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Rocco decries shelving of discussion over contracts

BROOKSVILLE — She may be a lame duck, but Rose Rocco has no intention of going out quietly when she attends her last meeting as a county commissioner on Tuesday.

While the commission had planned to discuss the agreement on purchasing and contracts it has with Clerk of Circuit Court Karen Nicolai, that talk now has been moved from Tuesday to the following meeting on Nov. 16.

Another item on the agenda for the 16th is the swearing in of Rocco's replacement on the commission, Wayne Dukes.

Rocco said she learned of the move on Thursday. "I'm not happy about it. I'll tell you that,'' she said.

"What's taking her (Nicolai) so long in bringing the information we requested to the commission? What's so complicated or do they just want to sweep it under the rug?'' Rocco said.

Nicolai said late Thursday that she and commission Chairman John Druzbick thought it would make more sense to have the agreement discussion and a presentation about how the clerk has changed the purchasing operation after Dukes was in place.

Last month, Rocco called for purchasing to come back under the board's control, where she thinks it belongs.

On Thursday, after it became clear that county officials didn't plan to have the conversation until after Rocco was out of office, another commissioner, Jeff Stabins, spoke of ending the agreement.

For weeks, Rocco has questioned why purchasing and contracts consultant Lisa Hammond has been working for Nicolai when there has been no proof that she has the qualifications necessary to handle the responsibilities.

"The county has millions of dollars at stake and we can no long afford the liability of having Lisa Hammond's continued employment as a trusted negotiator on behalf of our taxpayers,'' Stabins said.

Stabins said he has urged Hammond to come clean with the community, submit a resume that didn't have any questionable entries and accept a significant cut in her $55 per hour consultant salary since she didn't really have a bona fide doctorate like her original resume included.

While Hammond has been in the consultant position, the county has landed in federal court in connection with a lawsuit filed by former jail operator Corrections Corporation of America.

The county's former dredge contractor, Orion Dredging Services LLC, has threatened legal action.

Just last week, a proposal to choose a new dredging firm without competitive bidding blew up on county staff when commissioners decided to rebid the project after obtaining an important funding deadline extension.

Commissioners also were concerned over questions about subcontractors in line for the project, issues that staff had not brought to their attention beforehand.

"Nothing has been done right with these contracting and purchasing decisions,'' Rocco said. She was especially concerned about what appeared to be a deal to give the dredging contractor a multimillion-dollar no-bid contract.

"There are just too many people connected to this and they're just pushing it too hard,'' said Rocco, who noted that Nicolai and Hammond were among those connected.

Stabins said commissioners should cancel the agreement and order the county's human resources director to advertise for and properly vet a new purchasing director who would work for the county directly.

That would limit county liability, Stabins said. He was especially concerned about the potential for Hammond getting called for depositions in federal court when some details on her resume have been found to be untrue or questionable.

"There has just been public embarrassment on all of us,'' Stabins said.

Rocco said that it wasn't right that the issue she asked to be discussed was being shelved until she was gone. She asked the question a month ago and the discussion was first delayed because it was thought that County Administrator David Hamilton would be absent from the next meeting, but he wasn't.

Then it was put off until next Tuesday, which Rocco questioned last week. Then Nicolai asked for a week more delay. "Where does Karen have priority over a sitting commissioner?'' Rocco asked.

As for a commission consideration to end the agreement, Nicolai said the commissioners could do that anytime that they want. She called the questions about Hammond "the issue that wouldn't die.''

Nicolai said fellow clerks around the state had warned her about getting caught up in county business before she signed onto the agreement.

"They said that would get me involved in their politics,'' she said. "I wish I had listened.''

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

Rocco decries shelving of discussion over contracts 11/04/10 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 8:07pm]
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