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Commission's political posturing shouldn't come at taxpayers' expense

The fiscal year was 4 days old when Commissioner Rose Rocco said she wanted to rescind the county's relatively new purchasing arrangement with the clerk of court. The knee-jerk reaction by Rocco, who is facing a stiff re-election challenge, shouldn't be mistaken for fiscal savvy.

More prudently, Rocco and the rest of the commission should be considering if the public is receiving fair value for its $60,000 investment in Circuit Court Clerk Karen Nicolai's office. And, Nicolai should be considering the wisdom of her own dubious decision to offer full-time employment — complete with a too-generous compensation — to Lisa Hammond, a procurement consultant who'd been put through the wringer unfairly by Commissioner Jeff Stabins.

By mutual agreement, Nicolai rescinded the job offer to Hammond, but not before reporters questioned the consultant's academic credentials, including a 2009 doctorate from a now-closed diploma mill. Killing the full-time job was a wise move. The credibility of both Nicolai and Hammond remains under scrutiny and the newly created position and $105,000-a-year salary smacked of nothing more than an expensive dig at Stabins.

Instead, Hammond stayed as an hourly consultant in Nicolai's office where she is helping to oversee the commission's two biggest capital spending headaches — repairs to the county jail that had been run by a private corporation for the past 20 years, and the stalled multimillion-dollar dredge of the Hernando Beach Channel that has languished as an unfulfilled promise for nearly two decades.

Nicolai's office assumed the county's purchasing chores in the spring after longtime purchasing director Jim Gantt lost his job while suspended for his handling of the county's jail contract with Corrections Corporation of America. Gantt, a 17-year employee, had been earning $92,000 annually. Nicolai, who already is taking on the county's information technology duties, agreed to add purchasing to her office's responsibilities for $60,000 and retained Hammond for $55 an hour.

There was little discord about the arrangement until Sept. 28 when Stabins grilled Hammond at a commission meeting over exactly when she received an engineering report spelling out repairs and suggested renovations to the jail. Stabins was out of line, as was Nicolai's $105,000 response three days later, and Rocco's contention the next week that the county should reclaim its purchasing responsibilities.

The commission had faith in Nicolai's office in May when it inked the interlocal agreement that put purchasing under her purview. Pulling the plug now likely would mean greater expenses for a commission that already has been told of yet another multimillion-dollar revenue shortfall next year.

Rocco's political posturing shouldn't bring with it a more costly price tag for the public.

Commission's political posturing shouldn't come at taxpayers' expense 10/23/10 [Last modified: Saturday, October 23, 2010 10:38am]
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