BROOKSVILLE — As County Administrator David Hamilton tries to pick up the pieces of the county's Emergency Management Department, he is exploring the idea of bringing a new player into the picture — Sheriff Richard Nugent.
In a memo to county commissioners that is slated for discussion at Tuesday's commission meeting, Hamilton says he has been in contact with Nugent to talk about moving Emergency Management under the control of the Sheriff's Office.
"To date we are only at the discussion stage but are able to report that there is general interest in this approach that is similar to that in place in neighboring Citrus County,'' Hamilton wrote.
By law, the County Commission must approve the county's emergency management director; the administrator has the authority to terminate the director, according to County Attorney Garth Coller.
In Citrus County, the commission approved its director, but has an agreement that while the county remains in charge of emergency management, the emergency manager can work for the sheriff.
Hamilton said he has seen the model used before.
"Transitioning to that, this is a conversation that I prompted with the sheriff,'' he said. "The Sheriff's Office is open to continuing the discussion at this point.''
Nugent could not be reached to comment Friday.
Hamilton said there are several reasons why such a system can work.
"There are so many things in case of an emergency that require extra powers that are only available in the policing function of the organization, which is the sheriff,'' he said.
In addition, law enforcement is involved in deploying emergency responders in a crisis. And in the case of Hernando County, the new Emergency Operations Center is located adjacent to the Sheriff's Office in Brooksville.
"It's worthy to make a thorough review of this,'' Hamilton said, noting that commissioners need to know these discussions are ongoing, especially since hurricane season starts in just two weeks.
Hamilton said the level of interest in continuing to talk about the idea has been high and that the issue should not be who runs the show, but rather "where it fits and where it can serve the public at the best level.''
Hamilton fired emergency management director Tom Leto last week for lying to him about the personal relationship he had with his secretary, Stephanie Anderson, and for failing to monitor the job she was doing and the overtime she was claiming.
Anderson, who quit last month, has been charged with grand theft and official misconduct for collecting $9,300 in overtime pay officials say she didn't earn.
Leto has said he will appeal his termination. He claims that whatever errors he committed, they were not serious enough to merit dismissal.
Hamilton has named Mark Tobert as interim emergency manager. He has also moved a staff member from the county budget office into emergency operations to help with administrative support and grant management until August.
Staffers in the county's Health and Human Services Department and at Hernando County Airport are helping to pick up the additional workload in the budget office.
Hamilton plans to meet with the Emergency Management Department staff Monday about the transition and answer any questions they might have.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.