Political lobbying by Hernando Commissioner David Russell saved the county from the potential of further embarrassment in its haste to jump-start the stalled Hernando Beach Channel dredge by awarding a no-bid contract.
On Oct. 28, Russell received word from the state Department of Transportation that the deadline for completing the dredge could be extended by six months. The same day, state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, made similar assurances to the Times, noting the state agency had been cooperative in the past and that the money is not earmarked for any other project.
A loud exhale from the commission followed along with the decision to rebid the project instead of using an emergency procedure to bypass state procurement laws. It was the right call.
Still, a more appropriate response might be: How come nobody asked the DOT before?
The county needed state permission for the delay because a $6 million grant the agency is administering had been scheduled to expire June 30, 2011, the end of the current fiscal year. The state allocation accounts for roughly two-thirds of the original budgeted price of $9 million to clear the rocky channel to improve safety.
There is another more imperative question that still merits a public answer: How come the staff failed to discover or to disclose that its recommended dredge contractor, BCPeabody, came with subcontractors' baggage?
Times staff writer Barbara Behrendt reported that subcontractor Piedroba Marine Construction LLC was replaced on a North Carolina dredge project. Commissioner Rose Rocco — who lost Tuesday's election to Wayne Dukes— dug up the delinquent tax record of another subcontractor, longtime developer and former road builder Gary Grubbs, whose hauling company was to work for BCPeabody.
Under commission questioning, BCPeabody's principal Bob Carpenter, formerly of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, pledged his reputation on the ability of his team to complete the dredge. Frankly, taxpayers — still awaiting a public works project first planned nearly two decades ago — deserves more than lip service from a guy trying to land a no-bid contract worth more than $8 million, particularly after the original contractor was shown the door. The public deserves a project done right and at a fair price and BCPeabody certainly has the ability to document its promises via a formal bid.
As to the staff's rush job to try to restart the stalled dredge and the sloppiness in its due diligence, perhaps commissioners should consider the work atmosphere they've help to create by their own mandates to cut county spending. There is a significantly thinner staff overwhelmed at times with putting out fires associated with multiple public works projects.
Instead of commissioners asking what they can do to help — like calling DOT or a state senator to request a grant deadline waiver — the public instead hears Commissioner Jeff Stabins ask the county administrator if he is willing to resign if the dredge doesn't progress.
Leadership starts at the top, but so does accountability. Stabins was correct to first question the speed under which the commission was asked to consider the staff's recommendation of BCPeabody. But, he and the rest of the commission need to ensure a sense of urgency doesn't turn into a sense of desperation.