receive proper authorization.
The purchase of the signs came on the heels of counseling and a verbal reprimand for two other improper purchases Latwinas made for tree trimming services and a lift station pump, Brown wrote.
But on Monday, Brown said his main reason for firing Latwinas was that he overpaid for the signs.
Brown testified that a review of the sign purchases showed Latwinas bought signs at $70 each, while Jocilyn Martinez, who reviews finance requests for the city, later found they could have been purchased for around $30 per sign. It would have meant savings of $19,000 on the signs, city officials testified.
When Latwinas questioned Brown, he referenced paperwork signed by Brown and other department heads for the signs. He said he was under the impression he had been fired for not receiving the proper authorization for the purchase.
"Why did we sign it for approval, instead of saying, 'No, I think there are cheaper prices out there?' " Latwinas asked Brown.
"Because if I remember correctly, all of the individual purchasing orders, purchasing paperwork, were under the threshold of that, of that, incident," Brown answered. "It was a culmination of the matter of the value of the signs that were purchased."
"I'm sorry, say that again sir," Latwinas said with a confused look on his face.
"The individual orders did not reach that limit, the total picture is where the violation comes into play, of going to one particular signage company and not going out for other bids," Brown responded.
"I was told to get three quotes, I got three quotes, everybody signed off on it,'' Latwinas said. "I don't see where I did anything wrong with that. If they didn't like the pricing at that time, they should have kicked it back."
Latwinas also questioned the chief on city finance officials' contention they were surprised to get billed for all of the signs when the plan was to spread the project over several months.
"Did you ever hear me say: 'We'll buy all the signs and spread it out over a year and a half?' " Latwinas asked Brown.
"I'm not remembering that exact sentence. I know that we had discussed purchasing of the signs, yes," Brown said. "And I believe my statement to you was fine, purchase and spend the money, but the assumption was, or my statement to you was geared towards doing it correctly.
"I just assumed you knew the purchasing guidelines and were going to be following them."
"And I did,'' Latwinas answered. "I got four signatures, I got three quotes, I got my three bids."
Latwinas handed Brown documents showing his signatures on them.
"Indeed some of these are signed by me, some of them are signed by other team leaders of the city," Brown said.
Both Latwinas and the city's attorney, Joseph Poblick, will have the opportunity to provide written final statements expressing their side to the personnel review board, which will announce its decision at a final hearing Aug. 4.