The professional demise of the top two staffers in the Hernando County Department of Public Works can be tied to the same problem that plagued the agency for years: a lack of clarity.
In this final case, it was muddy water at the now-stalled dredge at Hernando Beach. The exorbitant turbidity triggered warnings from the state environmental agency and a need to redesign a system to remove water from the spoils dug from the channel. Separately, a reconfigured sea grass mitigation plan could add a $600,000 change order to the $7.7 million project.
It is a familiar refrain for how the Public Works Department operates: delays and cost overruns. No more. The public has run out of patience, and so too have the appointed and elected leaders of county government.
The continued failures to plan, execute and complete public works projects in a timely fashion doomed county engineer/public works director Charles Mixson and assistant county engineer Gregg Sutton. County Administrator David Hamilton, who placed Mixson on probation in 2008 and tied his job security to successfully completing the dredge, fired Mixson on Jan. 14. Sutton, in charge of direct oversight of the project, resigned five days later.
The departures are necessary. Hernando County commissioners cannot preach greater efficiency and streamlined government while turning a blind eye to highly paid bureaucrats bungling one job after another.
Mixson had become an enabler, allowing private-sector interests to supersede the public's and green-lighting cost overruns as a matter of routine, whether it was the dredge or the nearly 20-year-long but never-ending odyssey to clean up contamination at the former public works yard in South Brooksville.
His poor management skills allowed employees to run amok and, in 2008 alone, brought two criminal investigations and a critical county audit of the department's operations. In one instance, employees were trading fill dirt for free lunches, and in another the coordinator for the county's paving management program solicited work for his other source of income — an Ohio-based company bidding to inventory and inspect county roads. Mixson defended the quid pro quo for the dirt and claimed no knowledge of the conflicts in the road bids. Excusemaking and ignorance are not the hallmarks of an effective leader.
Most telling was the exchange last month between Mixson and Human Resources director Cheryl Marsden after Mixson tried to hire an uninsured vendor in conjunction with a road project tied to federal stimulus money.
"You do not get it," Mixson wrote to Marsden, "It is about time, not about thoroughness."
Clearly, Mixson did not get it. Cutting corners is no longer an acceptable way of doing business for Hernando County government.